The hawthorn is a red berry that grows on the shrubs and trees of plants from the rose family (the genus Crataegus). Also known as quickthorn, whitethorn, May-tree, hawberry, or thornapple, this berry is native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. The health benefits of hawthorn include digestive aid, high blood pressure management, and other heart-healthy powers. To find out the top hawthorn benefits, read on.
7 Powerful Hawthorn Benefits
Long included in traditional Chinese medicine, hawthorn berries are sweet-tart in taste and like many other dark berries have a multitude of scientifically proven health benefits.
1. Blood Pressure Aid
In traditional Chinese medicine, the hawthorn berry is utilized for treating high blood pressure, and modern scientific research confirms this usage is justified. Multiple animal studies have shown hawthorn extract helps relax blood vessel constriction (meaning it’s a vasodilator), which leads to lowered blood pressure.
In this 2002 human study of 36 participants with elevated blood pressure, those who took 500 milligrams of hawthorn extract daily for 10 weeks exhibited a decrease in diastolic blood pressure, while the control group showed no significant improvements.
And a 2006 study of participants with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes found that those who ingested 1,200 milligrams of hawthorn extract per day had better blood pressure improvements than the placebo group.
2. Lowered Blood Fat Levels
There is some scientific evidence that hawthorn extract can help improve your blood fat levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. When at normal levels, these fats act as transporters for nutrients and hormones throughout your body, but at elevated levels they can build up and become dangerous impediments to your blood flow. High levels of triglycerides coupled with imbalanced levels of HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels. The longer plaque builds up, the more at risk you are of developing conditions like heart disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
A 2016 animal-based study on hawthorn extract showed it decreased total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides (by 28-47%). Another study from 2009 demonstrated similar results. Mice were fed a high-cholesterol diet and divided into a hawthorn extract group and a cholesterol-lowering drug group (simvastatin)—both reduced triglycerides and total cholesterol in roughly the same amounts, however hawthorn extract also lowered LDL cholesterol.
3. Antioxidant Activity
Hawthorn berries are full of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that are found in plants and help fight cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants aid the body by defending our cells against the damage done by free radical molecules, which enter our bodies via poor diet or environmental pollution like cigarette smoke, etc.
Polyphenols in humans have been shown to lower risk factors for asthma, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, viral infections, heart problems, and the symptoms of premature aging. This leads to the suggestion that the effects of hawthorn as an herbal medicine may help lower the risk for disease, though more research is needed before researchers can reach a consensus.
4. Enhanced Immune Support
The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial abilities of hawthorn may provide immune-strengthening support. A 2013 laboratory study found that hawthorn extract’s antibacterial power was able to act against and sometimes kill Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococcus aureus cells. A 2008 lab study found the same abilities regarding hawthorn berry extract and Listeria monocytogenes, a cause of foodborne illness.
The anti-inflammatory effects of hawthorn berry have been found to reduce inflammatory compounds in mice with liver disease, and decrease inflammation and asthma symptoms as well. Chronic inflammation characterizes conditions like asthma, cancer, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, and the use of hawthorn supplements may be able to help alleviate it.
5. Digestion Aid
Indigestion and stomach upset are one of the oldest uses of hawthorn berries and hawthorn extract, and modern clinical trials prove its worth in these arenas. The fiber content of hawthorn berries acts as a prebiotic (feeding your good gut bacteria), reducing instances of constipation and aiding digestive health.
This 2016 observational study found that just 1 gram of dietary fiber can help regulate digestion times, and a 2018 study on hawthorn extract specifically provided the same fiber-based results. Hawthorn extract can even have the same protective effects on the stomach as anti-ulcer medications.
6. Alleviate Anxiety
Hawthorn has exhibited a mild sedative influence that could help relieve symptoms of anxiety. A 2002 study of participants taking hawthorn extract found they experienced lower levels of anxiety, while a larger study from 2004 revealed that a combination of magnesium, California poppy flower, and hawthorn significantly reduced levels of anxiety over the placebo group.
While more pinpointed studies are needed, there are nevertheless indications that hawthorn could favorably impact anxiety, and if you’re interested in trying it, speak with a health care professional of your choice to seek relevant medical advice.
7. Treatment of Heart Failure
Hawthorn is well known for its positive impact on patients with poor cardiovascular health, specifically those with chronic heart failure. A 2008 review of studies found that those who ingested hawthorn extract alongside their medication for heart failure exhibited improved exercise tolerance and heart function, plus reduced levels of fatigue and shortness of breath.
A 2-year-long observational study published in 2004 found the same results in those with heart failure who supplemented with hawthorn berry extract: fewer heart palpitations, less fatigue, and lower instances of shortness of breath. The hawthorn berry group also found they needed fewer medications to manage their heart health.
For these reasons and more, those with heart failure are medically encouraged to add hawthorn extract to their regimen of medications for chronic heart failure, as it brings proven results with almost no side effects outside of some dizziness or mild nausea. However, consult your doctor regarding your specific heart medications before adding any supplement to your diet.
How to Take Hawthorn
If you’re interested in trying the hawthorn berry, it’s very easy to add to your diet. Though it may not be next to the grapes and strawberries in your grocery store, farmers markets and health food stores often have it, and you can order the berries online in raw or dried forms, in pre-made tea packets, or in jams, syrups, and pie fillings. Moreover if you’re looking to supplement with hawthorn it’s even easier: just search for hawthorn supplements in powdered, liquid, or capsule/pill form, and add it to your daily vitamin intake.
The minimum effective dose for those with heart failure is 300 milligrams per day, but seek your own medical advice before deciding on dosage, as anywhere between 250 and 500 milligrams 1 to 3 times per day has been administered in clinical trials.
Take Me to Hawthorn Heights
For those with heart conditions, using hawthorn alongside medications prescribed for chest pain like beta-blockers could make a real difference to your heart health. For those interested in the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and digestive benefits of hawthorn, it could help improve your blood fat levels and blood pressure as well, protecting your heart from irreversible damage. It may even help alleviate anxiety, so if you’re interested in the benefits of hawthorn, don’t hesitate any longer to explore what it can do for you.