Alternative names: Hawthorne, haw, may bush, may tree, may blossom, mayflower, quickset, thorn-apple tree, or whitethorn.
The leaves, flowers, and berries of hawthorn contain a variety of bioflavonoid-like complexes that appear to be primarily responsible for the cardiac actions of the plant. Bioflavonoids found in Hawthorn include oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs), vitexin, quercetin, and hyperoside. The action of these compounds on the cardiovascular system has led to the development of leaf and flower extracts.
While there are over 250 species of shrubs called Hawthorn, Crataegus oxyacantha (or sometimes called C. laevigata) is one of the more common species used medicinally. While the dried fruits (berries) are most often used, the flowering tops and leaves have very similar properties and are used with some frequency for the similar conditions.
Hawthorn is sold as dried berries, capsules and tinctures. Extracts are often standardized for one of two different chemical compounds: total flavonoids (usually calculated as vitexin) or procyanidins. An average dose is 200mg of an extract standardized for approximately 1.5% vitexin or 2.0% flavonoids.
Hawthorn contains an abundance of flavonoids including hyperoside, quercetin, vitexins, rutin and more. A number of other compounds are also found in hawthorn such as proanthocyanidins, various vitamins and minerals, fructose, beta-sitosterol, xanthine derivatives and more.
Hawthorn is antispasmodic, sedative, and a vasodilator. Hawthorn may help the heart in several ways. It may open (dilate) the coronary arteries, improving the heart's blood supply. It may increase the heart's pumping force. It may eliminate some types of heart-rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias). It may help limit the amount of cholesterol deposited on artery walls.
It is very good for treating either high or low blood pressure by strengthening the action of the heart; it helps many blood pressure-related problems.
Hawthorn is best known as a cardiotonic. Used frequently in cases of congestive heart failure and high blood pressure; it is the hyperosides and the vitexins (especially the vitexin-2 rhamnoside) that are present in hawthorn enabling it to effect these conditions. Essentially, hawthorn has been shown to increase the inotropic effect (contractile force), and increase the tolerance of the heart to lower oxygen (hypoxic) conditions.
As a cardiac tonic, it protects arterial walls. Studies have confirmed that the plant is a rich source of healthy chemical compounds, including procyanidins and the flavonoids rutin and vitexin, which have the ability to dilate coronary blood vessels – the vessels supplying the heart with vital oxygen and nutrients. It can normalize blood pressure and prevent palpitations and arrhythmias; it has also been used for support of cardiac failure, hypertension (high blood pressure), arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), angina pectoris (heart/vascular pain), and tachycardia (rapid heart beat). Cardiovascular effects result from taking the herb over a prolonged period.
Researchers in Germany recently gave hawthorn extract to patients suffering from congestive heart failure and found the patients experienced fewer overall symptoms and showed improvements in stamina and a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate during exercise. Hawthorn is good for arthritis because it helps stabilize collagen, the protein found in joints that are destroyed by inflammatory diseases. It also has antioxidant effects.
While many herbalists recommend the whole, dried berries, leaves or flowers; extracts are available in which the extract has been standardized to various amounts of vitexin rhamnosides. Look for hawthorn berries in products for the heart, or in products where flavonoid compounds would enhance effectiveness of the product.
The herb is considered non-toxic. There are no known interactions with prescription cardiac medications or other drugs. Large amounts of hawthorn may cause sedation and/or a significant drop in blood pressure, possibly resulting in faintness.
There are no known contraindications to its use during pregnancy or lactation.
Be warned that if you do take a digitalis prescription, this could elevate your blood level and should be monitored closely by your physician. However, no cases have yet been reported so far as we know.
In a sample of 1,011 patients with stage II cardiac insufficiency, a standardized hawthorn extract containing 84mg of oligomeric procyanidins improved ejection fraction and resting pulse rate, and produced a reduction in cardiac arrhythmias. Duration of the study was 24 weeks. [Eur J Heart Fail 2000;2(4): pp.431-7]
Clinical trials with an extract (WS 1442) have successfully demonstrated improved cardiac function and improved quality of life primarily in patients with early stage CHF. For the treatment of early stage CHF, the effective daily dosage of WS 1442 (standardized to 18.75% oligomeric procyanidins) has ranged from 160-900mg per day, divided into 2-3 doses. Benefit has been shown in the 160-480mg per day range. [Fortschr Med 1996;114: pp.291-6]
Hawthorn is particularly recommended. Proanthocyanadins stabilize collagen to prevent cholesterol deposits on arterial walls, prevent free radical damage, reduce peripheral vascular resistance, angina, cholesterol, and increase coronary and myocardial perfusion; hawthorn has a historic use in congestive heart failure; dosage 3 to 5gm as either dried herb, solid extract, or liquid extract.
Ginkgo (250mg tid) is also recommended. Concentrated extracts may be required to achieve the recommended doses. In addition, a tincture (30 to 60 drops tid) or tea (1 cup tid) of one to four of the suggested herbs, taken before meals, may be helpful.
Hawthorn can be an effective therapy for congestive heart failure, which is the main complication of cardiomyopathy. The clinical trials with heart failure patients have demonstrated efficacy using 80-300mg per day of standardized extract of hawthorn per day (containing more than 2% vitexins). A study of cardiomyopathy and hawthorn has yet to be done.
Hawthorn tea is good for nervous tension and sleeplessness.
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