So, what exactly are hawthorn berries and how can they benefit you? Hawthorn berries, or “haws” as they’re often called, are used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. More importantly, they’re loaded with bioflavonoids, proanthocyanidins and other antioxidants, making hawthorn particularly effective for cardiovascular care.
A little hawthorn history
Native to northern Europe, hawthorn grows throughout the world. The red berry-like fruits contain many powerful substances. Hawthorn berries belong to the same family of plants as apples and roses, which is why they’re bright red in color. And like roses, the berries are accompanied by long, woody thorns that can be quite hazardous, if not carefully handled.
During ancient times, every part of the bush — flowers, berries, leaves, stems and bark — were used to make medicines. In fact, most modern preparations use the leaves and flowers (standardized extract) which are believed to contain more flavonoids than the berries.
At one time, hawthorn was referred to as the “bread and cheese tree.” Since the flowers, berries and leaves were all edible, it was a lifesaver during famines. Also, known as food for the heart, these powerful little berries can do wonders for cardiovascular health. In Europe, thousands of doctors prescribe hawthorn to prevent cardiovascular disease. Today, hawthorn is an official drug in Brazil, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia and Switzerland.
Hawthorn is ideal for those who have a family history of heart disease. When used in conjunction with a healthy diet and stress management, hawthorn is an effective long-term treatment for cardiovascular health. Additionally, it is not habit forming, accumulative or toxic.
Heart failure is a condition whereby the heart is unable to pump enough blood to other organs in the body. Hawthorn has been extensively studied in people with heart failure, showing positive results. Studies published in Pharmacognosy Review suggest that hawthorn berries significantly improves heart function. In fact, the low/negligible incidence of side effects experienced by patients indicate that hawthorn is particularly useful in treating stage I and II heart failure.
The Journal American Family Physician suggests that hawthorn can enhance a person’s ability to exercise following heart failure. It can also improve symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath. According to one study, taking hawthorn extract (900 milligrams a day for two months) was as effective as low doses of captopril. Captopril is a prescription heart medication that improves symptoms of heart failure.
A large study found that hawthorn was effective in treating 952 people with heart failure suggests the University of Maryland. The study compared treating heart failure with conventional drugs to hawthorn alone, and in addition to taking hawthorn with prescription drugs. After two years, participants who took hawthorn supplementation had decreased symptoms of heart failure. Palpitations, breathing problems and fatigue had significantly improved when taking hawthorn alone or with other drugs.
Heart failure is a serious condition, and should never be self-treated with hawthorn. Before taking hawthorn, consult with your doctor first.
Hawthorn may help combat angina, caused by low blood flow to the heart. Research published in The Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge suggests that hawthorn dilates coronary blood vessels and improves blood flow. In addition, it strengthens heart muscles and helps to rid the body of excess salt and water.
High blood pressure
Hawthorn berries may also be useful for controlling blood pressure. A pilot study from Readings University in the UK set out to investigate the hypotensive potential of hawthorn extract and magnesium. Participants were assigned a daily supplement of either 600 milligrams, 500 milligrams hawthorn extract, a combination of both or a placebo. At week 10, researchers found a reduction in the resting diastolic blood pressure in the participants who were assigned the hawthorn extract.
In addition to the antioxidants eliminating dangerous toxins from the body, the vitamin C in hawthorn berries are also boosting the activity of your white blood cells to increase your overall health!
In many traditional medicines, hawthorn berries are used for certain psychological conditions, including stress, anxiety and even depression. During the pilot study conducted in the UK, which evaluated hawthorn for hypertension, a trend towards a reduction in anxiety was observed in those taking hawthorn compared with the other groups taking a placebo. Hawthorn may have an impact on hormonal levels, which would explain why so many cultures of the past believed it was the cure “for a broken heart.”
The many organic compounds found in hawthorn interact with gut flora to improve digestion. Additionally, the fiber in hawthorn improves the digestive process, helping with constipation, bloating and cramping.
Apart from improving nutrient uptake and eliminating constipation, it’s also suggested that hawthorn may help eliminate intestinal infections like tapeworms.
Eczema and psoriasis
You may even apply hawthorn berry solution topically to the skin. Some of the organic compounds have anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, hawthorn may reduce itching on healing wounds or from other skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
Research shows that hawthorn may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. In an eight-week Australian study, patients with abnormal amounts of lipids in the blood were treated with hawthorn fruit. The study showed that hawthorn berries simultaneously increased serum levels of HDL cholesterol and decreased LDL cholesterol. By doing so, hawthorn may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Many studies conclude that hawthorn can expand the coronary blood vessels, which allows for more blood to circulate through the body. That means a higher level of energy or alertness. When the body is properly oxygenated, cognitive skills improve, energy levels rise and metabolism can work at optimum levels.
Hawthorn berries contain active compounds with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals, which alter cell membranes, hinder DNA and cause cell death. Free radicals contribute to premature aging and many other health problems, including heart disease. Antioxidants found in hawthorn counteract free radicals and may reduce or prevent some of the damage they cause.
How to make your own hawthorn berry tincture
Tinctures are one of the best ways to gain the benefits of hawthorn berries. Tinctures are usually administered in very small doses since they are traditionally created using high-proof alcohol. Make a hawthorn tincture, by steeping the berries in vodka or brandy for three to four weeks, then filter. If you can’t or don’t want to consume alcohol, use apple cider vinegar instead. But keep in mind, the tincture will not be as potent. Fifteen drops are considered one dose.
Make a hawthorn tincture by steeping the berries in vodka or brandy for three to four weeks, then filter. If you can’t or don’t want to consume alcohol, use apple cider vinegar instead. But keep in mind, the tincture will not be as potent. Fifteen drops is considered one dose.
- 3 to 4 cups fresh hawthorn berries
- 4 8-ounce mason jars and lids
- Enough vodka, brandy or apple cider vinegar to top filled jars
1. De-stem the berries into a bowl. You can do this by pushing your pointer finger and thumb finger together and popping off the berry from the stem. You can also roll the berries in the palms of your hand until they fall away from the stems. Some stems are okay, but remove any large pieces from the bowl.
2. Rinse berries well and strain.
3. Fill clean and sterilized jars two-thirds the way up with berries.
4. Fill each jar with enough alcohol or apple cider vinegar so that berries are covered.
5. Secure the jars tightly with lids, and store in a cool, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks.
6. Shake the jars daily. After 3 to 4 weeks the tincture is ready.
7. Strain the berries out, reserving the liquid.
8. Pour into jars. Cover tightly and store in a cool, dry area. You can fill clean, dropper bottles as well, which is easier for dispensing.
Potential side effects
Although modern drugs are effective in preventing cardiovascular disorders, their use is often limited due to their side effects. Most of the adverse effects from using hawthorn berries are mild to moderate. However, most studies indicate that oral hawthorn is well tolerated. One study, which included 29 clinical studies consisting of 7311 patients reported 166 adverse events.
Side effects may include upset stomach, sweating, fatigue, nausea, agitation or dizziness. More serious side effects include shortness of breath, severe allergic reactions, heart irregularities and mood swings. Therefore, before adding hawthorn to your diet, speak with your doctor.
— Katherine Marko