Hawthorn is from the rosaceae family, and is common throughout England in hedgerows, woodland and scrub, on all but the poorest soils, up to a height of about 500 m. It is a tough shrub or tree, with a dense mass of branches, 2 – 4 inch-long, deeply cut green leaves, and clusters of sweet-smelling white blossom. Hawthorn fruits (or haws) are about ¼ inch in diameter, glossy, fleshy and single-seeded, which turn from yellow, to a dark-red when mature in the autumn. As its common name implies, May is when the hawthorn blossoms and is seen at its best.
Hawthorns vary greatly in size, but when left wild, usually become a small, rounded tree about 6m tall, although it can grow to 15m. When young, the bark on the irregular-shaped trunk is smooth and greenish-grey or greenish-brown, but when mature, the trunk becomes rough, slightly flaky and a darker, reddish-grey. The twigs are slender and most species have obvious thorns.
Chemical constituents in hawthorn include vitamin C, flavonoids (quercitin, quercitrin), glycosides, proanthocyandins, anthocyanidins, tannins, saponins and cratetegin (most abundant in the flowers, followed by the leaves, then berries).
The genus name Crataegus comes from the Greek ‘kratos’, referring to the hardness of the wood. Both Greeks and Romans associated Hawthorn with marriage and fertility, and it is one of the oldest known medicinal plants used in European medicine - the fruits of various species have long been used in traditional herbal remedies, along with the leaves and flowers. Its cordial actions on the heart were first reported by the first-century Greek herbalist Dioscorides, and later by the Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493–1541). It was used in the treatment of digestive ailments, kidney stones, and cardiovascular disorders.
Today, hawthorn is used in many forms; as a tea, tincture, capsules, paste, and syrup. It is used mostly for cardiovascular conditions. The cardiovascular effects are believed to be the result of the flavonoids in hawthorn, which have the ability to increase the integrity of the blood vessel wall, improve coronary blood flow and circulation by decreasing arterial resistance, and increase oxygen utilisation. Research also suggests there may be a beneficial effect on blood lipids.
Hawthorn berry preparations have been shown to combat angina, and prevent arteriosclerosis. One study provided evidence that hawthorn extract can improve heart function in patients with chronic heart disease, help regulate both high and low blood pressure, and slowly break down cholesterol and fat deposits. Hawthorn also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mild astringent effects, and can be used to strengthen joint lining, collagen and spinal discs. In China, it is often used for weight loss.
Hawthorn possesses the following properties;