Hawthorn’s reputation as a heart tonic is both renowned and well-deserved, as it reliably provides a slow, gentle effect upon the heart and its associated blood vessels (cardiovascular system). It often requires several weeks of regular, daily use in order to produce appreciable results, though – so slow and steady is Hawthorn’s maxim!
Interestingly, its botanical name “Crataegus” is derived from the Greek word “kratos,” meaning strength. This is in reference to the strength of its wood – and, perhaps, also a reflection of its strengthening quality in the body as well.
Hawthorn’s tonic effect upon the heart and blood vessels makes it useful for both high and low blood pressure. It can help to decrease blood pressure that is too high and, conversely, increase pressure that is too low.
Hawthorn acts directly upon the coronary blood vessels. These vessels supply the heart muscle itself with blood (i.e., oxygen, nutrients). It has the ability to dilate (open) these vessels, increasing their diameter and thus the amount of blood that is provided to the heart muscle. This may be of benefit in helping to relieve the painful spasms and shortness of breath associated with angina.
Hawthorn berry and leaf are a rich source of proanthocyanidins, a type of bioflavonoid. These particular ones improve the metabolic processes in the heart, including better uptake and utilization of oxygen. Hawthorn improves the force of contraction of the heart muscle which may make it helpful for palpitations and arrhythmias, as well as improving circulation overall. Its flavonoids also inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), an enzyme which plays an important role in blood pressure regulation. This property, as well as Hawthorn’s mild diuretic action, contributes to its blood pressure-lowering effects,. Flavonoids are also powerful antioxidants and provide protection from free-radical damage in the body.