Hawthorn for the Heart
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on May 21, 2011 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Hawthorn’s reputation as a heart tonic is well-deserved, as it reliably provides a slow, gentle effect upon the cardiovascular system (heart and associated blood vessels). It often requires several weeks of regular, daily use in order to produce appreciable results, though – 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.
Because Hawthorn has a tonic effect upon the heart and blood vessels, it may be useful for both high and low blood pressure. It can help to lower blood pressure that is too high and, conversely, increase that which is too low.
Hawthorn acts upon the coronary blood vessels which supply the heart muscle itself with blood, oxygen, and nutrients. It has the ability to dilate (relax) these vessels, increasing their diameter and thus the amount of blood supplied directly to the heart muscle. This may be of benefit with the painful spasms and shortness of breath associated with angina.
Hawthorn berry and leaf are a rich source of proanthocyanidins. These are bioflavonoids that improve the metabolic processes in the heart, including better uptake and utilization of oxygen. Hawthorn improves the force of contraction of the heart muscle, and thus may be of benefit with palpitations and certain arrhythmias and in improving circulation, overall. Its flavonoids also inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), an enzyme which plays an important role in blood pressure regulation. This action contributes to Hawthorn’s blood pressure-lowering effects, as does Hawthorn’s mild diuretic action. Flavonoids are also powerful antioxidants and provide protection from free-radical damage in the body.
Though it grows as a small tree up to 30 feet, Hawthorn is actually a member of the Rose family – which explains the thorns that its branches wear!
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan