Hawthorn in fruit

Hawthorn, Crataegus spp.

Family: Rosaceae, the Rose Family

Description: Approximately 100 species of hawthorn in the eastern United States, some native, some non-native, but there are several common characteristics: Small tree or shrub with thorns, toothed leaves, round buds, a fruit called a pome (like a tiny apple or pear)

Abundance: Varying depending on species.

Habitat: Varying, but typically fields, forests, thickets, ornamentally planted

Plant Parts Used: Fruit generally, but all parts can be used

Food: Jams, jellies

Medicine: Nutritive, tonifying, mild hypertension, unsettled hearts, improving focus

This is a plant suited for every heart problem. Hawthorn increases the output of blood and corrects arrhythmias. It also can treat heart palpitations, racing hearts, and cold hands and feet. The fruits are best to use, but any part can work. High in pectin, hawthorn fruits make a great jelly. Deb says the flower, leaf, and fruit serve as a cardiac tonic that can be taken consistently to ensure a healthy circulative system and heart function. She told me this plant is very safe, so is fine for long-term use. In Germany, many people are taking hawthorn in combination with pharmaceutical heart medications and sometimes even instead of pharmaceuticals. According to Guo et al., “the German Commission E approved the use of extracts of hawthorn leaf with flower in patients suffering from heart failure graded stage II according to the New York Heart Association.” Guo et al. completed trials with 855 patients with chronic heart failure and found that being treated with hawthorn extract (from the dried leaves, flowers, and fruits) was more effective than the placebo.

People who have a family history of stroke or heart disease could choose to take a tea or tincture of hawthorn regularly to keep their hearts healthy. Not only can hawthorn be used for heart-related diseases, but also it can be used for treating an unsettled heart, such as a broken heart, or for people who are unsettled due to witnessing something disturbing, for example. Deb told me that hawthorn can even be used for mild hypertension. There is also ongoing research looking at using hawthorn to treat ADD/ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and for combating lack of focus.

The Cherokee used an infusion of the bark to promote good circulation. The Meskwaki, Blackfoot, Lakota, Ojibwa, Omaha, Ponca, and Winnebago, among others, ate the fruits raw or cooked, though the latter three ate hawthorn fruits mostly as a famine food.

Hawthorn flowering in England
Hawthorn flowering in England

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Guo R, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD005312. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005312.pub2.
  • Haines, Arthur. “Preserving Native Plant Knowledge.” Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, Mt. Desert, Maine. 9 Oct. 2010. Lecture.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel. “Native American Ethnobotany: A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.” UM-Dearborn College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://herb.umd.umich.edu/&gt;.
  • Soule, Deb. College of the Atlantic Edible Botany Class Field Trip to Avena Botanicals. 10 Oct. 2010. Rockport, Maine.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.