What Is It?
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), a rose family member popularly planted along hedges to deter trespassers with its prickly branches, has heart-healthy properties that ancient Greeks and Native Americans recognized centuries ago. Its modern reputation as a healing agent dates to Victorian times, when an Irish physician’s secret heart formula was ultimately revealed to contain a tincture made from the bright red berries.
Hawthorn is now a frequently prescribed heart remedy in Europe. A potent antioxidant, it appears to work by opening up blood vessels that feed the heart, thus increasing this muscle’s energy supply and enhancing its pumping power. It also helps to relieve mild or stable angina (chest pain), control high blood pressure, strengthen heart function, and reinforce a normal heartbeat.
Hawthorn extracts should be standardized to contain at least 1.8% vitexin, also known as vitexin-2″-rhamnoside. This is the herb’s primary active ingredient.
If you take prescription heart medications, consult your doctor before taking this herb. Dosages of prescription medications may need to be lowered or altered in some other way when taken along with hawthorn. Never stop taking a prescription heart medication (or alter the dosage) without consulting your doctor.
The effect of the following classes of drugs may be dangerously increased by hawthorn: antihypertensives; calcium channel blockers (including amlodipine, diltiazem, verapamil); beta blockers (including atenolol, metoprolol, propranolol); ACE inhibitors (including benazepril, enalapril, fosinopril); digitalis drugs and cardiac glycosides (including digitoxin, digoxin); and nitrates (including amyl nitrate, nitroglycerin, sildenafil citrate, isosorbide mononitrate, and dinitrate).
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
Because of hawthorn’s strength and its effects on such a vital organ as the heart, consult your doctor before taking this herb. It’s best not to take it if you already have low blood pressure. And don’t expect hawthorn to help stop an acute attack of angina; it isn’t capable of doing this.
Hawthorn is generally recognized as safe, although such side effects as nausea, sweating, fatigue, and rashes do develop on occasion. The herb can also drastically lower blood pressure and cause such symptoms as dizziness and fainting, even in people who have normal blood pressure and do not suffer from heart disease. Stop taking hawthorn and consult your doctor if any of these reactions occur.
Angina 100-250 mg standardized extract of leaf/flower combination 3 times a day; or 1-2 ml (1/4 to 1/2 tsp.) liquid extract 3 times a day. Some products also contain hawthorn berry, which is harmless but not clinically effective.
Arrhythmia 100-250 mg 3 times a day
Congestive Heart Failure 100-250 mg standardized extract of leaf/flower combination 3 times a day; or 1-2 ml (1/4 to 1/2 tsp.) liquid extract 3 times a day. Some products also contain hawthorn berry, which is harmless but not clinically effective.
Heart Disease Prevention 100-250 mg standardized extract of leaf/flower combination 3 times a day; or 1-2 ml (1/4 to 1/2 tsp.) liquid extract 3 times a day. Some products also contain hawthorn berry, which is harmless but not clinically effective.
High Blood Pressure 100-250 mg 3 times a day
David Edelberg, M.D.
First reported as a heart tonic in the first century and now one of the mainstays of European heart remedies, hawthorn is the herb for your heart. A member of the prickly rose family, this popular hedge shrub sports colorful red berries. While these berries were traditionally used in heart potions, most of the studies now indicate that extracts from the dried leaves–and in some cases the flowers–should be used instead.
HOW IT HELPS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Hawthorn seems to work its magic by relaxing and opening up blood vessels that feed the heart, and by enhancing the overall workings of the heart muscle. This combination goes a long way toward stabilizing blood pressure because the heart no longer has to work as hard to pump blood around the body. A potent antioxidant, this herb may also help to relieve chest pain and reinforce a normal heartbeat.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Be patient. You may have to take hawthorn for four to eight weeks or more before seeing any improvement in your blood pressure.
There are a wide variety of hawthorn products to pick from, including: Capsules containing a standardized extract of hawthorn. This is the best pick, in my opinion, because it’s the closest you can get to guaranteed potency. Tinctures, fluid extracts, and teas are available too, although I personally prefer capsules because measuring out these liquids or counting out drops can be tedious.
The dosage of hawthorn in products that combine it with other heart-healthy nutrients (calcium, magnesium, coenzyme Q10) may be lower than the amount you’re aiming to get. On the other hand, the concentration of other heart-healthy herbs might well compensate for the shortfall.
Look for standardized extracts containing 2.2% flavonoids or 18.75% oligomeric procyanidins, the herb’s primary heart-protective compounds.
Hawthorn is a powerful herb. That means not only that you can expect results, but that you have to treat it with respect. Never stop taking a prescription medication for high blood pressure or other heart-related condition—or alter the dosage—without consulting your doctor. Nonetheless hawthorn may enhance or inhibit the effects of these medications, requiring an adjustment in your current dosage. Watch your reactions. Like conventional medicines that lower blood pressure, rarely hawthorn can be so efficient that you might feel lightheaded or dizzy. Stop taking the herb if this occurs.
David Edelberg, MD