A member of the rose family, hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a thorny, flowering tree or shrub native to temperate regions of Europe, North America, and northern Asia. Though the tiny sweet red berries (“haws”) are used in jams, jellies, candies, and wines, all parts of the plant—the leaves, flowers, berries, stems, and even the bark—have long been used in herbal medicine as digestive, kidney, and anti-anxiety aids. It’s also prominent as a tonic for treating cardiac diseases and for strengthening the aging heart, a use that dates back to the first century.
The leaves, flowers, and berries of hawthorn contain an abundance of phytonutrients (antioxidants) called oligomeric proanthocyanidins and flavonoids, which are thought to be responsible for its pharmacologic effect.
Scientists think hawthorn benefits the heart by causing a dilation of the smooth muscle that lines the coronary arteries, thereby increasing blood flow to the heart. Hawthorn is also thought to increase heart muscle contraction, heart rate, nerve transmission, and heart muscle irritability.