Hawthorn berries are tiny fruits that grow on trees and shrubs of the Crataegus genus.
The genus includes hundreds of species commonly found in Europe, North America, and Asia.
These nutrient-rich berries have a tart, tangy taste, and mild sweetness. They range in color from yellow to dark red.
For hundreds of years, people have used hawthorn berry as an herbal remedy for digestive problems, heart issues, and high blood pressure. The berry has been a crucial part of traditional Chinese medicine since at least 659 A.D.
Here are nine potential health benefits of hawthorn berry.
1. Hawthorn berry is loaded with antioxidants
Hawthorn berry is a rich source of polyphenols, powerful antioxidant compounds in plants.
Antioxidants help neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can harm your body when present at high levels.
Free radicals can come from certain foods. You can also have higher levels of them due to exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution and cigarette smoke.
Polyphenols are associated with numerous health benefits due to their antioxidant activity, including a lower risk of:
- some cancers
- type 2 diabetes
- some infections
- heart problems
- premature skin aging
Though initial research in animals and cells is promising, more human studies are needed to assess the effects of hawthorn berries on the risk of disease.
Summary: Hawthorn berry contains plant polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties linked to numerous health benefits.
2. Hawthorn berry may have anti-inflammatory properties
Hawthorn berry may have anti-inflammatory properties that could improve your health.
Research has found that chronic inflammation is linked with many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers.
In a study in mice with liver disease, hawthorn berry extract significantly decreased levels of inflammatory compounds, leading to reduced liver inflammation and injury.
In one study, researchers gave vitexin — a compound in hawthorn leaves — to mice with respiratory conditions. This treatment decreased the production of molecules that triggered inflammation and reduced the response of white blood cells to inflammation.
These promising results from animal and test-tube studies suggest the supplement may offer human anti-inflammatory benefits. However, more research is needed.
Summary: Hawthorn berry extract has shown anti-inflammatory potential in test-tube and animal studies. Still, research on humans is needed.
3. Hawthorn berry may lower blood pressure
In traditional Chinese medicine, the hawthorn berry is one of the most commonly recommended foods to help treat high blood pressure.
Animal studies show that hawthorn can act as a vasodilator, relaxing constricted blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.
A 10-week study examined the effects of taking hawthorn extract in 36 people with mildly elevated blood pressure.
The researchers found that those taking 500 mg of the extract daily had reduced diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number of a blood pressure reading.
In a 2006 study, researchers gave 1,200 mg of hawthorn extract to 79 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure every day for 16 weeks. The people who took the extract experienced more blood pressure improvements than those in the placebo group.
Still, more studies are needed to back up these findings. It’s also important to note that using an extract is not the same as eating the berries.
Summary: Some research suggests that hawthorn berries may reduce blood pressure by helping dilate blood vessels. However, further studies are needed.
4. Hawthorn berry may reduce blood cholesterol levels
Some studies indicate that hawthorn extract may improve blood cholesterol levels thanks to its flavonoid and pectin content. Pectin is a type of fiber involved in cholesterol metabolism.
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Imbalanced blood cholesterol levels — exceptionally high triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol — play a role in atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in your blood vessels.
If plaque continues to build up, it could completely block a blood vessel, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
In one animal study, mice that received two doses of hawthorn extract had lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and 28–47% lower liver triglyceride levels compared with mice that did not receive the extract.
Similarly, a 6-week study showed that when rats were fed hawthorn berry supplements, they significantly reduced fasting triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Lastly, a 6-month study in 64 people with atherosclerosis found that taking hawthorn extract at a dose of 2.3 mg per pound (5 mg per kg) of body weight significantly reduced the thickness of harmful plaque buildup in the carotid artery.
Though this research is promising, more human studies are needed to assess the effect of hawthorn extract on blood cholesterol.
Summary: Research in animals and humans suggests that taking hawthorn extract may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, more human research is needed.
5. Hawthorn berry is used to aid digestion
People have used hawthorn berries and extract for centuries to treat digestive issues, particularly indigestion and stomach pain.
The berries contain fiber, which has been proven to aid digestion by reducing constipation and acting as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are foods that nourish and promote healthy gut bacteria, which are vital to maintaining healthy digestion.
One observational study in people with slow digestion found that each additional gram of dietary fiber people consumed was associated with a 30-minute decrease in the time between bowel movements.
In other words, the more fiber people ate, the more frequently they pooped.
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Additionally, a rat study observed that hawthorn extract dramatically reduced the gut transit time of food in the digestive system.
Reduced gut transit time means food moves more quickly through the digestive system, which may alleviate indigestion.
Furthermore, research in rodents suggests that compounds in hawthorn berries could enhance the production and activity of digestive enzymes — namely those needed for the digestion of fatty and protein-rich foods.
Summary: People have used hawthorn berry as a digestive aid for centuries. It may help relieve constipation and enhance the production of enzymes needed to digest fatty and protein-rich foods.
6. Hawthorn berry may have anti-aging properties
Hawthorn berries may help prevent premature skin aging caused by collagen degradation from excessive sun or ultraviolet light exposure.
One test-tube study found that a mixture of hawthorn and ginseng extract could prevent signs of aging by inhibiting wrinkle formation and increasing skin moisture.
Research suggests that this effect may be due to the antioxidant content of the hawthorn berry. Nevertheless, research in this area is limited, and human studies are needed.
Summary: Some research suggests that hawthorn berries may help reduce signs of aging due to their antioxidant content.
7. Hawthorn berry may reduce anxiety
Scientists have been investigating hawthorn as a potential novel therapy for anxiety disorders.
In an older study in 264 people with anxiety, a combination of hawthorn extract, magnesium, and California poppy flower significantly reduced anxiety levels compared with a placebo. However, it’s unclear what specific role hawthorn played.
Hawthorn appears to have few side effects compared with traditional anti-anxiety medications. Scientists continue researching it as a potential treatment for central nervous system disorders such as anxiety and depression.
However, these studies have used various hawthorn products, not necessarily the berry. More research is needed.
Don’t stop using your current medications if you want to try a hawthorn supplement to manage your anxiety. Discuss it with a healthcare professional to ensure it’s safe for you.
Summary: Scientists are investigating hawthorn supplements as a potential treatment for anxiety. However, there’s not much research on them for this purpose. More studies of the effects of hawthorn berry on anxiety are needed.
8. Hawthorn berry is used to treat heart failure
Hawthorn berry is best known for its use in traditional contexts in treating heart failure, alongside other traditional medications. Heart failure is when the heart can’t properly pump blood.
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Multiple studies have suggested hawthorn berry may have beneficial effects in people with heart failure without severe adverse effects.
Studies mostly show improvements in heart function and heart failure symptoms — such as shortness of breath and fatigue.
Researchers have suggested that compounds called flavonoids in hawthorn might be behind these beneficial effects.
However, some evidence has suggested that hawthorn may be harmful in some instances of heart failure. One study found that taking it alongside conventional treatments increased the risk that heart failure would progress.
More research is needed.
Summary: In some traditional medicine practices, people commonly take hawthorn berry alongside other traditional medications for heart failure. However, it may be harmful when combined with conventional medications for heart failure.
9. Hawthorn berries can easily be added to your diet
Hawthorn berry may be difficult to find at your local grocery store. However, you may be able to find it at farmers markets and specialty health food stores.
You can add hawthorn to your diet in many ways:
- Raw berries. Raw hawthorn berries have a tart, slightly sweet taste and make a great on-the-go snack. But try not to eat the seeds. Like apple seeds, they contain the toxin cyanide.
- Tea. You can buy premade hawthorn tea or make your own using the plant’s dried berries, flowers, and leaves.
- Jams and desserts. In the Southeastern United States, people commonly make hawthorn berries into jam, pie filling, and syrup.
- Wine and vinegar. Hawthorn berries can be fermented into a tasty alcoholic beverage (for adults) or a flavorful vinegar that you can use to make salad dressing.
- Supplements. You can take hawthorn berry supplements in a convenient powder, pill, or liquid form.
Hawthorn berry supplements usually contain the berry along with the leaves and flowers, though some include only the leaves and flowers.
Different brands and forms of hawthorn supplements have varying dosing recommendations. Typical dosages are 250–500 mg three times daily. However, research has yet to determine an optimal effective dose.
Remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements like hawthorn under a less strict set of regulations than over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Therefore, always make sure to buy them from reputable sources.
Look for products that have received approval from independent organizations that assess supplement effectiveness and quality, such as United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab.
Summary: You can eat hawthorn berries in many ways or take them as a supplement. However, appropriate doses are still undefined, and more research is needed.
Side effects and precautions
Not many side effects have been reported from taking hawthorn berries. Those that exist seem to range from mild to moderate.
The most frequent ones people have reported are sweating, headaches, sleepiness, palpitations, mild rash, agitation, and gastrointestinal effects.
While these are not life-threatening events, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms.
Summary: The side effects of consuming hawthorn berries are mild. They often include sweating, headaches, sleepiness, palpitations, mild rash, agitation, and gastrointestinal effects.
Using medicinal herbs as alternative treatments for several diseases has become increasingly popular due to fewer or milder side effects and reduced costs compared with standard modern therapies.
However, using these herbs increases the risk of herb-drug interactions, which may alter the effects of standard drugs and lead to adverse health effects by increasing, decreasing, or changing the effects of your existing medication.
Research on possible interactions between hawthorn berries and standard medications suggests a potentially harmful effect when people consume hawthorn berries along with heart medications.
Hawthorn berries can potentially increase the effect of blood thinners, blood pressure-lowering drugs, and medications for heart failure.
Additionally, hawthorn may increase the activity of digitalis — a medication used to treat congestive heart failure and arrhythmia or heart rhythm issues. This may increase the risk of toxicity and heart arrhythmia.
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If you’re taking medication for your heart, speak with a healthcare professional before using hawthorn berry supplements.
Summary: Hawthorn berries may negatively interact with heart medications. If you’re taking such medications, speak with a healthcare professional before taking any hawthorn berry supplement.
Due to its antioxidant content, hawthorn berry may have numerous health effects, especially for your heart.
Studies indicate that it may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and even help treat heart failure. In addition, it may reduce inflammation, reduce signs of skin aging, and aid digestion.
However, it may negatively interact with heart medications. Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional before taking it as a supplement.