It's worth noting that the term “hawthorn” can refer to any of the trees and shrubs that belong to the genus Crataegus. While there are many species native to North America, the most well-known are the common hawthorn (C. monogyna) and the smooth hawthorn (C. laevigata), which are often used as hedge plants and ornamentals.
Hawthorn berries are rich sources of polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants. Eating hawthorn berries and other antioxidant-rich foods can help protect the body from the effects of oxidative stress, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases. A study published in Nutrients revealed that hawthorn berries can potentially lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death around the world.
In traditional Chinese medicine, hawthorn berries are used to improve blood flow in the coronary arteries. This improves cardiac function, which lowers blood pressure and prevents arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats). Clinical trials have also shown that hawthorn berries can act as a vasodilator or an agent that can open up blood vessels to improve blood flow.
Hawthorn berry extract can potentially improve cholesterol levels, according to studies. While cholesterol plays an important part in many bodily functions, having too much of it can lead to serious conditions like heart disease and stroke. A murine study published in Nutrients revealed that hawthorn fruit extracts can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and reduce triglyceride levels in the liver by up to 47 percent. Another study noted that hawthorn berry extract exhibits a similar effect to the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin.
Heart failure is responsible for at least one in nine deaths in the U.S. each year, and around 5.7 million adults have this condition. Hawthorn berries have long been used in traditional medicine for treating heart failure, and modern studies have demonstrated their effectiveness. In a scientific review, researchers reported that heart failure patients who took supplements containing hawthorn berry extract improved their heart function. Other studies have also shown that hawthorn berries can improve fatigue and heart palpitations common to those with heart failure. (Related: Hawthorn berries are very helpful for many heart related conditions.)
Multiple studies show that hawthorn berries can help strengthen immunity, thanks to their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. In a study published in the African Journal of Traditional, Contemporary, and Alternative Medicines, researchers observed that hawthorn berry extracts were effective against superbugs like Streptococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Another in vitro study also revealed that the extracts exhibit antibacterial activity against Listeria monocytogenes, the primary pathogen in listeriosis.
Because of their health benefits, hawthorn berries are good additions to any type of diet. While the berries might be difficult to find in groceries, they are often sold at farmers' markets or specialty food stores.
Food.news has more on the health benefits of hawthorn berries.