Hawthorn (Shan Zha)

Botanical Name: Western: Crateagus oxycanthus. Eastern: Crataegus pinnatifida.

The leaves and berries of the Hawthorn are edible.  The young leaves are used in salads and the berries are made into jams and jellies. This popular garden ornamental plant has long been known for its ability to treat many ailments of the heart and circulatory system.

Below is an overview of hawthorn, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of hawthorn.

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Western Name: Hawthorn

Also Known As: Hawthorn Berries, Thornapple, Maytree, Whitethorn, Hawberry, Quickset, Aggles,

Organs/Systems: Circulatory System, Heart

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Restores Heart Tissue, Nourishing, Restoring, Sedating, Antioxidant, Mild Diuretic, Astringent, Softening Nodules. Congested heart failure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, indigestion, diarrhea, stomach pain. Reduce anxiety, promote urination, menstrual problems. Can also treat tapeworms and other intestinal infections. Externally treats skin boils, sores, ulcers and frostbite.


Pin Yin: Shan Zha

Also Known As: N/A

Meridians: Liver, Stomach, Pericardium, Heart

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Relieves Food Stagnation: digestive aid, loose stools, poor appetite, restlessness. Restores the Heart/Aids Circulation: fatigue, shortness of breath, palpations, heavy feeling in chest, degenerative heart conditions of all sorts. Tonifies Yin/Clears Heat/Calms Shen: night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, feverishness, menopausal syndromes. Promote Urination/Transform Blood Stasis/Soften Nodules: stabbing cardiac pain, thrombosis, tachycardia, gallstones, urinary stones, angina, postpartum abdominal pain and clumps, hernia disorders.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the Rosaceae Family. It is currently estimated that there are 200 species. They can grow 16-49 ft. tall (5-15 meters), with small pome fruit and usually thorny branches. The leaves grow spirally arranged on long shoots, and in clusters on spur shoots on the branches. The “fruit” (sometimes known as the “haw”) is berry-like but structurally contains 1-5 pyrenes that resemble “stones” of plums and peaches, etc.

HawthornParts Most Frequently Used: Leaves, Berries, Flowers

Flavors: Sour, Slightly Sweet, Slightly Warm, Bitter, Astringent

Caution: Do not use if using Digoxin, a heart medication.

History/Folklore: Many species of hawthorn make excellent bonsai trees. This herb also increases the amount of blood pumped out of the heart during contractions.  It also widens the blood vessels and increases the transmission of nerve signals. Research suggests it can also lower blood pressure and seems to lower the accumulation of fats in the liver and the aorta.

Many cultures have historically used hawthorn. For example, modern Chinese Medicine uses it to treat hepatoprotective activity and hepatitis. In Iran, the fruit is eaten raw as a snack or made into jelly. In Mexico, the berries (called “tejocotes”) are stuffed into pinatas during the pre-Christmas celebration Las Posadas. In the ancient Middle East, it is suggested that hawthorn was the source of Jesus’s crown of thorns. In Britain and Ireland, it is considered bad luck to uproot the plant. In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn is said to mark the entrance of the “otherworld” and is strongly associated with the fairies. Serbian and Croatian folklore notes that hawthorn is deadly to vampires and stakes used for their slaying must be made from the wood.

Hawthorn is an excellent example of an herb that is used very differently in the West than in China. In the West, the parts of the plant above ground are valued, however in the Orient the roots are valued. In China, hawthorn is considered integral to formulas treating food stagnation.

This herb also surfaces in Arthurian legend with regards to Vivian, the young girl who sought to learn all Merlin could teach.  She learned Merlin’s final and deepest knowledge, how to turn a man into a tree, and supposedly turned the magician into a hawthorn tree.

Key Constituents:

Flavonoids: hyperoside, rutin, quercetin, vitexin, epicatechin, catechin and proanthocyanadins. Also contains phenols such as chlorogenic acid and tannins. Vitamin C.

Did you know?

Taste of Over-Ripe Apples

The “haw” in hawthorn derives from the Old English term for hedge, and is the name of the fruit. Hawthorn is edible, with a taste similar to over-ripe apples.


Food and Shelter

Hawthorns provide food and shelter to birds and mammals. The flowers are important for nectar-feeding insects. The “haw” is important to thrushes and waxwings in Winter, as they eat them and disperse the seeds in their droppings.

Fun fact!


A mix of the berries, sugar and chili powder is a popular candy called Rielitos in Mexico.


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ATENCIÓN: Todo el material proporcionado en este sitio web es sólo con fines informativos o educativos. No es sustituto del consejo de su profesional de la salud o médico. Esté sano. Sea feliz. Siéntase completo. Sea libre.

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