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Hawthorn is the popular name used to describe plants of the genus Crataegus (family Rosaceae), which includes hundreds of species of shrub-like trees with sharp thorns. The species most often used for health purposes are Crataegus oxyacantha (also known as Crataegus laevigata) and Crataegus monogyna. These species grow up to 15 feet in height and have alternate, lobed or toothed leaves, which are dark green on top and bluish-green underneath, and vary in size and shape. Hawthorn flowers from May to June, bearing clusters of small, five-petal blossoms, which are usually white or pink in color. The tree bears small, bright-red, berry-like fruit with a yellow, pulpy center. The leaves, flowers, and fruit are used for health purposes.
Hawthorn has a history of medicinal and ornamental use dating back 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks and Romans used hawthorn for corsages and bouquets in wedding ceremonies as a symbol of hope and happiness. The Romans believed hawthorn leaves had the power to fend off evil spirits. The Greek physician Dioscorides used hawthorn for medicinal purposes in the first century A.D., and the herb appears in the writings of many other early herbalists. To this day, hawthorn is commonly cultivated as a hedge plant in England and much of continental Europe (in fact, the name "hawthorn" is derived from the Old English term for "hedgethorn"). In folk medicine, the leaves, flowers, and berries are used in heart tonics.
The berries, flowers, and leaves of hawthorn contain a variety of antioxidant bioflavonoids including hyperoside, vitexin-rhamnose, rutin, vitexin, and oligomeric procyanidins.
The recommended dosage for hawthorn supplements depends on the type of preparation used. For dried or powdered berries, recommendations range from one to five grams per day. For concentrated extracts (standardized to 1.8 percent vitexin-rhamnoside concentration), 250 to 750 mg per day is commonly taken. Hawthorn has no known toxicity, and appears to be very safe at these doses. People taking prescription heart medications should consult their doctor before using hawthorn.