Hawthorn – Crataegus SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Heart Herb of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, thornapple is called mine’saga’wunj, meaning “having fruit and also spikes.” No other shrub in Canada has these awl like thorns. Hawthorn, despite its thorny appearance, is both an edible and strongly medicinal plant.

Hawthorn - Crataegus SPP.
Hawthorn – Crataegus SPP.

Be very careful with the thorns – don’t poke your eye out! They are scary sharp! Northern shrikes have been seen impaling their dinner on these thorns. We have a few hawthorns recorded in Haliburton Flora: crataegus macrosperma, crataegus punctata, and crataegus schuettei. More up-to-date, iNat has four listed, the nonnative one is common hawthorn. But we have three native hawthorns too: fireberry (crataegus chrysocarpa), black (crataegus douglasii), and dotted (crataegus punctata). I am pretty sure I’ve mostly seen the nonnative one around. But they can be hard to tell apart.

Haws contain compounds that effect blood pressure and heart rate, so use with caution. Because the berries are medicinal, even the edible uses have a medicinal element. It’s highly recommended you check with a qualified health care professional before using hawthorn. Many folks, past and present, use haw as a heart tonic, either in medicinally prepared forms or simply in a jam.

Edible Uses of Hawthorn

The young leaves and flower buds are edible.

Haw is a close relation to apple and it shows – the fruits look like mini apples and even taste like an unripe apple. Most species are seedy, mealy and bland, but the fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried for later use. They can be used as a rose-hip substitute in recipes. Picking them around early autumn is recommended, but last time I checked mine well before fall had even arrived, the birds had already plucked all but 7 haws off of the shrubs. (Yet birding only gives me more reason to plant them!)

Haws are rich in pectin and usually boiled with sugar to make syrups, marmalade, jams, and jellies. A great pairing with local wild fruits that lack pectin.

The haws can also be steeped to make tea, best with a sprig of mint. They are also used in juice and wine.


Dark colored haws are high in flavonoids.

Medicinal Uses of Hawthorn

Hawthorn is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Cardiovascular
  • Circulatory
  • Muscular
  • Nervous
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Antispasmodic, Astringent, Diuretic, Carminative, Hypotensive, and Vasodilator. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a cardiac tonic. Green Pharmacy includes in its list: angina, cardiac arrhythmia, heart disease, high blood pressure, and intermittent claudication. Robin tells me a story of a man seemingly having a heart attack, and told to chew a shoot of haw on the spot. It’s said to slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure by dilating the arteries and veins. It acted fast for this man, thankfully.

A tincture or herbal wine is great for taking haw medicine, but there’s also tea or capsules. An example of a homemade recipe is to simmer 1/2 ounces hawthorn berries in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes, with a teaspoon of cinnamon, and sweeten with honey. Take three times a day after meals.

The astringent flowers and berries are good for typical astringent uses like sore throats, runs. I could go on and on. Anxiety. Insomnia. Truly a power plant.

Alternative Uses of Thornapples

The hardwood is good for walking sticks, if you can find a suitable rod – if you utilize the thorns as well, I suppose that is one way to keep people and small weasels away from you when hiking.

The thorns are used as awls, for working thin leather, and as fish hooks.

Growing Crataegus SPP.

Hawthorns should get more attention. Pollinators love the flowers, birds and chipmunks alike love the fruit. And they are nice on the eyes as long as you don’t poke your eye out.

Suckers can be transplanted from the wild and are fast growing; best doublecheck you have native fireberry (crataegus chrysocarpa), black (crataegus douglasii), or dotted (crataegus punctata). Haw is old English for “hedge”, which is a great plan for these. Oh, and I’m excited that pear can be grafted into hawthorn and I envision a hedge of thorns and pears lining my garden. Its Latin name means “strong hedge”.


With such a strong heart medicine, please consult a qualified heath professional before using! It’s far too possible to self-misdiagnosis and exasperate a heart problem instead of helping it.

Overdose can cause side effects including cardiac arrhythmia and low blood pressure. 

Patients taking digoxin should avoid hawthorn. There may be other drugs it is contraindicated with.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

The Herb Bible

A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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