There are several hundred species of hawthorn that are common especially in Europe, North America and Asia. The name Crataegus derives from the Greek ‘kratos’, literally meaning strength, and ‘agein’, literally meaning ‘to fetch’. The two words can be translated as ‘to give strength’. In Poland, hawthorn is also known by other common names, some of which mean ‘common hawthorn’, ‘white thorns’, or ‘stingy plant’.
In Poland, the most common types of hawthorn include common hawthorn (C.monogyna) and midland hawthorn (C.leavigata).
Hawthorn is an ornamental plant that is very often planted in parks or gardens. It also grows in forests, thickets, near field boundaries and on slopes. It is mostly found in the form of a shrub, although it can also grow as a tree, the height of which depends on species classification. When hawthorn blooms, passers-by can admire its beautiful white or pink flowers. Hawthorn berries are red, egg-shaped or spherical. Hawthorn fruits proper are, in fact, yellowish-brownish stones. Hawthorn flowers are harvested from naturally growing plants during flowering, while the fruits are picked in the autumn or just before they reach full maturity.
Hawthorn is highly valued in phytotherapy.
Hawthorn flowers and hawthorn berries are used as a herbal raw material. In folk medicine, flowers were often combined with fruits and used in various forms. Hawthorn is used first of all to prepare tinctures, although hawthorn decoctions or infusions are also popular. In the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industry, hawthorn extracts have also gained recognition.
What important active ingredients does hawthorn contain?
Both hawthorn fruits and hawthorn flowers are a rich source of many active compounds. The most important of them include flavonoids and proanthocyanidins. In addition, hawthorn contains tannins, saponins, caffeic acid, triterpene acids, pectins, vitamin C and B vitamins. Hawthorn fruits and hawthorn flowers as raw materials have a very similar chemical composition but differ in the contents of the individual active ingredients.
When should I use hawthorn?
For centuries, hawthorn has been considered a valuable plant with a variety of uses in pharmacotherapy and in the food and cosmetic industries. In phytotherapy, it is traditionally used to strengthen the heart and the functioning of the circulatory system. It normalises the heart rhythm, promotes blood circulation in the organs and facilitates proper supply of oxygen. It slightly lowers blood pressure as well.
The active substances contained in hawthorn show antioxidant properties (especially flavonoids and catechins), inhibit the development of atherosclerotic processes, and triterpene saponins hinder the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract, reducing the level of cholesterol in the body and preventing the narrowing of blood vessels.
Due to the high content of vitamin C, hawthorn is also excellent as an agent strengthening the body’s immunity.
Hawthorn fruits and flowers have a great power to relieve anxiety and irritability and facilitate falling asleep.
Hawthorn products have a calming effect, contribute to relieving anxiety and irritation, and reduce heart palpitations. Therefore, hawthorn is recommended to those having trouble sleeping and experiencing chronic stress. The substances hawthorn contains have a positive effect also on the psychological well-being and help get rid of insomnia.
Why have hawthorn products gained recognition in cosmetics?
Because hawthorn is a valuable source of natural antioxidants – flavonoid compounds and vitamin C, it smooths and hydrates the skin and makes it more elastic. It also prevents breaking of capillaries and forming of ‘spider veins’. Hawthorn extract also contains other vitamins, e.g. niacin, that contribute to the good condition of the skin. It increases the elasticity of the blood vessels, improving the blood supply to the skin and, therefore, its overall condition.