Hawthorn berries may have potential health benefits related to the heart, diabetes, and cancer. However, scientists need to conduct more research to establish beneficial dosages and safety.

This article explores the hawthorn plant and its fruit. It discusses research about potential health benefits and possible adverse effects. Additionally, it answers some common questions about hawthorn berries.

For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.

Image of two hawthorn berries on a table, with a bowl of hawthorn berries in the backgroundShare on Pinterest
yipengge/Getty Images

Hawthorn is a wild fruit tree that grows in various parts of the world, including Europe, North America, and North Africa.

The botanical name of the genus is Crataegus. It belongs to the Rosaceae family of plants. Although there are hundreds of species of Crataegus, when people refer to the common hawthorn, they typically mean Crataegus monogyna.

Hawthorn is a thorny plant that produces berry-like fruits. Some people refer to these as “haws.” Haws are not technically berries, as they contain stones, similar to plums. However, this article will refer to these fruits as berries, as this is what people commonly call them.

People have used hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers for traditional herbal remedies for centuries. Hawthorn has herbal properties that may have potential health benefits, and scientists have studied the plant’s effectiveness in treating various conditions.

A review notes that historic medical records going back to 659 AD recognize hawthorn as a treatment for various conditions, including indigestion and hernia.

Studies indicate that hawthorn contains beneficial compounds such as antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Flavonoids and procyanidins are the components responsible for most of the therapeutic effects.

Scientists have since studied the bioactive components of the plant. However, further research into them is necessary.

They may protect the heart

According to a 2020 review, hawthorn may have a heart-protecting ability. It may be beneficial for heart health in the following ways:

  • reducing fats in the blood and lowering cholesterol
  • having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
  • potentially helping prevent endothelial dysfunction (narrowing of the arteries)

The authors concluded that scientists need to further research hawthorn’s safety and efficacy for treating atherosclerosis. This means that people with heart conditions should talk with a healthcare professional for further advice before consuming hawthorn.

They may have anticancer properties

A 2021 laboratory study showed that hawthorn berries had anticancer potential. The researchers used cells from a brain tumor and found that the hawthorn extract could kill them and inhibit their multiplication. The potential anticancer properties are due to the high polyphenol content of the berries.

However, further studies on humans are necessary.

They may be beneficial for diabetes

A 2022 review suggests scientists may be able to develop new drugs for diabetes from hawthorn. After examining studies from the last 20 years, the reviewers suggest that hawthorn may have the following health benefits for diabetes and its complications:

It is important to note that the majority of the studies included in the 2022 review were animal studies, so their findings may not apply to humans.

The authors noted that researchers should further investigate hawthorn for potential diabetes treatments. People with diabetes should talk with a doctor for further advice before consuming hawthorn.

They may have antimicrobial properties

A 2020 study indicated that the berries of Crataegus azarolus, which is a hawthorn species that grows in the Mediterranean, may be effective against seven different microorganisms and gram positive bacteria. Antimicrobial substances may kill or prevent the growth of potentially harmful microorganisms.

In addition, the berries contain complex carbohydrates and antioxidants, which may have potentially helpful uses in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

They may help digestion

Animal studies suggest that a type of hawthorn that grows in Northeast China, Crataegus dahurica Koehne, may help digestion. The hawthorn extract significantly accelerated the time it took food to move through the digestive tract in mice.

However, the effect may not be the same in humans, so scientists need to study this potential benefit further.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that scientists have not reported any serious safety problems in most studies of hawthorn for heart failure.

However, it mentions one study that indicated hawthorn worsened heart failure in study participants. This may have been because hawthorn interacted with the drugs they were taking.

This is why it is important that people who wish to try hawthorn talk with their doctor first, especially if they are taking medication.

The NCCIH also states that hawthorn may cause side effects, including:

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about hawthorn berries.

Are hawthorn berries poisonous to humans?

Hawthorn berries are not poisonous. However, the plant does contain a chemical called amygdalin, which can cause cyanide toxicity at high doses.

A person should talk with a doctor for further advice before consuming hawthorn berries.

Who should not try hawthorn berries?

There is little safety information about taking hawthorn if someone is pregnant or breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

Additionally, hawthorn may interact with medications, so a person should be sure to talk with their doctor before consuming it.

Can someone take hawthorn berries every day?

Individual hawthorn extracts that retailers sell will typically provide instructions on how often to take the preparation.

However, people should talk with a healthcare professional about whether they can or should take hawthorn berries and how often.

Evidence suggests that hawthorn berries may have potential health benefits for the heart and diseases such as diabetes and cancer. However, scientists need to conduct more studies to clarify hawthorn’s efficacy and safety.

People may consume hawthorn berries or take them as an extract. However, a person should talk with their doctor before consuming hawthorn berries or extract.