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The name "hawthorn" is derived from "hedgethorn," reflecting this spiny tree's use as a living fence in much of Europe. Besides protecting estates from trespassers, hawthorn has also been used medicinally since ancient times. Roman physicians used hawthorn as a heart drug in the first century AD, but most of the literature from that period focuses on its symbolic use for religious rites and political ceremonies.
During the Middle Ages, hawthorn was used for the treatment of dropsy, a condition we now call congestive heart failure. It was also used for treating other heart ailments as well as for sore throat.
Meaningful evidence indicates that hawthorn is a safe and effective treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF) . Like other treatments used for CHF, hawthorn improves the heart's pumping ability. However, it may offer some important advantages over certain conventional drugs used for this condition.
Digoxin , as well as other medications that increase the power of the heart, also make the heart more susceptible to dangerous irregularities of rhythm (arrhythmias). In contrast, preliminary evidence indicates that hawthorn may have the unusual property of both strengthening the heart and stabilizing it against arrhythmias. 1 2 It is thought to do so by lengthening what is called the refractory period. This term refers to the short period following a heartbeat during which the...
Hawthorn appears to be generally safe. Germany's Commission E lists no known risks, contraindications, or drug interactions with hawthorn, and mice and rats have been given very large doses without showing significant toxicity. 3 In clinical trials, reported side effects were relatively rare and nonspecific, consisting primarily of mild dizziness, stomach upset, headache, and occasional allergic reactions (skin rash). 4 Perhaps the biggest risk with hawthorn is that using it instead of conventional treatment might increase risk of death or other complications of CHF. In addition, it is not known whether hawthorn can be safely combined with other drugs that affect the heart. Therefore (to reiterate), do notself-treat CHF with hawthorn. A physician's...