Dried hawthorn berries are medicinal herbs used for treating high blood pressure and improving cardiovascular function. Some safety concerns over the use of hawthorn berries might discourage you from using this herb, but the berries contain beneficial health properties such as tannins, flavonoids and other compounds that work as powerful antioxidants. In fact, antioxidant polyphenols are the properties in hawthorn berries responsible for inhibiting plaque-forming cholesterol, according to a 2003 study conducted at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, France. If you are interested in using hawthorn berry, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.
Hawthorn berries have a tart taste. They are used in jams, jellies, fruit punch and pies. A few of the 200 species of hawthorn are are dried and the extracts used in Chinese and evidence-based medicines. The propagated dried fruits of the Crataegus shanzha species are regularly used in Chinese medicine for aiding digestion. Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus oxycantha are species cultivated and used for strengthening cardiovascular function. Hawthorn berries are carefully harvested for culinary and medicinal use. Do not eat wild hawthorn berries. The seeds of hawthorn berries contain cyanide, a toxin that converts to hydrogen cyanide -- a highly poisonous gas -- in the intestines.
For short-term use, hawthorn has shown clinical efficacy for preventing and treating hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. However, the safety and effectiveness of hawthorn for long-term use is still under investigation, according to a peer review published in the 2005 "The American Journal of Chinese Medicine."
Hawthorn berry might cause drug interactions when taken with medications used for treating high blood pressure. According to "2010 Lippincott's Nursing Drug Guide,” hawthorn can interact with digoxin and phenylephrine. Digoxin is a prescription medication used for treating irregular heartbeats and hypertension. Hawthorn berry can increase digoxin's effects, which would provoke low blood pressure at potentially dangerous levels. Hawthorn berry decreases the effects of phenylephrine, an ingredient used in decongestants.
Some people experience disconcerting effects when taking hawthorn. The herb is sometimes prescribed for treating angina and heart palpitations, but it may actually cause chest pains and irregular heartbeat in some people. These are indications of overdose, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Heart palpitations and chest pains may also occur during physical activity or exertion. This could indicate a side effect associated with hawthorn. It might be difficult to distinguish the difference between mild side effects and an adverse reaction. If you experience any of these symptoms while taking hawthorn berry, contact your doctor or pharmacist.