Hawthorn (Crataegus species) has been used to treat heart disease as far back as the 1st century. By the early 1800s, American doctors were using it to treat circulatory disorders and respiratory illnesses. Traditionally, the berries were used to treat heart problems ranging from irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pain, hardening of the arteries, and heart failure. Today, the leaves and flowers are used medicinally. There is even research to suggest that hawthorn might be effective when used in the treatment of mild-to-moderate heart failure.
Animal and laboratory studies report hawthorn contains antioxidants, including oligomeric procyandins (OPCs, also found in grapes) and quercetin. Antioxidants are substances that destroy free radicals, which are compounds in the body that damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Free radicals occur naturally in the body and grow in number as we age. Environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, smoking, some medicines, and air pollution) can also increase the number of these damaging particles. Scientists believe free radicals contribute to the aging process (such as wrinkling), as well as the development of a number of health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants in hawthorn may help stop some of the damage from free radicals, especially when it comes to heart disease.