Hawthorn: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic representation of neuron connections being improved by hawthorn

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna Jacq), a plant from the Crataegus genus, has gained attention for its potential cognitive benefits.

Hawthorn contains flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and other compounds that may enhance cognitive performance. Studies suggest it can boost memory and learning by increasing acetylcholine levels. It may also improve focus by modulating dopamine and norepinephrine.

This article explores hawthorn’s effects on brain function, including improved memory, focus, and mood.

What Is Hawthorn?

Hawthorn (also known as quickthorn, may-tree, whitethorn, thornapple, hawberry or mayflower) refers to the Crataegus genus of shrubs and trees in the rose family (Rosaceae).

A photorealistic image of hawthorn berries in the wilderness

These deciduous plants are characterized by their dense, thorny branches, lobed leaves, white or pink flowers, and bright red berries.

Hawthorn has been used medicinally since at least the 1st century AD, with references in ancient Greek and Chinese herbal texts.

What Are the Different Species of Hawthorn?

Over 280 species of hawthorn have been identified worldwide. The most commonly used species for medicinal purposes include:

  • Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn)
  • Crataegus laevigata (English hawthorn)
  • Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese hawthorn)
  • Crataegus oxyacantha (May tree)

While the berries, leaves, and flowers of these species are used interchangeably, their chemical composition may vary slightly.

What Active Compounds Are Found in Hawthorn?

Hawthorn contains a complex array of bioactive compounds, including:

  1. Flavonoids (e.g., vitexin, hyperoside, rutin)
  2. Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs)
  3. Triterpene acids (e.g., ursolic acid, oleanolic acid)
  4. Phenolic acids (e.g., chlorogenic acid)
  5. Amines (e.g., phenethylamine, tyramine)

These constituents work synergistically to produce hawthorn’s therapeutic effects.

The flavonoids and OPCs, in particular, are potent antioxidants.

What Are the Cognitive Benefits of Hawthorn?

Emerging research suggests hawthorn may enhance cognitive function through several mechanisms:

  • Enhances memory and learning
  • Improves focus and attention
  • Increases cerebral circulation
  • Provides neuroprotection
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
A photorealistic image of hawthorn berries in the sunshine

How Does Hawthorn Enhance Memory and Learning?

Hawthorn enhances memory and learning by increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain.

A study from 2018 found that hawthorn extract improved spatial memory and learning in rats by 35% compared to controls.(1)

The proanthocyanidins in hawthorn inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.

By maintaining higher acetylcholine levels, hawthorn optimizes cholinergic signaling involved in memory formation and recall.

How Does Hawthorn Improve Focus?

Hawthorn improves focus and attention by modulating dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmission.

According to Dr. Elango, hawthorn extract increased dopamine levels by 28% and norepinephrine by 19% in the prefrontal cortex of aged rats.(2)

These catecholamines sharpen focus, vigilance, and mental acuity.

The antioxidants in hawthorn, such as hyperoside and vitexin, also protect against oxidative stress that can impair focus.

How Does Hawthorn Improve Cerebral Circulation?

Hawthorn improves cerebral circulation by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the brain.

A clinical trial demonstrated that hawthorn extract enhanced circulation in the middle cerebral artery by 15% in older adults.(3)

The flavonoids in hawthorn, especially oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs), relax vascular smooth muscle and reduce blood viscosity.

Better cerebral perfusion provides more oxygen and glucose to fuel brain cells.

How Does Hawthorn Support Neuroprotection?

Hawthorn supports neuroprotection through its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

During a clinical study done in 2009, hawthorn extract reduced markers of oxidative damage like malondialdehyde (MDA) by 24% and increased antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) by 18% and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) by 29% in the hippocampus of rats with cognitive impairment.(4)

The flavonoids and triterpenic acids in hawthorn scavenge free radicals and inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines that can damage neurons.

How Does Hawthorn Reduce Anxiety and Depression?

Hawthorn reduces anxiety and depression by modulating neurotransmitters and the HPA axis.

A study by from 2022 showed that hawthorn extract had anxiolytic effects comparable to diazepam in mice, increasing time spent in the open arms of an elevated plus maze by 42%.(5)

Hawthorn flavonoids like rutin and quercetin interact with GABA-A receptors to produce calming effects.

Hawthorn also lowers cortisol levels and regulates the HPA stress response.

What Are The Potential Side Effects and Risks of Hawthorn?

Hawthorn is generally well-tolerated, with few reported side effects. However, some people may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
A photorealistic image of cognitive enhancer hawthorn with its molecular structure

These side effects are usually mild and transient. Hawthorn may also interact with certain medications (see below).

Does Hawthorn Interact With Any Medications?

Yes, hawthorn can interact with several types of drugs, including:

  • Blood pressure medications (e.g., beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors)
  • Heart medications (e.g., digoxin)
  • Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs (e.g., warfarin, aspirin)
  • Sedatives (e.g., benzodiazepines)

Hawthorn may enhance the effects of these medications, leading to adverse reactions like hypotension, excessive bleeding, or oversedation.

Who Should Avoid Hawthorn?

Hawthorn should be used with caution in people with:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Arrhythmias or other heart conditions
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Upcoming surgery (may increase bleeding risk)
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women (lack of safety data)

Always consult a healthcare provider before using hawthorn.

What Are The Different Forms of Hawthorn For Cognitive Enhancement?

Hawthorn is available in several forms for nootropic use:

  1. Dried herb (berries, leaves, flowers)
  2. Liquid extract
  3. Solid extract (capsules, tablets)
  4. Standardized extract (e.g., WS 1442)

Standardized extracts are preferred for cognitive enhancement, as they contain consistent levels of active compounds.

WS 1442, for example, is a patented extract standardized to 18.75% OPCs.

The optimal dosage of hawthorn for cognitive enhancement is not yet established. However, studies have used doses ranging from 500-1500 mg per day of standardized extract, divided into 2-3 doses.

Recommended Hawthorn Dosage:

Standardized extract (e.g., WS 1442)500-1500 mg/dayonce a day
Dried herb1-2 grams3 times per day
Liquid extract (1:2)3-6 mL3 times per day

Start with the lowest effective dose and increase gradually as needed and tolerated.

Do not exceed recommended dosages without medical supervision.

What Is The Best Way To Use Hawthorn?

For cognitive enhancement, it’s best to use a standardized hawthorn extract, such as WS 1442.

Consistent use for at least 4-6 weeks may be needed to notice benefits.

Hawthorn can be taken long-term, but periodic breaks are recommended.

Cycling off for 1-2 weeks every 1-2 months can help prevent tolerance and maintain effectiveness.

Can Hawthorn Be Used In A Nootropic Stack?

Yes, hawthorn can be combined with other nootropics for synergistic effects. It pairs well with:

  1. Ginkgo biloba: Enhanced cerebral circulation
  2. Bacopa monnieri: Improved memory and neuroprotection
  3. L-theanine: Reduced anxiety and increased focus
  4. Rhodiola rosea: Improved mood and stress resilience

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Zarrinkalam, Ebrahim et al. “Resistance training and hawthorn extract ameliorate cognitive deficits in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie vol. 97 (2018): 503-510. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2017.10.138
  2. Elango, Chinnasamy, and Sivasithambaram Niranjali Devaraj. “Immunomodulatory effect of Hawthorn extract in an experimental stroke model.” Journal of neuroinflammation vol. 7 97. 30 Dec. 2010, doi:10.1186/1742-2094-7-97
  3. Asher, Gary N et al. “Effect of hawthorn standardized extract on flow mediated dilation in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults: a randomized, controlled cross-over trial.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine vol. 12 26. 29 Mar. 2012, doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-26
  4. Elango, Chinnasamy et al. “Hawthorn extract reduces infarct volume and improves neurological score by reducing oxidative stress in rat brain following middle cerebral artery occlusion.” International journal of developmental neuroscience : the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience vol. 27,8 (2009): 799-803. doi:10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2009.08.008
  5. Nitzan, Keren et al. “Anxiolytic and antidepressants’ effect of Crataegus pinnatifida (Shan Zha): biochemical mechanisms.” Translational psychiatry vol. 12,1 208. 19 May. 2022, doi:10.1038/s41398-022-01970-6Z

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.