Hawthorn Berry (Shan Zha)

Crataegi FructusAs one of commonly used Chinese herbs, hawthorn berry, also known as Shan Zha in Pinyin, has a very long history of medicinal use. Since ancient time it has been considered one of the best medicines for strengthening spleen to whet the appetite, promoting digestion to relieve food retention, and quickening blood to dissipate stasis. It is said that its characteristic properties of softening hard mass and removing food retention were found unintentionally by our forefather when they cooked old chicken meat and hard meat with a few hawthorn berries and found that the meats were more easily to turn soft. Currently, there are over 50 kinds of hawthorn fruit based Chinese patent medicines available over the counter, such as Da Shan Zha Wan (Major Crataegus Pill), Jiao San Xian (Scorched Three Immortals), Bao He Wan (Preserve Harmony Pills), and so on. So, what is hawthorn berry good for?

What is hawthorn berry?

When used as medicine, it mainly refers to the ripe fruits of Crataegus pinnatifida Bge.var.major N.E.Br. or Crataegus pinnatifida Bge., which are members of the family Rosaceae. Other names of hawthorn also include Crataegi Fructus, Fructus Crataegi, fruit of Crataegus pinnatifida, Chinese hawthorn, Crateagus oxycanthus, Chinese haw, Whitethorn, Thorn-apple tree, Shan-cha, and so on. In China it is mainly produced in Henan, Shandong, Hebei, and Shandong. And the hawthorn fruits cultivated from Shandong province are generally considered high quality. It is usually harvested in autumn when fruits are ripe, sliced, and dried. Medicinally it is used raw or fried. Besides of the mentioned species, there are many other similar ones used as Shan Zha too, such as Crataegus kansuensis Wils., Crataegus sanguinea Pall., Crataegus hupehensis Sarg., Crataegus scabrifolia (Franch.) Rehd., Malusyunnanensis schneid., Mprunifolia (Willd.) Bo-rkh., M.asiatica Nakai., Docynia delavayi(Franch.)Schneid., and so on.

Crataegus pinnatifida Bge.var.major N.E.Br. is a deciduous tree, up to 6 meters in height. Branch thorns are 1 to 2cm long or without thorns. Simple leaf is alternate; petiole is from 2 to 6cm long; blade is broadly ovate, triangular-ovate, or rarely rhombohedral-ovate, 6 to 12cm long, 5 to 8cm wide, and with 2 to 4 pairs of pinnate lobes, acuminate apex, broadly cuneate base, glossy upper surface, and lower surface with short pubescence along the veins and irregular heavy serrated edge. Corymb is about 4 to 6cm in diameter; calyx is bell-shaped and 5-lobed; white corolla is about 1.5cm in diameter; petals are 5 and obovate or nearly round; stamens are about 20 and with red anthers; pistil is 1; ovary is inferior, and with 5 rooms, and 5 styles. Pome is nearly spherical, up to 2.5cm in diameter, crimson, and with yellow-white spots and a deep circular depression at apex because sepals fall of very late; small pits are 3 to 5, and with slightly edged outer side and smooth inner side. Bloom time is from May to June and fruiting time is from August to October. It contains L-epicatechin; quercetin; hyperoside; chlorogenic acid; citric acid and its monomethyl ester, dimethyl ester, and trimethyl ester; sucrose; flavan polymer; and ursolic acid.

Crataegus pinnatifida Bge. has very similar look and chemical constituents. Main differences are smaller fruits that are in about 1.5cm diameter and smaller leaf blade that is with deeper lobe.

Hawthorn berry benefits

It is reported that the combination of hawthorn berry with other herbs can be a good remedy for a variety of diseases, such as indigestion, anorexia in children, infant diarrhea, dysentery, abdominal pain, postpartum blood stasis, and more.

a) 89 cases of hyperlipidemia in middle-aged and elderly adult have been treated with hawthorn-based Jiang Zhi Le (literally Lipid-lowering Happy). The results showed that the efficiency of lowering cholesterol and triglycerides were 69.49% and 80.28% respectively. What’s more, it can still improve a poor appetite, lassitude, lack of energy, high blood pressure, and other symptoms.

b) 186 cases of angina pectoris have been treated with Xin Xu Ning Pin, which is made from the extract of hawthorn and Ge Gen (Kudzu Root). And the efficiency is 89.87%. In addition, it has a very good blood pressure and lipid-lowering efficacy too.

c) 105 cases of acute and chronic pyelonephritis have been treated with decoction of 90g hawthorn on daily basis (treatment of children with reduced-dose). And the remedy was with a good result.

Besides, it is also widely used in the treatment of hepatitis, delayed menstruation, lower limb soft tissue injuries, intractable hiccups, vocal cord polyps, frostbite, and so on.

Modern pharmacological actions of hawthorn berries

1) Fatty acids contained can promote fat digestion and increase the secretion of digestive enzymes in the stomach to promote digestion. Besides, it has some adjustments to the gastrointestinal function;
2) Its extract can expand coronary artery, increase coronary blood flow, and protect myocardial ischemia and hypoxia;
3) Hawthorn extract can effectively improve the heart function, lower blood pressure, and prevent cardiac arrhythmia;
4) Its extract can lower blood lipid and reverse atherosclerosis. And its mechanism of lowering serum cholesterol and triglycerides is probably achieved by increasing the concentration of HDL cholesterol in serum and its subfractions and increasing the excretion of cholesterol;
5) In addition, it still can decrease platelet aggregation, inhibit oxidation, enhance immunity, increase the flow of urine, reduce excitability and calm a person, help uterine contractions, destroy bacteria, and so on.

Sample hawthorne berries formulas on herbal remedies

The Chinese Materia Medica thinks that it is sour-sweet in flavor and slightly warm and non-toxic in nature. And it goes to meridians of spleen, stomach, liver, and lung. Common functions are helping digestion and dissolving stasis. Main hawthorn berry uses and indications are accumulated meats and greasy foods, diarrhea and dysentery, abdominal bloating and pain, blood stasis induced dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, postpartum abdominal pain, and lochia. Recommended hawthorn berry dosage is 3 to 10 grams in decoction. And it can be available in the forms of hawthorn berry tea, extract, supplement, powder, syrup, tincture, capsules, and more.

1) Yun Qi San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment). It is formulated with Mu Xiang (Costus) and Qing Pi (Orange Rind) to treat abdominal distention and pain due to food stagnation.

2) Bao He Wan from Dan Xi Xin Fa (Dan Xi’s Experiential Methods). It is combined with Shen Qu (Massa Medica Fermentata), Mai Ya (Barley Malt), Ban Xia (Pinellia), Fu Ling (Poria), Chen Pi (Citrus Peel), Lian Qiao (Forsythia), and Lai Fu Zi (Radish Seeds) to cure dyspepsia and abdominal pain and fullness.

3) Jian Pi Wan from The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment. It is matched with Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), Mu Xiang (Costus), Huang Lian (Coptis Root), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Ren Shen (Ginseng), Sha Ren (Cardamom Seed), Shan Yao (Chinese Yam), etc. to heal Chronic gastritis, chronic enteritis, indigestion, and other diseases that are caused by food stagnation and spleen deficiency.

4) Tong Yu Jian from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works). It is joined with Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Xiang Fu (Cyperus), and Hong Hua (Safflower Flower) to treat postpartum abdominal pain due to blood stasis, lochia, dysmenorrhea, and amenorrhea.

Popolar hawthorne berry recipes

Hawthorn is edible and characterized as hard texture, thin flesh and slightly sour taste. Since it contains a compound called Vitexin that is anti-cancer, in everyday life it is often consumed as a snack or used as a seasoning to flavor and make more delicious and healthy soup and dishes. And here are some simple recipes for your reference.

1) Stir fried hawthorn
Ingredients: hawthorn 300g, rock candy 80g, and water 150g.
Directions: 1. Wash the hawthorn and remove the pits and stalks; 2. Pour the fruits and water to a pot, add a half teaspoon of salt, and boil them up over medium heat; 3. Add rock candy after water has been boiling; 4. Continue boiling for another 5 minutes; 5. Stir a few times with chopsticks after candy is melted and getting thicker; 6. Boil another 5 minutes and turn off the heat when the fruits absorb enough syrup to become transparent; 7. Dish them up and let them cool down before the serving.
Benefits: This is a Beijing’s traditional snack. Its sweet and sour taste can not only remove food retention, but also refresh your brain quickly.

2) Strawberry hawthorn tea
Ingredients: strawberry, dried hawthorn berries, and rock candy
Directions: 1. Pour water and hawthorn into a pot, heat it up, add in appropriate amount of rock sugar after the water is boiling, and turn off the heat until sugar dissolves; 2. Rinse the strawberries, soak them with a light salt brine for 7 or 8 minutes, and drain off; 3. cut strawberries in half, place them into a cup, pour in the boiled syrup, and soak them for 2 to 3 minutes before drinking.
Benefits: Strawberries are rich in pectin and dietary fiber, which can effectively remove toxic and wastes from the body. And hawthorn helps digestion, in particular after consumption of greasy food. So, this tea can help reduce fat.

3) Haw jelly yam
Ingredients: Hawthorn, Chinese yam, sweet osmanthus sauce, and blueberry jam.
Directions: 1. Cut haw jelly into stripes; 2. Cut yam into the same size; 3. Dilute the jam you like. But don’t add both; 4. Add a little bit rum to the blueberry sauce if you prefer.
Benefits: sweet and delicious, especially when you are with a sweet tooth.

Hawthorn berry side effects and interactions

Eating too many hawthorn berries can cause hyperacidity. And it was reported that excessive eating could lead to gastrolithiasis and small bowel obstruction. Although commercially available preserved haw slice can help promote appetite and digestion in children, it may affect the appetite, maintain a high level of blood sugar, and cause malnutrition and anemia in overconsumption or long-term use. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believes that hawthorn fruit only help digestion. That’s to say, it doesn’t tonify, not in the least! So, it should be used with caution or not used at all in cases of no stagnation or stomach deficiency. d)


a) He Nan Zhong Yi (Henan Chinese Medicine), 1990;4:23;
b) Zhong Cheng Yao (Chinese Patent Medicine), 1994;7:25;
c) Shan Xi Xin Yi Yao (Shaanxi New Medical Journal), 1975;1:35.
d) Zhong Guo Shi Pin Bao (China Food Industry News), 2001;02.01.

3 thoughts on “Hawthorn Berry (Shan Zha)

    1. Marisa

      There are many different reasons why a person may be unable to easily loose weight. Only a licensed practitioner of Acupuncture/Chinese Medicine will be able to explain to you why your particular body is holding on to weight. If the weight gain is due to food stagnation or other forms of stagnation (blood&/or Qi), then yes, this herb in conjunction with others, may be prescribed for weight loss. Not all herbs are safe for everyone, which is why it is best to seek out a licensed practitioner, and one who is board-certified in Chinese herbs! 🙂


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