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In the vernacular, it is stubbornly assumed that hawthorn species are poisonous plants. The dangers after consumption are said to be varied and for this reason many people recommend not consuming Crataegus berries in particular. But is that true? Known locally by many different names, hawthorn is really a poisonous plant that you should be wary of?

Hawthorn: Poisonous or not?

Have you ever heard that you should absolutely avoid the berries and contact with Crataegus, a genus within the pome fruit family (bot. Pyrinae)? The red berries in particular, which sit on the thorny branches, are said to be poisonous and lead to a variety of symptoms of poisoning. Despite this assumption, you don't have to worry about hawthorn toxicity as it is present in all parts of the plant non-toxic is. It doesn't matter whether you have a single-lobed (bot. Crataegus monogyna) or a double-lobed (bot. Crataegus laevigata) in the garden. They are completely harmless in terms of their ingredients and even children, sick and sensitive people can eat the berries, make tea from the flowers or chew the leaves. The reason for this is the following ingredients:

  • OPC (Oligomeric Procyanidins)
  • Vitexin
  • Vitexin rhamnoside
  • routine
  • hyperoside
  • tannins

Roughly speaking, these substances are flavones, i.e. plant pigments that are responsible for the coloring of the berries. They do not have a toxic effect on organisms and are therefore completely harmless. The tanning agents are contained at a maximum of one percent and are therefore also unproblematic. Hawthorn even has positive effects on the body and is very healthy in terms of eating the berries and using the other parts of the plant, from the bark to the roots. The plants have the following effect on the body, regardless of the plant parts ingested:

  • improved oxygen supply to the heart
  • improved cardiac contractility
  • relieves nervousness
  • slightly improved blood pressure

notice: All people who have an allergy to rose plants (bot. Rosaceae) should refrain from eating the parts of the plant, since in the worst case it can even lead to an anaphylactic shock. For example, if you or your family are allergic to almonds, plums, apples, strawberries, or rose hips, avoid eating hawthorn berries.

risk of confusion

Are you wondering why, despite their health benefits, hawthorns are often thought to be poisonous? The reason lies in the similarity to species of the Sorbus genus, above all the rowan (bot. Sorbus aucuparia) and whitebeam (bot. Sorbus aria). Their red berries contain parasorbic acid, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and intestinal irritation after eating raw rowan and rowan berries. Therefore, as you can see, if you want to feast on hawthorn fruit, you need not worry because poisoning will not ensue. You can even process the fruit into liqueur or jam.

dangers for humans

Despite the non-existent poisonous effect, you should be a little careful when caring for, keeping and harvesting hawthorn, as the plants are not entirely harmless. The reason for this is thorns, which, depending on the species, measure between 2.5 and 8 centimeters like the crowfoot hawthorn (bot. C. crus-galli) and are very robust. You can easily injure yourself on these, especially if you act on them with force. Children in particular are at risk, as hawthorns are often used as hedges, which, due to their growth, invite you to play. So make your children aware that they have to watch out for the thorns when playing. Otherwise, the hawthorn poses no danger.

tip: The berries have the highest aroma and vitamin content towards the end of September, which can be recognized by the intense red colouration, which is reminiscent of ripe tomatoes. From this point on, you can harvest the berries and feast on the tasty fruits.

effect on animals


You don't need to worry about man's best friend. Hawthorns are for dogs too not poisonous and the four-legged friends can eat the berries or chew on thornless branches. As with children, you should only be careful that your dog does not run into the hedge while playing or chew on a branch with thorns.


There is also an all-clear for cats. You can let cats nibble on Christmas thorn as much as you want. Just make sure your velvet paw doesn't try to climb up the trees, as they'll injure themselves that way. Cats are rarely bitten by the plant compared to dogs unless they are being chased by another animal and run into the bush in panic.

tip: You can even feed the plant to smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters or chinchillas. The plant is particularly recommended as a small snack.


Farm animals such as horses, sheep or pigs can also be fed the berries or leaves. Older horses in particular can benefit from hawthorn as a feed additive, as the ingredients have a positive effect on heart function. Heart activity and blood circulation are significantly strengthened, even in horses with heart problems.

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

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