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Hawthorn berries

Chinese: 山楂

Pinyin: Shān Zhā

Parts used: Dried ripe fruit

TCM category: Herbs that relieve Food Stagnation

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): SourSweet

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach Heart Liver

Scientific name: Crataegus pinnatifida

Other names: Hawberry

Use of hawthorn berries (Shan Zha) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities and seeds, dry.

Dosage: 9 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Improves digestion and reduces Food Stagnation. Invigorates the Blood and breaks Stasis. Treats hypertension and heart disease. Reduce body fat

Primary conditions or symptoms for which hawthorn berries may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Hypertension Abdominal pain Abdominal bloating Amenorrhea Abdominal colic Hernial pain Hyperlipidemia

Contraindications*: Should be avoided by those with Spleen and Stomach Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which hawthorn berries (Shan Zha) are used*

Bao He Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Reduces food stagnation. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: GastroenteritisChronic gastritis and others

Shan Zha is a king ingredient in Bao He Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bao He Wan, Shan Zha awakens the Spleen, unbinds the Stomach, promotes food intake, and assists digestion. It is particularly useful for problems due to overindulgence in meat and greasy foods.

Read more about Bao He Wan

Pai Shi Tang

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Discharge Gallstones. Clear Damp-Heat. Facilitate urination.

Conditions targeted*: Hepatic calculusCommon Bile Duct Stone and others

Shan Zha is an assistant ingredient in Pai Shi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Pai Shi Tang, Shan Zha invigorates the Blood and breaks Blood Stagnation. It also improves digestion and reduces Food Stagnation. 

Read more about Pai Shi Tang

Key TCM concepts behind hawthorn berries (Shan Zha)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), hawthorn berries are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that relieve Food Stagnation' category. These herbs typically possess digestive and Food moving properties as they relate to the Stomach and Spleen. Some of these herbs are high in digestive enzymes and have varying specific abilities to help with the digestion of food.

Furthermore hawthorn berries are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that hawthorn berries tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition hawthorn berries can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Hawthorn berries also taste Sour and Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sour ingredients like hawthorn berries help with digestion and restrain abnormal discharges of Fluids from the body, such as diarrhea or heavy sweating. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such hawthorn berries are thought to target the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. In addition to regulating Blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on hawthorn berries (Shan Zha)

The Chinese hawthorn fruit has demonstrated efficacy in lowering blood cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour activities.1

Hawthorn Fruit is the most often used herb in the TCM treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.2

Detoxifying and blood circulation activating Chinese herb extraction of polygonum cuspidatum and hawthorn has good effect of anti-atherosclerosis and promoting plaque stability.3


1. Jurikova T, Sochor J, Rop O, Mlcek J, Balla S, Szekeres L, Adam V, Kizek R. (2012). Polyphenolic profile and biological activity of Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida BUNGE) fruits. Molecules. 17(12):14490-509. doi: 10.3390/molecules171214490.

2. Shi KQ, Fan YC, Liu WY, Li LF, Chen YP, Zheng MH. ( 2012). Traditional Chinese medicines benefit to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Mol Biol Rep. , 39(10):9715-22. doi: 10.1007/s11033-012-1836-0. Epub 2012 Jun 21.

3. Liu LT, Zheng GJ, Zhang WG, Guo G, Wu M. (2014). Clinical study on treatment of carotid atherosclerosis with extraction of polygoni cuspidati rhizoma et radix and crataegi fructus: a randomized controlled trial. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. , 39(6):1115-9.

Use of hawthorn berries (Shan Zha) as food

Hawthorn berries are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Tanghulu or Shanzhagao.