“Hello good neighbour, I am looking for someone, someone who can help me to the core, I have some issues and concerns that require attention, do you know somebody?” asked the tired and weary man, wiping sweat from off his brow. “Yes I do, kind fellow, and he’s just the man for the job, Mr Hawthorn is the name he comes by, have you heard of him?” said the neighbour. “Ahh yes, I man after my own heart.” said the weary man.
Hawthorn of the Crataegus species, has had a bit of an interesting and colourful past, and as with some folk, they have been unfairly accused of bad connections and therefore, don’t get the recognition they deserve. Well, hopefully I can help with bringing about a change.
Hawthorn is native to North America, areas of Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor. In very early sites and settlements archeologists have discovered seeds that were from the hawthorn fruit, strongly suggesting that they were using hawthorn berries as a source of food for a very long time.
To the ancient Greeks and Romans, it contained rich symbolism, that they connected with things like marriage, their fertility, and hope, and even the Greek brides and bridesmaids used it at their weddings, where the bridesmaids wore the flower and the bride carried a bough.
Later on, some folk decided to say that the ‘Crown of Thorns” of whom Christ was supposed to have worn, was Hawthorn, and due to this, the reputation of hawthorn went down hill. Sadly, a perfectly good herb was defamed over what was probably just an opinion, as it was more than likely the Jujube Tree – Ziziphus spina-christi, but frankly, nobody really knows.
It appears that this reputation was extended, due to the flower of some European species that had an odour of rotting meat, which was to encourage carrion-eating insects to pollinate their flowers. To add to this, as the plague went through, the dead left lying around had the same smell. I guess that variety wouldn’t be my first choice to plant in my back yard.
Thankfully, this reputation “died away“, and no longer stinketh, and by the time of Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) it had started to gain a good reputation as a ‘medicinal herb’. As Mr Culpeper states:
“The berries, or the seed … are a singular remedy for the stone, … effectual for the dropsy (accumulation of excess water). The distilled water of the flowers stayeth the lask (I have no idea what lask is); and the seeds, cleeted from the down, then bruised and boiled in wine, will give instant relief to the tormenting pains of the body. If cloths and sponges are wet in the distilled water, and applied to any place wherein thorns, splinters, &c. are lodge, it will certainly draw them forth.”
Sadly even after this qualified description, it was not for many years to come that the true essence and virtues of Hawthorn finally came to light until after the death of a doctor who had managed to successfully treat heart disease and congestive heart failure during the 1800’s. Dr D. Greene, of Ennis, County Clare, Eire, a well known Irish physician kept it a secret until his death and then his daughter revealed that he used a tincture made of red ripe hawthorn berries. After this it became widely used by many herbalists and some doctors for treatment of heart and cardiovascular issues.
I believe that all doctors and chemists should have the right to use and prescribe herbs within their practice.
The book ‘Left for Dead’ by Dick Quinn wrote, “Used in conjunction with a healthy diet and stress management, hawthorn is a perfect, preventative prescription for person who have a family history of heart disease.” This is because it is believed to be safe, good with long term use, non-toxic, non-addictive, and non-accumulative. Said to be a ‘normaliser,’ meaning, that it will balance the heart depending on which way it needs to go, either stimulating or depressing.
Also in David Hoffmann’s Holistic Herbal, he says, “Hawthorn, one of the best tonic remedies for the heart … It may be used safely in longterm treatment for heart weakness or failure … palpitations … angina pectoris … and high blood pressure.”
In Russia, the name means something like, “your honor, lady landowner” giving reference to a rich or inaccessible lady who is attractive but hard to get.
The Weed Files
Is hawthorn a shrub or a tree? Well frankly, due to hawthorn being part of a group of over 200 different species, hawthorn really covers a lot of ground you could say. But when speaking about Crataegus monogyna, and if ‘push comes to shove’, I would have to say that it starts as a shrub and ultimately forms a tree. See how I dodged that one?
Is the Hawthorn berry, a berry, a fruit, or a pome?
Now this could actually get rather confusing, as in, when you really tackle such questions from a botanical and scientific approach, you find your wrangling with something bigger than you.
Now the first part” is it a berry? No, it is not, it is actually a pome. Pomes are in a small group of their own, which include apples, pears, loquats, and quince, and lesser known fruits such as: Medlar, California holly, Serviceberry, Rowan, Chokeberries and finally Hawthorn.
Is it a ‘fruit’? Well, yes it is, but when classifying it as a fruit, it is actually, an ‘accessory fruit’; this means that not only did it come from the ovary of the flower, but it is part of the flower. Technically, it is the swelling of the floral tube at the base of the ovary, that engulfs the seed and ovary etc., which is the actual fruit.
The best way to see this, is to cut an apple in half before you eat it and you will see a faint line inside the apple, this is the division between the swelling and the actual fruit.
May, Mayflower or Mayblossom
So where did three of the many common names for hawthorn come from? Hawthorn in the Northern hemisphere tends to bloom from about April to June, and depending on latitudes etc., and the three names May, Mayflower and Mayblossom, comes from the fact that in England it always blooms in ‘May’.
How To Use Hawthorn
Certainly hawthorn doesn’t have the culinary notoriety as so many other fruits and berries, and is more used for its medicinal or practical values depending where you live for example. In some places, hawthorn is just so ‘common place’, that nobody really cares.
But even if you didn’t have an interest in hawthorn in the medicinal sense, it still does have uses. One of its present and oldest uses is in hedgerows, and apart from the stinking varieties, it has beautiful sprays of flowers and fruits, excellent in larger gardens and back drops.
But I hope to supply a few recipes since they are not so common, and try to suggest some other uses you may not have thought of.
Hawthorn Herbal Teas
Herbal tea is probably one of the easiest ways to consume hawthorn, and it is also helpful in the practice of getting the person to sit down and rest, whilst gaining its medicinal benefit. In some ways, this is very important for this particular herb, and why is this? Because this herb requires long term use to gain real and long term benefits, it isn’t one of those herbs that act quickly, even if it is the exact herb you need, it will still take a while.
Simple Hawthorn Teas
- Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of either dried berries, leaves or flower into a cup
- Pour in boiling hot water
- Allow to steep for 15 minutes
- Add sweetener if needed, such as, raw honey, stevia, erythritol or monk fruit
- Sit, rest and enjoy
You can safely drink this tea three times a day, and to make it stronger, simply add more herb, and drink it before meals.
A Hawthorn Decoction
A decoction has several differences from an infusion, and one main thing is that it will be stronger, due to greater processing.
- Place 1 tablespoon (15g) of crushed fruits into a saucepan
- Pour in one cup of water
- Bring to boil and gently simmer for 10 minutes
- Turn off the heat and allow to stand for another 30 minutes
- Drink 1/3 to 1/2 a cup three times a day, 1/2 an hour before meals
- If needed, add some sweetener
- This can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 24 hours
Culinary Uses for Hawthorn
Though not so common, I believe that hawthorn really does have a lot to offer in the culinary world, it just hasn’t been tapped into. We need some ‘interesting’ chef to stamp their mark on the hawthorn world, like cooking hawthorn berries with liquid nitrogen and a blow torch.
Hawthorn is really up to the imagination in how it can be used, as the flowers can be eaten raw, used in green and fruit salads, placed in ice blocks for drinks, decoration on cakes and other desserts such as ice-cream and puddings, in breads, used as a garnish, flavouring for cool summer drinks, punches and other beverages. It can be used in jams and jellies, chutney, sauces for sweet and savoury dishes, marmalades and conserves, which can be spread on anything from toast to cake rolls, scones and buns.
The idea is to think, ‘berry’ or ‘fruit’ and no its not a berry, its a pome and accessory fruit, but where else could you use a berry or fruit?
- Place 2 1/2 cups of cider vinegar in a suitable saucepan
- Add 1 kg / 2.2 lbs of berries
- Bring to boil and then simmer for 15 minutes
- Allow it to cool down until safe enough to put into a blender**
- Blend into a chunky pulp
- Pour the blended mix back into the saucepan
- Add 1 cup of raisins
- Add 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
- Add 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
- Add 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon of cloves and allspice
- A pinch of black pepper
- Simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, whilst stirring
- When quite thick place into a jar and seal and store in the fridge
This goes marvellously with cold meats and and on toast with ricotta or cottage cheese.
** Putting very hot liquids etc., into a blender and blending it can release heat creating an explosive situation. I have burnt myself before blending hot ingredients.
- Pour 1 litre into a large blender
- Add 1 1/2kg / 3.3 lbs of berries to the blender
- Blend into a pulp
- Pour the contents into a suitable saucepan
- Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes
- Strain off and collect the juice
- For each cup of juice, add 1 cup of sugar plus, the juice of a lemon
- Gently boil, stirring regularly to prevent, sticking or burning to the saucepan
- Continue until, you can get a spoonful to set like jelly on a cold saucer
- At this stage, bottle and seal ready for use
Hawthorn berries are very high in pectin.
A Simmering Potpourri
For those users and makers of simmering potpourri, did you know that dried hawthorn berries go with allspice berries?
Health Uses of Hawthorn
Before I say anything here, any heart condition should be considered serious and can be fatal. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly, if you have or suspect a heart condition, it is advisable that you see a medical profession. Hawthorn is an excellent herb to help those with heart conditions, but please see your medical professional first before any self-treatment.
There are three types of hawthorn that are considered in medicinal use in the West, and they are Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus oxycantha syn. C. laevigata, and the Crataegus sanguinea, which I believe may be less known but does have similar properties. With Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chinese practitioners use Japanese hawthorn – Crataegus sinaica.
The parts used for medicinal use are the berries, leaves and flower. They can be used in combination with each other, for example, berries and flowers, or using dried and fresh together will work. But for more specific ‘heart benefits’ its the leaves and flowers that are most helpful.
Collecting from well researched books and from many studies, the list of possible benefits to using hawthorn are numerous.
Hawthorn Facial lotion
This recipe is said to help improve complexion and help with acne.
- Soak 1 cup of fresh berries in 2 cups of water for 8 hours, “OR”
- Soak 1/2 cup of dried berries in 2 cups of water for 12 hours
- After soaking, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
- Allow to cool and then strain
- Either refrigerate for the short term, or freeze for much later use
- Apply both morning and night with a gentle applicator, “OR”
- Use as a cold compress
Gardening Uses of Hawthorn
Though not well known for it’s use in the diet, it has other values worth planting for. Since it has so many varieties, as in, over 200, this gives us a range of uses. One of its nicest uses is as an ornamental, and this comes from three areas:
1). It has quite a lovely little flower and its colour can range from white to a dark pink, that can come out on mass, it is 5 petalled, and 12mm / 1/2″ diameter, and there are a few that have a double flower.
2). After the flush of flowers, then come the gorgeous bursts of red, but sometimes you can get: pink, yellow and orange, and even a white. These “Haws” as they are also called, can be from the size of a raisin to the size of the crabapple – 25 to 37mm / 1″ to 1 1/2″. Some are quite tasty to nearly no flavour. So if you are thinking about putting a few of these into your garden, choose one that you know will work for you.
3). Hawthorn can often have long horizontal branches, which could trained, therefore as it grows, it can be shaped or trimmed, or directed in, around, along and over things to either hide something, create shade, safety from nosey neighbours or cool walls, over pergolas and create wind breaks.
Another use is one of its oldest uses, and that is for building hedgerows to control stock. Some varieties can grow so thick and thorny, that they literally become an impenetrable mass. But I probably wouldn’t put your expensive thoroughbred up against it.
How to Grow Hawthorn
Hawthorn is part of the rose family – Rosaceae, which is part of the reason their double flowers actually look some what like roses. Different species grow differently to others, so some can grow into a tree up to 10 m / 33′ high, and this length of growth can give the ‘clever’ gardener some scope to really become artistic. Many have thorns, so be aware of this, but some don’t. It normally flowers in late spring with small five-petalled white to pink flowers, and the berries arrive in late summer.
Due to hawthorn having so many different species, and some suggesting over 1000, plus the cultivars, and to add to this dilemma, they grow literally in so many environments and climates, it is difficult to nail down easy growing advice.
But at least I can provide some general advice, but it may be a good idea to visit local nurseries and to do a little of your own local observation and research too.
On the whole hawthorn can just about grow in any reasonable soil type, but if you are looking for preferences, then they prefer alkaline soils that are rich, moist and loamy. Be aware that some do prefer full sun to part shade.
From seed it can be a little difficult and worst of all, it can take about 5 months or in some cases up to 18 months, so it is probably not for the impatient gardener.
- Once you see the birds starting to eat the berries, than that is a good sign that you should harvest for the seed. This is usually around mid autumn to winter.
- Start with cleaning away the flesh around the seed
- Drop the seed into a small bowl of water, and if they sink then they are suitable for planting
- Place a mixture of potting mix and sharp sand into 10cm / 3″ pots
- Place the seeds on top of this mix and cover 1 to 2 cm / 3/8 to 3/4″ of the mixture
- Gently water in
- If you are in a region that snows or gets very cold, then leave the pot outside to chill, you may need to protect from vermin eating the seed
- If you are not in a cold region, then you may need to put it in the coldest part of the fridge, this is to simulate its natural course of winter
- After about 3 to 4 months and all is going well, you should see something popping up
- Otherwise, it may take up to 18 months
- As they begin to germinate, wait until each plant is sufficiently big and strong enough to handle the position you wish to plant in
- Cut 10cm to 15cm / 4″ to 6″ softwood stems, and when making the cut, cut just below the node.
- Pull of the leaves from the bottom of the cutting
- Dip about 1.5 to 2.5cm / 1/2 to 1″ into either rooting compound, raw honey, or cinnamon
- Make a mixture of equal parts, potting mix, perlite and clean sand and fill the required containers
- Gently moisten the mix in the containers
- Push a hole into the mix with a stick or pencil or similar
- So long as you don’t place the cuttings against each other, you can put several cuttings in each container
- Place each cutting into the hole you just made and press around them to sure them up, don’t allow any leaf matter into the hole as it will rot
- Place a clear plastic bag over the cuttings to keep them moist and warm
- Put the plants where they can be cared for and out of direct sunlight
- Don’t let them get hot
- Keep the mixture ‘just moist’, wet can lead to problems
- All going well, you should see roots at the bottom of the container in about two to three months and hopefully some growth onto top
- When they are established, repot them into larger pots with general purpose potting mix
- Continue to keep the soil just moist until ready to be planted out into the spot where you want them
- When planted out, make provision for any climate extremes and animals that may harm them
- If it is very cold, you may have to wait two seasons before planting them out in the field
- Mulch them after they have been planted out
I can’t find too much about layering of hawthorn, but I personally believe that you should be able to do it and succeed. This includes both layering in the ground and also air layering, although I have not tried it.
Hawthorn really doesn’t require much maintenance, as it is such a hardy plant once established.
Pest and Diseases
Ornamental species can often suffer from leaf spot, fire blight, and cedar hawthorn rust, which cause early defoliation and decline.
Soil and Fertiliser
If you were a little concerned, and I don’t think it would hurt one bit if you at least kept the plant sufficiently mulch and just added in ‘little’ manure or liquid fertiliser once each growing season.
Climate and Region
Generally hawthorn prefers cold to cooler climates, but I do know that it grows in temperate to subtropical regions, but it may not do so well or grow as fast.
If you are collecting either leaves or flowers, you should collect them right after blossoming, once the dew has dried off. If you are collecting the leaves or flowers for a tea infusion in the morning, then it doesn’t matter if there is any dew on the flowers.
The berries are harvested later on in summer when they are fully ripe and collect them either in the morning or evening or dry cloudy days. When collecting berries, check them for defects, damage and unripe fruits, foreign particles, plus pieces of stems or leaves or insects and their eggs or any presence of disease or bruising, especially when gathering for medicinal use.
Simply spread the leaves or flowers evenly on dry towelling paper or a dry kitchen towel in an open and airy room. Don’t stack them on top of each other.
When drying berries, place them on dry towelling paper or a dry kitchen towel in an open and airy room. The best temperature for drying berries is in-between 25 to 32C / 75 to 90F and a low humidity.
Once the leaves or flowers are thoroughly dry, place then into an air tight jar and keep them out of sunlight, and if there is signs of mould then get rid of them.
For storage check the berries for foreign particles and any defects. Check also for any berries that are dark and mouldy or dry spots and compost them. A berry should have its natural taste, colour and smell, even if its dry. After storage for some time, if any berries become mouldy then throw them out.
If you are macerating from the berries, make sure that you use all of the berry, this includes the seed, which contains many of the ‘cardiotonic’ properties, therefore, break up the seed before macerating, thereby improving its benefits.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
May flower, May blossom, May, May tree, May bush, Hedgethorn, Hawberry, Whitethorn and Haw
Leaves with berries or flowers
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 3.0 – 4.0 grams
Cardio protective, mild cardio tonic, coronary vasodilator, hypotensive, peripheral vasodilator, anti-arrhythmic, antioxidant, mild astringent, collagen stabilising, sedative, diuretic, antispasmodic, digestive, antithrombotic, adaptogen, cholesterol and mineral solvent
Mild congestive cardiac failure, cardiac arrhythmias, angina pectoris, heart attacks – preventative, cardiomyopathy, impaired peripheral circulation, risk of infarction, paroxysmal tachycardia, hypertension, palpitations, fatty degeneration, enlargement of heart – over work, over exercise, mental tension, intermittent claudication, long term dizziness, Buerger’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Lupus, Leukaemia, ADD, Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, halitosis, atherosclerosis, memory loss, mild anxiety, insomnia, and emotional stress. Plus, Menopausal symptoms – hot flashes, gout, pleurisy, fluid retention, low energy, sore throat, assists adrenal function, arthritis, swelling of the spleen, and stimulates red blood cells
Oligomeric procyanidins – 1 – 3%, procyanidin B-2, flavonoids – 1 – 2%, quercetin glycosides – hyperoside and rutin, flavone-C-glycosides – vitexin, proanthocyanidins, aminopurines, amines, polyphenolic acid, coumarins, Flavonoids highest in flowers and oligomeric procyanidins highest in leaves, volatile oil, fixed oils, resins, saponins, sugars, fatty acids – linoleic, linoeuic, lauric and palmitic
None known, but caution with digitalis based drugs, such as digoxin – yet nothing has been established, consume away from minerals, thiamine, and alkaloids
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“The heart feels and the mind thinks, to walk straight you need both”Herbal Panda