Hawthorn (Crategus species).
Hawthorn berries are ripe & ready to harvest right now in New Zealand. These are a beautiful sight when you come across them in the wild, you can often spot the red flush on the top of trees from far away. After carefully gathering the fully ripened berries, there are many ways to incorporate the berries into your food & medicine to gain their gentle health benefits.
Hawthorn is a member of the Rose family, in the Crataegus species, with almost 300 different varieties around the world. In Europe it’s often called the ‘May thorn’ as it starts to flower around the 1st of May, heralding spring. The most common variety found in NZ is Crataegus monogyna.
Hawthorn is most well known throughout history for it’s actions on the heart & cardiovascular system, including lowering blood pressure. Also for treating anxiety and infections of the urinary tract, and as a digestive and kidney aid. The flowers, leaf, berries and even bark are used in Herbal Medicine.
Hawthorn is an old world medicine, with numerous reports of it’s use & effectiveness throughout the middle ages. There are now multiple scientific studies to back up the folk remedies for which Hawthorn has been used.
The Hawthorn is known as the ‘Faery Tree’ in Ireland, and it’s considered very bad luck to cut one down. This myth survives to this day, with works on a road from Limerick to Galway being halted in 1999 and then diverted due to a Hawthorn tree in it’s path. Many Celtic legends refer to the Hawthorn, which was inhabited by the ‘wee folk’, with many stories of faeries and the Faery Queen surrounding Hawthorn trees.
In ancient Greece and also Britain Hawthorns were associated with love and marriage. Couples would fall in love under the tree, Brides wore crowns made of hawthorns and a branch was used as a torch. Some Christians believe that Jesus Christ’s crown was made of Hawthorn (although I’d also heard of it being made of Elderberry, another old European tree steeped in folklore).
The berries are powerful antioxidants which are high in vitamin C, calcium, iron & magnesium.
Hawthorn berries are often made into an infusion as a tonic for the cardiovascular system & to improve brain function and mental clarity. Tonic herbs are safe to use over a long period of time, so this is a lovely berry to have on hand to add to herbal infusions. In saying that, if you have any serious medical or heart conditions, please seek appropriate medical advice before using any wild or herbal medicine.
You can also add the berries to jams, jellies, ketchup, sauces, fruit leathers, wine, tincture or dry the berries for tea. To be honest when I dry the berries I’m very disappointed in the resulting, shrivelled up berries which loose a lot of color, so I prefer to use them fresh or preserve in other ways. Hawthorn berries contain natural pectin which make it a fantastic ingredient in jam making.
I’ve always found Hawthorn on old farms. It was planted to form hedgerows, where the weaving together of the Hawthorns is called a ‘haw’ which translates to hedge.