Dragon’s Breath Hawthorn Relish

There is an old Scottish proverb “Mony haws, Mony snows” meaning that an abundance of haws (hawthorn berries) will bring a severe winter.

It will be interesting to see if this old folk belief pans out this year. I have a suspicion it will.

While on a train to London back in late October, I remember noticing how red the hedgerows looked as we sped along, and the impression they made on me.

The redness came from the Hawthorn trees heavily laden with early Autumn fruits. In some areas, the hedgerows where more red than green!

This year I have been particularly captivated by Hawthorn. I’m putting it down to my visit to Ireland earlier in the year, where I sat in Hawthorn glades, under trees that some locals believed dated back 2000 years.

I’m not too sure that time frame is correct, but I do know that some Hawthorn trees can certainly live to be at least 700 years old.

And so Hawthorn caught my attention.

How was I going to work with this delightful, beautiful and mysterious tree?

If you look in the recipe books, you’ll find most of the offerings are sweet.

Jams, jellies, fruit-cheeses etc. adorn the pages of them. Books that conjure up feelings of bygone days. Of a yesteryear where we mostly lived in closer relationship to Land.

Yet I wanted to do something different with the Haws.

Although I like sweet, it isn’t my primary ‘taste’. For instance I don’t eat sweet food in the morning, and instead savour… well, savoury foods. Even spicy gets in there occasionally.

Muesli with chilli flakes anyone?

So there I was lovingly touching the Haws, when an image drifted through my mind.

“Nah” I thought initially. Immediately dismissing as usual, my intuitive hunches.

Oh, the joys of being such a habituated human being.

Fortunately, I caught myself doing so, and returned to posit that this ‘hawthorn-human’ interaction I was having might be revealing something worthy of paying attention to.

And so I set about crafting a new recipe. I call it Dragon’s Breath Relish because trust me, this is not something you want to eat on your own.

It’s incredibly easy to make but does take a few days for the final results to be revealed.

I like that. Uncomplicated slow food.

With Winter drawing in, and fires being kindled across these Isles, what better nourishment than a dish that will get you all hot and bothered just with one mouthful!

Before I tell you how to make this hawthorn recipe, I do need to bring to your attention…

A Few Hawthorn Safety Guidelines

  1. Do not eat the hawthorn seeds. They are poisonous as they contain amygdalin, which basically is cyanide bonded with sugar. This turns to hydrogen cyanide in your small intestine. It’s perfectly fine to cook the berries containing the seeds, just don’t eat them. The seeds that is.
  2. Seek professional medical advice before consuming any part of Hawthorn if you have a cardiac or circulatory disorder, and especially if you take pharmaceutical heart medicine. Traditionally hawthorn is used as a heart remedy.
  3. Hawthorn can also reduce your blood pressure, so again if this is a problem for you then seek medical advise.

Right, now that my lawyer has stopped whispering annoyingly in my ear about ‘litigious society’, let’s get on to the fun stuff, crafting this blunderbuss of a recipe.

Hawthorn Recipe Relish : Ingredients

  • 150g hawthorn berries
  • 15tbsp water (basically 1 tbsp per 10g of hawthorn berries)
  • ¼ – ½tsp of pink salt or sea salt (the amount depends on your taste-buds… use them!)
  • 1 red Thai chilli (thinly sliced)
  • 1 green Thai chilli (thinly sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (chopped)

Hawthorn Recipe Relish : Instructions

  1. Feel free to improvise with this Hawthorn recipe!
  2. Put the hawthorn berries into a pestle and mortar along with the water, and pound gently until the flesh has pretty much all come off the stones. Don’t whack the haws because you don’t want to crack/break the stones. You’re just gently pounding to remove the Hawthorn flesh.
  3. Mash through a conical strainer and gather the hawthorn pulp in a bowl. You can use a regular sieve but I find they don’t last very long if you are doing a lot of this.
  4. Mix the chillies, garlic and salt well into the hawthorn mash stirring well.
  5. Place in a loose top fitting jar (a Kilner jar without the rubber seal on is perfect), and put on a shelf in a warm place. I use the shelf in my bathroom, much to the annoyance of my bliss-companion.
  6. Stir everyday and leave for between 3-5 days. The fermentation isn’t vigorous, and gradually over the days the relish thickens.
  7. Taste every day to find the optimum flavour you like. The flavours develop over time, and when ready put into little sterilised jars, and place in the fridge.
  8. I don’t know how long this will keep, but it should last a good few weeks, maybe even a few months.
  9. Serve on cheese, or with meats. Basically anywhere that you would use a very garlic, and pungent relish. Use your imagination!

I found it pretty delicious to be honest, but I am used to strange flavours and combinations.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


Further Reading


  1. Hi there. When should I pick the haws? When are they ready to be picked? If I pinch one between thumb and forefinger should they squish easily or provide a little resistance? In previous squishing exercises I have found easily squished means a kind of dryish paste consistency. So expert advice will be very welcome (:

  2. Lucy: I pick them when they are just going ‘squishy’. You can however pick them when hard, then freeze them and use them once they are defrosted.

    The old books tell us to gather them after the first frosts, but that can sometimes be in Feb/March by which time many of the fruits have started rotting.

    Gotta love climate-change. The “stick ’em in yer freezer” does the same as a first frost. Breaks the cell walls down to allow more flavour a juice to be extracted.

  3. Hello
    I have just gathered some haws to make this.
    A note about amygdalin, also known as laetrile and vitamin B17. It is a powerful anti-cancer agent and treatment for cancer. You just have to be careful. I eat approx 6 bitter Hunza apricot kernels each day and have for some time. Some people have treated active cancer eating a great many more.

    The amygdalin does not generate HCN and benxaldehyde unless the ?-glucuronidase enzyme is present, and it has been demonstrated that this enzyme be present in cancerous tissue of the breast, intestine, uterus, stomach, mesentery, abdominal wall, and esophagus, about 100 to 3,600 times higher than is present in non-cancerous tissue (Fishman and Anlyan, 1947).

    This is link to an interesting website:

    • Research *from the 1940s* is hardly cutting edge science! (And it’s not correct anyway.)

      Amygdalin is known to be ineffective (the pharma industry, which would be milking this for all the cash they could squeeze out of it if it was going to work, have stopped research on ethical grounds), and you really didn’t ought to be promoting this sort of dangerous quackery on this wonderful blog.

      • Just a note in the vein of open mindedness toward the vast and largely uncharted pharmacology of the plant kingdom. Sometimes cutting edge science is founded on insights gleaned in older papers, even folklore, the scientific implications of which were overlooked at the time. Purposely or unpurposefully.

        • Please be careful with apricot kernels. My sister regularly ate a few apricot kernels to ward off cancer. She is now dying a very painful and slow death from cancer aged only 59. I don’t if it’s related but I can’t help wondering …
          (Ps I’m an exponent of all things natural and I’m not against herbal remedies etc)

    • Another Catherine here
      Totally support what you say about amygdalin. I also have a few Hunza apricot kernels each day. There is much anecdotal evidence to support amygdalin being an anti-cancer agent.

  4. Thank you Robin for all your knowledge. I am a believer in the use of native wild plants as a food source. Back to the land never rang truer than it does now! Keeping this earthly understanding common knowledge is outstanding work on your part.

  5. I’m definitely trying this, thanks .I found a lovely recipe for Haw Ketchup that I make every year, it’s a great recipe because it has little sugar in it. Good wishes, oonagh

  6. Robin, you’re not alone in raising my ire. I kept this recipe and pasted it into my personal recipe folder and shall make it.
    But here’s the BUT. You don’t put any food into a pestle and mortar, you put it into the mortar and pound it with the pestle.

  7. I LOVE Hawthorne! I just planted this fall over 50 little trees on my land and plan to plant more – the European variety with the one hard seed. I germinated these from seed several years ago (in Nova Scotia, Canada).
    Hawthorne is related to apples and cherries which all contain the cyanide component in seeds and bark, just to put the cautions in perspective. A few seeds won’t hurt.
    Also, Hawthorne is safe to take for the heart even when on heart drugs. I am an herbal practitioner and I recommend Hawthorne to all my heart patients. And it tends to normalize blood pressure, so no fears if your BP is low.
    Thanks for the recipe, I may try it.

  8. Hi Robin
    I have just started eating this after a 5 day ferment near the woodburner. Certainly is hot and spicy… and good. I like fermented foods. A friend of mine always says chillis promote joy. Using the fruits of our surroundings brings me joy – so thankyou for your inspiring site. I have your cookbook too – lots of great sea vegetable recipes here and on your site which is great for us – being here on the salt marshes. Thankyou

  9. Is there any alternative that works instead of normal sugar for jams? I’d love to try and do some for a few friends but some are diabetic. Diabetic Jams are an few are far between and so expensive.

    • Dear Karen,
      Sugar has two roles in jams – taste and preservation. Before we had refrigeration and freezers the only way to have summer fruits in the winter was to make them impossible for microbes (bacteria and fungi) to eat or live on. There are a few ways of doing this. You can remove all the water (drying) or put in so much sugar or salt that the microbes cannot thrive because the salt or sugar concentration pulls all the water out of their cells by osmosis. So yes, you can make excellent jam with no added sugar at all, though for your diabetic friends even the natural fruit sugar might be too much, simply by cooking it down a bit, adding additional fruit pectin if you want it to be firmly set, and jarring/canning it in a way that EVERYTHING is sterile (jars at 120°C in the oven for at least 20 minutes, lids in boiling water for at least 20 minutes, jars filled and sealed while still above 100°C or, alternatively, fill the jars and water-bath sterilise them for at least 20 min.). But use small jars and finish them fast. The jam made this way will ferment and or mould really fast once you open the jar. It needs to be kept in the fridge and be eaten within a couple of weeks, max.

  10. I have never chomped on hawthorn seeds so I don’t know what they taste like, however amygdalin is the chemical which gives almonds their cyanide-like smell, so beloved by Agatha Christie and her ‘smell of bitter almonds’. Has anyone ever died from an overdose of almonds?

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