Hawthorn As Food
Many books mention the hawthorn fruits known as ‘haws’ are mealy and tasteless.
This is usually down to people harvesting the fruits too early. As well as not finding a hawthorn community that offers decent flavour.
Unlike plants grown by humans. Wild plants vary considerably in their flavour depending on their location and habitat.
As I always tell people on my foraging courses. Wild plants are not monoculture plants. As a result the taste of wild varieties can vary a lot.
Cultivated plants, look and taste the same in the north, south, east and west of these Isles.
Not so with wild varieties whose flavour can vary dramatically within a few feet of each other.It is always the person that is at fault, not the plant. So never give up on a plant just because your first experience is not particularly tasteful.Click To Tweet
Seek out other communities until you find the one with the most flavour. They are out there. You just have to look. And don’t forget to leave your monoculture worldview back at home!
Further reading: Tasting Terroir
The fruits are always best to cook. Although raw they make a passable Autumnal nibble, and are reminiscent of tiny apples.
Some people feel they taste like avocado. Different people, different taste buds!
Using a food mill, the flesh of the dried haws makes a flour. An old fashioned piece of kitchen equipment being a cross between a strainer and a masher. This process removes the single stone found in each fruit.
The powdered flesh is then added to porridge. Mixed with flour it makes a nutritious bread, biscuits and cakes.
Native Americans dry the fruits, and grind them into a flour. Then mixed with deer meat and fat, to create a food known as ‘pemmican’.
In Russia and China they candy the fruits.
In Cyprus they make a delicious jam called ‘Ladhapi’.
In China they are greatly favoured as a speciality jam called “Shanch ‘akao”.
The fruits make a delicious pie in the Lebanon, which are then dried for later use.
The very young leaves eaten raw, have a pleasant nutty taste and go well with beetroot.
Gather the leaf shoots when they first appear. They look like little trumpets.
Once in full leaf they are astringent. Which means they have a drying quality to them, and they are not worth eating.
Although in the past, older hawthorn leaves where dried and used as a tea substitute.
The delicate white flowers make an exquisite syrup. Traditionally used to flavour milk deserts like panna cotta, rice pudding, custard etc.
When it comes to wild booze, the fruits added to a good quality brandy, make a ‘nip’ taken as a heart tonic.
In Bosnia, the macerated fruits create a liquor that has a bitter almond taste.
In Denmark, a schnapps made from the fruit goes well with smoked venison, salmon, trout, wild duck etc.
I have a Scottish friend who every year makes a hawthorn gin. , Which she claims is exceptional.
Due to a misspent youth, I do not drink alcohol. So I can’t comment. Knowing her penchant for wild inebriation I am sure it tastes heavenly.
Hawthorn As Medicine
As a folk medicine, a traditional use of Hawthorn is as a heart tonic.
It is antispasmodic, astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypotensive, sedative, a tonic and a vasodilator.
- Adverse-Event Profile of Crataegus Spp.
- Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure: meta-analysis of randomized trials
- Hypotensive effects of hawthorn for patients with diabetes taking prescription drugs: a randomised controlled trial
- Herbal treatment for cardiovascular disease the evidence based therapy.
- Clinical Pharmacology: Hawthorn
- Toxicity of Crataegus (Hawthorn) Extract (WS 1442)
- Interaction Study between Digoxin and a Preparation of Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)
- A reproductive screening test of hawthorn
Toxicity, Contraindications and Side Effects of Hawthorn
1.) Do not eat the hawthorn seeds. They are poisonous. Containing amygdalin, which bonds with sugar. This turns to hydrogen cyanide in your small intestine.
It’s fine to cook the berries containing the seed. Just don’t eat the seed.
2.) Before consuming any part of hawthorn. If you have cardiac or circulatory disorder. And especially if you take pharmaceutical heart medicine. Seek professional medical advice.
A traditional use of hawthorn is as a heart remedy.
3.) Hawthorn can also reduce your blood pressure. So again if this is a problem for you then seek medical advice.
Hawthorn In Folklore
Hawthorn, also known as Maybush is a symbol of May.
A single hawthorn standing alone in the open is known as a ‘lone bush’.
Country folk not only had deep respect for hawthorn. But feared it too.
Hawthorn is a ‘faerie thorn’, and endowed with the magical powers of the faerie kingdom.
An old folk belief is that a solitary hawthorn tree grows over forgotten graves. Known as ‘Monument Trees’.
There is a belief in Ireland that the soul becomes a tree.
Solitary hawthorns occur as a result of the wind scattering the dust of the dead around the world.
A old belief in Cornwall, is that those who hid treasure on the land always planted a hawthorn tree as a marker.
A Breton myth tells us that Merlin, the magician who befriended King Arthur. Lies in enchanted sleep under the shade of a hawthorn tree in the forest of Broceliande.
That every year when the hawthorn buds, it is the soul of Merlin trying to live again in the world.
In Ireland, playing with this sacred tree was dangerous. There are many stories of people coming to harm and even death.
Hawthorn blossom, twigs and branches are unlucky, if brought into ones house. Yet there is much confusion over this.
The Folklore Society of Britain found that hawthorn blossom is the most unlucky. If brought into the house it would result in death.
The superstition that bringing Hawthorn flowers indoors will cause death or bad luck, occurs only in May.
Thereafter it safe to do so, with much literature citing that one should not pick the blossom until June.
Either way I have yet to die or experience misfortune, as a result of making hawthorn syrup indoors!
The plant flowers only for a very brief time, and waiting until June might well be too late.
One could surmise that I need to be making my recipes with this plant using a cauldron over an open fire!
The smell of the blossom at the early stages of growth is like the smell of a rotting corpse.
The plant contains trimethylamine which is one of the ingredients found in putrefaction.
Country cottagers said the peculiar scent of the hawthorn is; ‘exactly like the smell of the Great Plague of London’.
But, the flowers were also said to raise sexual desire. And the plant appears as a symbol of carnal love throughout the Middle Ages.
Hawthorn often appears in the wreath of the Green Man. A pagan fertility symbol. Associated by prim and proper Christians with unregulated love in the fields.
Hawthorn is particularly arousing to men if they smell the blossom. Something to which I can attest.
When I smell the flowers, it’s as though I have entered into a numinous realm. One where sensuality and pleasure rule the day. Oh to the languid joys of Spring.
Another romantic attribute is that Mistletoe grows on hawthorn. I am still waiting to find such a hawthorn. What a joy to kiss under such a blessed symbol.
The fear associated with hawthorn appears to stem from the advent of Christianity. A way to supersede and undermine beliefs in the ‘old ways’.
It is also believed that the blossom, placed on a dresser in the house during May, will keep away evil.
In Cornwall on May Day, the first maid servant to bring a hawthorn branch into the masters house, got given a dish of cream.
The contradictions abound. My own view is to respect the plant in question.
Always give blessings of gratitude before removing any part. A kind, open heart never receives the shadow side of plants. Irrespective of the confusing folk tales.
In a survey of 210 random holy wells, 103 of them had a hawthorn growing beside them.
While teaching my Reconnect to Plants retreat in Ireland recently I visited such a holy well.
I found the hawthorn covered with many coloured ribbons. Hand written blessings of good luck to the faeries where placed at the foot of the tree.
Hanging from the hawthorn tree were numerous Christian iconography and prayers. Most for various cardinals or priests, as well as loved ones.
It must be confusing to be brought up with the belief in the power and authority of Jesus Christ. As put forward by the Catholic Church, while at the same time living in mortal fear of the faerie folk.
Authorities everywhere love its citizenry to be as confused as possible. To muster power for themselves. It is time instead, to start trusting ourselves instead of the tall-tales.
By the craggy hillside,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn-trees,
For pleasure here and there.Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.
– William Allingham 1850
Preceding the Nazerene’s crucifixion. He wore a crown of thorns, made from hawthorn.
According to Christian tradition, the hawthorn tree groans and sighs on Good Friday.
In France, it was common practice for a mother to kneel before a Hawthorn. To pray for the health of her child. Especially if she lived far away from a church.
In medieval times rosaries made from Hawthorn where prized, and treasured possessions.
In Serbia, a cradle made from Hawthorn would be a powerful protector of babies. Which goes against the Irish belief that faeries will steal a child laying in a crib made from hawthorn.
In Scotland, thirteen weeks after Hawthorn blossom scents the air. The harvest would begin.
Wearing a sprig of Hawthorn in your hat protects you from lightening.
While the felling of a Hawthorn tree must only ever be for ritual or healing purposes. And not for vanity such as making ones property look neat.
To anyone who loves to weave their clothes from the wildness of the hedge. You will find that using Hawthorn leaves produces a dark blue colour.