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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

Hawthorn leaves, flowers, buds and berries and what to do with them

The Hawthorn, or Crataegus monogyna is one of the most common native trees in the UK. The hawthorn or can be readily found in the country's woodlands and hedges, although attractive and numerous variants have been planted in parks and gardens.

It is one of the most revered trees in Celtic mythology and represents protection and love. It is also referred to as the 'fairy tree' since fairies serve as the Hawthorn's protectors and guard it by living underneath.

Hawthorn blossom, sometimes referred to as 'maym or the 'may tree', normally blooms at the beginning of May in southern parts of the UK and towards the middle of the month if further north. But if flowering advances due to climate change, the old English word for hawthorn 'may' no longer be as meaningful as it once was.

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Hawthorn in May
Hawthorn in May

Hawthorns many names

Common names for the genus Crataegus include hawthorn, quickthorn, thornapple, may-tree, whitethorn, mayflower, and hawberry. It is indigenous to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including here in the UK, Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America.

Young Hawthorn Leaves
Young Hawthorn Leaves

Hawthorn Identification

Small, three- to seven-lobed leaflets and cracked, pink-brown bark characterises this prickly deciduous tree. In April and May, it is covered in tiny white or pink five-petal flowers, which are followed by red berries of Haws.

Hawthorn Season

In April and May, you can harvest the leaves; berries must be consumed within two weeks of ripeness and are available from August to November, sometimes persisting longer.

Hawthorn Habitat

Woodland, hedgerows, and parkland. Very common in the UK, except in the furthest reaches of Scotland.

Hawthorn blossom and buds
Hawthorn blossom and buds

Is Hawthorn safe to eat?

The Hawthorn is edibleand is also known by another name, the ‘Bread and Cheese Tree’. 'Bread and cheese' refer to the Hawthorn leaves, which are edible as long as they are still quite young. They have a nutty, agreeable flavour. All the young leaves, blossom buds, and flowers can be eaten. The tender leaf buds make a tasty spring green that can be used in sandwiches. They can also be included in grated root salads and green salads. The blossoming flower buds are also yummy. Haws can be eaten raw, although not in volume, the berries are tart, tangy, and slightly sweet in flavour. Their texture is dense and dry and they leave a slightly astringent feeling on the palate.

Although they are completely safe to eat, the berries are nothing exceptional when they are raw; use them to produce a unique fruit jelly to serve with meat.

The haws, or berries, are very pectin-rich and ideal for creating jams, jellies, confections, and fruit leathers - mixed with other fruits they can be used to bolster pectin levels. They also make fantastic ketchup and can be used to make Hawthorn chutney, liquor, and wine. The Haws' flesh can be ground and used to make Hawthorn bread if it is dried.

What is Hawthorn good for?

Medicinally, hawthorn is used to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent heart disease, and treat high blood pressure. Hawthorn reportedly improves circulation, decreases blood pressure, and boosts coronary artery blood flow, according to studies. Boils and skin lesions have also been treated using it topically as well.

They increase circulation, fortify capillaries, reduce inflammation, stimulate the immune system, guard against atherosclerosis, are powerful antioxidants for the brain and nerve tissue, and improve connective tissue health. They also boost the antioxidant action of vitamins A, C, and E.

At excessive doses, it can create extremely low blood pressure. Because of this, you ought to only take hawthorn under a doctor's supervision. Hawthorn should not be used by kids or women who are expecting or nursing.

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Hawthorn Berry Tea

Hawthorn berry tea is high in antioxidants and well-known for its potential to enhance cardiovascular health. The flavour of hawthorn berry tea is mildly tart and will change based on how it is prepared and the type of hawthorn that is used. The flavour of the fruit may also depend on how ripe it is. I like to add flavourings that have additional benefits, usually whatever is in season or to hand in the store cupboard.

Hawthorn Berry Tea
Hawthorn Berry Tea

You can make this with fresh haw berries or dried, you need two tablespoons of Haw berries and three cups of water in a pan.

• Place berries and water in a saucepan.

• Bring water just to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.

• Allow to cool and continue steeping, preferably for several hours.

• Strain and store (it can be frozen or kept in the fridge at this point).

This steeping really extracts the good stuff from the haw berries; however, I like to warm it up after straining and go for a second flavour fix. You can do this in the microwave or on the hob. Simply take your required amount and add flavourings like dried apple slices, or other dried fruits. If it is a night-time tea, perhaps reheated with some Echinacea or dried Chamomile. Whatever you like the flavour of.

Who should not drink hawthorn tea?

Hawthorn should not be used by kids or women who are expecting or nursing.

Hawthorn recipes

Looking for other ways to enjoy this nutritious plant? Well there are lots of ways to enjoy it.. Let’s start with a tonic, well a Hawthorn Gin.

Hawthorn Gin

Gathering ripe haw berries in September or October is a doddle. There are so many berries on a single plant that it will take you no time at all. However, to make a Hawthorn Gin might take a little more time, but it is worth it. This warming, deep brandy coloured gin or liquor is a must on a winters day. You’ll need some large sealable jars, such as Kilner jars to make this.

1. Gather sufficient haw berries to fill your jar. After washing them, trim any stems and dried blossoms from the end of each berry with a pair of scissors.

2. Sterilise your jar, I simply run it through the dishwasher.

3. For 500ml jar, you’ll need about 400g of sugar. You can use any sugar, think the warming notes of a nice golden caster sugar. Layer the Haw berries and sugar consecutively until the jar is full.

4. Seal the jar and allow to steep for 4 to 6 weeks, keeping it away from direct sunlight.

5. Then strain and decant into your bottle of choice.

This delicious liquid can also be made with brandy, or for a simpler flavour try Vodka.

Hawthorn Jelly

1 kg of Haw Berries

500g Sugar

700ml of water

Juice of two lemons

1. Simmer the Haw berries in water for 30 minutes, or until totally dissolved. To aid the process, mash them with a potato masher.

2. Using a jelly bag or cheesecloth, strain the mixture.

3. Return the strained hawthorn juice, all the sugar and lemon juice to the stove and quickly bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes, or until it reaches setting stage.

4. Pour into sterilised jars and store until ready to use.

Think cold meats and cheeses with this delicious Jelly.

Summing up

The Hawthorn is the most common tree in the United Kingdom. Millions of separating hedges were planted to comply with eighteenth and nineteenth century inclosure acts. Its commonality and abundance make this tree, easy to find and easy to identify. Its rich bounty of young leaves, buds, flowers and berries make it one of the most generous of UK plants too, particularly to the hungry forager. And what else could you ask for in a UK native? You get your bread, cheese, jelly and even a cup of tea from it too...

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