Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)
Im so happy and my heart is warmed by the sight of Hawthorn berries appearing like bright jewels among lichen covered thorny branches along the hedgerows, on the Moors and through the forest.
I love Hawthorn for the magical quality it holds, for its leaves, flowers and berries that contain such wonderful heart medicine, and the memories it creates in my bones.
I love the shape of the leaves; being deeply lobed they look like little green hands wanting to stroke me and wave hello as I go by, these leaves so soft in spring for eating and so much darker and tougher in autumn. I love the small red berries that go by the name of cuckoo’s beads, chucky cheese, and pixie pear. To me they taste of avocado and cover the branches like drops of heart blood. I love the blossom in May; so delicate and pure, I also love Hawthorn’s thorns. Amongst gnarled bark, maiden like blossom and bleeding berries are huge pointed thorns that have a wonderful protective quality for the tree, a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of vibe which I always like in plants and people.
Hawthorn is a small tree that belongs to the Rose family ( Rosaceae ) and it goes by the scientific name of Crataegus oxyacantha. Like the wild and old Roses in its family Hawthorn is a heart medicine and both Rose and Hawthorn have wonderful fierce thorns. To me this is a wonderful lesson and example that I have had to learn over the years, which is to be in your heart, for your heart to feel safe you need to have your strong boundaries in place. You need to know your thorns are there in case needed. To be open, magical, soft and safe you need to have boundaries that are as clear and as seeable as the thorns of a rose or Hawthorn.
Hawthorn has been widespread in Britain since before 6,000bc and has many deep, ancient stories and beliefs attached to it. Also called Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat, Quickthorn, May tree, and May blossom. It is often a companion to blackthorn amongst the hedgerows. In spring Blackthorn blossoms before its leaves appear and Hawthorn blossoms alongside its leaves.
From the earliest records, hawthorn is one of the sacred trees of this land. It is the sixth tree of the Ogham cycle and is believed to be the tree that is the fairy tree and gatekeeper to nature spirits. It is also part of the ancient sacred triad of Oak, Ash and Thorn and was often found or planted next to sacred springs.
Hawthorn will be in blossom on May Day / Beltane which is also called ‘the greening’. Women would gather branches of May blossom early on the May Day morning and bathe their faces in the dew with great reverence and ceremony. The blossom covered branches were taken to decorate the outside of houses, barns and May Queens. They were carried in procession from house to house so that each would be given a share of the Thorn Spirit’s blessing.
Hawthorn is the symbolism of being able to ‘open the heart’ and fertility which is a big part of the May day celebrations as seen in the old Maypole dances, fertility for the people, and for the land. The blossom of Hawthorn gives off a smell that is said to be akin to a fertile womb and yoni / vagina making the wild men who smelt it ready for the celebration of life and procreation. It was always the traditional tree used at marriages and hand fastenings because of all these qualities.
I was taught about this tree from a woman who made everything she owned, she was as ancient as the hills and as croaky as a dry river bed with sparkling eyes and an infectious laugh. Her two feet were firmly planted in both realms of earth and spirit. She had within her pocket a little felted wool pouch containing Hawthorn thorns which she had fashioned into needles and pins, she was also a lot like the tree itself. A fine strong heart, deeply magical, a playful trickster, fierce and soul openingly wise. She taught me the medicine and food of this tree and some of the old tales that still cling to it.
As a medicine it has for a long time been the tree of fertility, health, growth and the mender and calmer of hearts. Hawthorn contains components which are sedative, anti spasmodic and great natural regulator of arterial blood pressure.
Hawthorn brings tone, clarity and health to the heart and has been used as a stimulant or regulator for the heart. Containing sedative effects it can be used to help people with palpitations, the menopause and any in-balance of the blood circulation. Hawthorn is best taken over a long period of time in a tea or tincture. I love to gather the leaves in Spring, the blossom in May and the berries in Autumn and I tincture the whole lot together which means all the different energies are within one magical potion.
As a food I have heard the tree been called bread and cheese and salt and pepper. The spring leaves are tender and soft and good in a salad, made into a tea, or thrown into smoothies and pestos. The berries contain high amounts of pectin and so they work well in jams, ketchups and fruit leathers. Ray mears has a good video of himself making a Hawthorn fruit leather but I find it needs a little more flavour in as it can be quite bland. I like to add cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise and sometimes honey, its worth playing around. I also make a vinegar in the autumn which I can add to salads when the mood takes me.
Get out and find this tree if you can, sleep under it, sit with it and eat from it. I recently heard that many many moons ago common meeting places were often planted with trees and plants you could refresh yourself with, make medicine from and eat from. People were said to have picked up messages from the trees, glimpses of who had been there and what their stories were. Hawthorn was said to be one of the trees always planted in these sacred medicine meeting places. So many a weary traveller could feel better after spending time in these spots. To me this sounds like a much more beautiful, free and healthy version of a pub! Sounds like my kind of place!
*Photo Credits- All photos by Jon Howell contact firstname.lastname@example.org