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Botanical Name: Crataegus spp.

Common Names: hawthorn, quickthorn, thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn, or hawberry.

Crataegus is a genus of several hundred species of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae. The species often found where I live in southwestern Canada are C. monogynaC. laevigata.

The rosaceae family includes blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, peaches, almonds, cherries,  apricots, roses, Lady's Mantle and many other foods, herbs and flowers.

Hawthorn expresses their bounty twice a year; when the veils are thinnest. In the season of  Beltane spanning through May 1st, She bursts with creamy, 5 petaled white-pink flowers; and then again she ripens but this time at the end of October through Samhain, when the berries cherry red  and full with vitality. These two times of the year hold the gateways between life and death as spring and autumn sit across from each other on the Wheel of the Year. Interestingly, some people find the flowers gives off a musty, sexual scent whereas others say the smell reminds them of decay and death.

One of my UK readers, Gillian Atkinson says, "May is symbolic of sex and death, or should I say the smell of the blooming May on a warm evening is associated with both sex and death.
It is said that even today that in some areas it is still referred to as ‘the smell of the Great Plague’ and some people say it smells of gangrene. This is because Hawthorn flowers have a heavy complicated scent, the distinctive element of which is triethylamine, which is also one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decay. Strangely triethylamine is also the smell of sex.. so there we are, the Hawthorn is connected to all cycles of life." 

Beltane in the Northern hemisphere is the season ruled by Sun in Taurus; a time when nature celebrates sensuality, life, food, fertility. Samhain is the season governed by Sun in Scorpio celebrating all that dies back returning to the earth feeding the necessary cycle of regeneration with death, rest, then the Great Return. Samhain is when The Spirits of the Land ask us to celebrate our Beloved Dead and Mighty Ancestors with offerings of food, photos of our beloveds on altars, and festivals in their memory.

One of my fall rituals is spending time between Equinox and Samhain harvesting hawthorn and rose hips, cooking them down into syrups, tinctures and elixirs.  I keep some aside to dry for teas, decoctions and then altar decorations for Winter Solstice.

Hawthorn has a long, rich history associated with the Faery Realm. The Celtic People consider hawthorn one of their sacred trees, and together with the Oak and Ash tree form the holy trinity; when they are found together these trees signal the bridge to the Faery people. Of course, only those who have the skill to travel through different portals will be successful in doing so, unless, you accidentally fall asleep under a Hawthorn and then are snatched by a mischevious Faery and taken to their world - with the uninitiated unable to find their way back to the human realm.

Lisa Fazio writes, "Hawthorne's prominence was expressed by it's representation in the ancient Irish tree alphabet called Ogham (OH am) that attributed a different tree to each of its characters.

Hawthorne, or Úath/Huath(HOO-ah) corresponds to the letter H and is the sixth letter of the Ogham alphabet. It also represents the sixth lunar month of the year that we call May but, because the phases of the moon are dynamic and don't follow our numerical calendar precisely, is about mid-May to mid-June."

Both the creamy white May flowers and deep red autumnal berries are used for medicine and magic. Hawthorn berries nourish the heart slowly, gently, and deeply. They are food for the heart and blood improving overall function of the cardiovascular system. It's a mild coronary vasodilator, increasing the blood supply to the heart muscles and lessening the potential for spasms, angina, and shortness of breath.  It's been used for hypertension, arrhythmias, and to strengthen connective tissue impaired from chronic inflammation. As a heart strengthener, it helps to maintain healthy arteries, veins, and the tissue that is the heart itself. By strengthening the cardiovascular system, one builds resiliency in the face of injury, disease, and normal wear and tear of aging. It is high in antioxidants which reduces oxidative damage to capillary walls preventing the adherence of cholesterol to the vessels as the body does this in an effort to repair the damage ultimately leading to high cholesterol. 

Hawthorn flower essence or Plant Spirit Medicine is a loving plant friend useful to mend dissonance from grief, chronic sadness or heartbreak.  Even spiritual heartbreak; feeling lost in the world and disconnected from a true sense of purpose or meaning in one's life.  I think about this herb when someone feels isolated, lonely, and craves connection.  Hawthorn, like it's cousin Rose, has thorns.  Sometimes people who need this medicine come across as "prickly" or thorny, giving off an impression that you can't come in too close.  Yet,their prickly exterior protects a very tender-hearted, sometimes lonely person who may have experienced trauma that has made them reluctant to let people in - despite this being what they desire. Alternately, I use this herb combined with Rose and apple blossom for people who are too open, lack boundaries, and need some heart protection lest they get hurt.  This may present in relationships being difficult for fear of being heart broken.  Hawthorn coupled with Rose tincture is great medicine for restoring a resilient, brave, robust heart,  and for reminding us to have healthy boundaries. 

Safety: Hawthorn has a high safety profile and is generally considered safe for long-term use. However, always consult with a qualified professional before embarking on usage if you are on medication.

MAKING HAWTHORNE MEDICINE
Tincture

Most hawthorn tinctures only contain the berries, however I prefer the two step process of making fresh flower tincture in spring containing about 25%  leaf. Then I make a fresh hawthorn berry tincture in the autumn. Once the berry tincture is complete I combine the two tinctures to make one hawthorn tincture representing all three parts of the medicinal plant.

Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar infused fresh berries is delicious and gorgeous.  This is a great alternative for those who prefer to avoid alcohol.

Syrup

You can enjoy this recipe as a treat poured over desserts, taken as a special drink at holidays or in ritual; or consume by the tablespoon once per day as a cardiotonic.


Equipment:
Stock pot
Water
measuring cup

kitchen scale
strainer 
honey or other sweetener such as maple syrup or sugar 
hawthorn berries
optional: Brandy

First make a decoction (a strong tea) of fresh or dried hawthorn berries. To prepare a decoction, you have the option of using the folk method or the weight to volume method.

The folk method for preparing a hawthorn berry decoction is as follows: Place fresh or dried berries into a large stock pot and cover with cold water, using just enough water to cover berries by two inches. Bring to a boil. Once water boils turn down the heat for a slow simmer for 1-2 hours with the lid on. Strain liquid and move onto step two.

The weight to volume method of decoction: weigh hawthorn berries using a electronic or manual kitchen scale. Record the weight and multiply this number by 10.  This final number gives you the total volume of water to simmer (decoct) your berries.  For example, if the hawthorn berries weighed 50 grams, multiply 50 number by 10 which equals 500.  This means  simmer 25 grams of hawthorn berries in 500ml water. Place berries in a large pot, cover with the appropriate amount of cold water. Bring to boil, then turn it down and simmer for 1-2 hours with lid on. Strain.

2.  Once you've strained the berries, put the liquid back on the stove and reduce the amount by half volume with lid removed. Simmer slowly.

3. Once the decoction has reduced to half volume, add a sweetener into the hot liquid to dissolve at a 1:1 ratio; this means if you have 250ml liquid decoction add 250ml honey. I like to use either honey or cane sugar.

If you want a thicker consistency and you don't mind making it sweeter add an extra 125ml honey or sugar.

Some folks like a 1:2 ratio which means 250ml decoction to 500ml sweetener. I find this way too sweet, so I recommend adding small amounts of sweetner and tasting after each addition. Just be sure to record the additions of sweetner so you know what proportion works for your recipe.

Optional: To improve shelf stability, add 20%  alcohol to your finished product. Brandy tends to be complementary in flavour. Twenty percent brandy to 500ml syrup is 100ml.

Bottle, label and refrigerate.

Because this preparation is perishable consume within four to six weeks. However, if you prepared a 1:2 ratio it'll last a long time.

Enjoy!

 

I'd love to hear from you, please leave your comments below!

25 Comments

  1. Claire on May 31, 2018 at 7:42 am

    Hi Seraphina,
    I was just wondering about your thoughts on flowering hawthorn being unlucky to bring into the house?
    Many thanks

    • Seraphina Capranos on May 31, 2018 at 10:06 am

      Hi Claire!

      Thank you for your enquiry – I would completely disagree! I’d say hawthorn flowers are very lucky in the house, a symbol of love, heart-healing, and fertility.
      I’m not sure where the origins of what you heard comes from, the only thing I could maybe imagine is perhaps some believed the nature spirits preferenced the plant to stay outside and go unpicked?

      Just my two cents!

      Blessings to you,
      Seraphina

      • Gillian Atkinson on September 3, 2018 at 9:00 am

        Hello Clair and Seraphina , Yes, it is considered unlucky in the UK to bring May ( Hawthorn Flowers ) into the house . There are a number of reasons for this but primarily the May is symbolic of sex and death, or should I say the smell of the blooming May on a warm evening is associated with both sex and death .
        It is said that even today that “In some areas it is still referred to as ‘the smell of the Great Plague’ and some people say it smells of gangrene . This is because
        ” Hawthorn flowers have a heavy complicated scent, the distinctive element of which is triethylamine, which is also one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decay.”
        Strangely triethylamine is also the smell of sex.. so there we are the Hawthorn is connected to all cycles of life .
        As an English woman I love the smell of the May . I might wear a Hawthorn chaplet but would never bring the flowers in the house

        • Seraphina Capranos on September 3, 2018 at 12:34 pm

          Hi Gillian,

          Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your wisdom and insight here! It’s much appreciated. I love hearing this kind of historical context. It makes sense to me that it it’s symbolic of sex and death, as the Sun at that time it blooms here sits in Taurus (sensuality and all things blooming) and the full moon at that time of year is Scorpio, the ruler of death (and sex).

      • Rita Scannell on September 2, 2019 at 11:51 pm

        Yes in Ireland it’s considered very unwise to bring the flowers inside.

    • Lynne Hempson on June 20, 2019 at 6:08 pm

      Hi Clare, I’ve heard this can cut through cholesterol, is this true?

      I have recently purchased a well known syrop mixed with brandy to see what it’s like, but apparently helps with the above I mentioned and also blood pressure.

      Your thoughts would be appreciated.

      Lynne

  2. Rebecca on April 27, 2018 at 10:47 am

    What is the advantage of a syrup vs. an extract?

    • Seraphina Capranos on April 27, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Rebecca,

      The main advantage is easy delivery for the person taking it – because it takes good! Also, some might say, many of the therapeutic constituents extract well in water via making the decoction vs. preparing it as an alcohol extract. I do both methods myself. The downside in making a syrup is some folks with blood sugar issues cannot take it. Then, the flip side, folks who need to abstain from alcohol can’t take the tincture. So, the beauty of herbal medicine is using different delivery methods based on people’s needs.

      Happy medicine-making!
      Seraphina

  3. charlene on March 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    I just made a decoction with the Hawthorne berries I just filtered out of a tincture that was done. I have a gallon of decoction. That means I need to add 1/2 gallon of brandy??? That seems like a touch of hawthorne with a whole lot of brandy?

    • Seraphina Capranos on March 26, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Charlene!

      If you have a gallon of decoction (whoa, that’s a lot!) you’ll first need to add your sweetener….I like to do a 1:1 ratio of decoction to sweetener.
      Now you have a syrup (which is basically a sweetened decoction).
      Then, if you want to add the hawthorn tincture it now becomes what’s called a medicated syrup (adding tincture makes a bit stronger of a medical product), I would just do half, or a little less than half of your total volume of syrup.
      So for example, if your decoction plus syrup makes for 2gal of product – add half a gallon, or 1 gallon of tincture.
      Though, the beauty (and sometimes the beast) of being a herbalist is there’s sometimes no strict rules. Quite often I simply start to pour, mix and taste as I add my sweetener and tinctures, and once it tastes sweet and slightly alcoholic, I’ll stop there. Sometimes it ends up being just a quarter volume of tincture I add that makes for the perfect flavour.

      I hope this helps?

  4. Debra Logan-Westlake on December 10, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Hello Seraphina!
    Thank you so much for your Hawthorn Syrup recipe!
    Out of the blue, my sweet 11 year old nephew just brought me a big bowl of hawthorn berries he picked himself. It’s December 10th… I’m wondering – is it too late to extract their medicine? They still taste so sweet! I’m thinking of either making a tincture or your syrup.
    They are now a deep dark red and still very plump.
    Thank you so much. Warmth and Love to you!

    • Seraphina Capranos on December 10, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Hi Debra!
      Oh how lovely! It’s not too late for the hawthorns provided they look full, bright, and vital. If they are heavily scarred, look eaten, I’d compost them.
      Otherwise – go for it! The fact that they taste sweet is a good sign!
      Blessings on your medicine making! So great to hear from you here, warmth and love to you too!

  5. Dianne on December 27, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    The directions say to let the berries simmer for one hour and then remove them. Can you leave the berries in until the end or is there a reason you have to remove them after one hour?

    • Seraphina Capranos on December 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Yes, you can leave the berries in if you like. Though I like to take them out because I’m interested in the liquid, and keeping an eye on how much the volume of liquid is reducing.

      When you leave the berries in for a prolonged period of time, sometimes what you yield is little liquid, and a lot of mush! There comes a point where you’ve exhausted all the medicinal value out of the plant material, and it’s time for it to compost. When you have just liquid on the stove, it begins to evaporate out and you are gaining the remaining medicinal virtues.

      I hope that helps.
      ~ Seraphina

  6. Dianne on November 28, 2016 at 11:19 am

    I accidentally had the heat on too high when i was simmering the berries and the mixture reduced pretty fast, maybe two hours from start to finish. I thought it was ok since it was a simmer, but i guess it should have been a very light simmer. In any case, i have a couple of questions. Do you put a lid on the pot while simmering? After it’s completely finished reducing, what is the consistency? Is it watery or a little thicker like fruit syrup? Mine turned out watery, like tea.

    Also, a couple of comments…..i used dried berries and it seems like it would be a good idea to soak them in a little water over night to soften them. It seems like it took a long time for them to soften while they were simmering. Also, for anyone who might want to use a Vitamix (like me), it’s worth noting that the seeds are considered poisonous, so if you’re going to blend the mixture to get more juice from the berries, make sure you blend them on the lowest setting so as not to blend the seeds.

    • Seraphina Capranos on December 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Hi Dianne!

      Thanks for sharing your experience! To answer your questions ~ I don’t have a lid on while I’m simmering, and when it reduces it’s still the consistency of a tea. To achieve the consistency of a fruit syrup requires adding a sweetener (fruit syrups generally have added sugar) like honey, molasses, glycerine, or sugar.
      The dried berries shouldn’t need soaking overnight, but I can see why you’d think that. The simmering in hot water softens them up slightly and allows them to work just fine for the decoction.
      ~ S

  7. Jerald on September 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Do you know of a source where I can buy fresh single seed common hawthorn berries? I live in Tennessee and finding those here is impossible. I found some last year in Oregon. I was needing from 3-5 lbs. Just let me know if you know of anyone who might have them for sale. I know that the berries are very near ripe by this time of year. I bought those last year the first week of October. Thanks for your reply. Please reply ASAP since the berries are very near harvest time now. Thanks again…….

    • Seraphina Capranos on October 19, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Hi Jerald,
      Sorry in the delay of responding to this! I’m not sure how I missed it 🙂
      I would recommend Pacific Botanicals. They are here in the Pacific NorthWest, where hawthorns are rampant.
      http://www.pacificbotanicals.com
      Good luck!

  8. Shivani on December 16, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Is it really okay to use dried hawthorn berries to your recipe? Any additional changes I need to know for dried berries?
    Lastly,
    Do you ever add ginger or cloves or any other spices to it?

    • Seraphina Capranos on December 29, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Shivani, yes it really is okay to use dried berries for this recipe. The berries dry quite well. No, there’s no change in the recipe above if you are using dried berries.

      I certainly do add other herbs to the recipe! Ginger, and cloves sound yummy! I like to add elderberries, rose hips, orange peel…really anything.
      IF you add other herbs to this recipe, just remember to weigh all the herbs together as your first step. So, in my example, the 25g weight would be my TOTAL weight of all my ingredients.
      Enjoy!

  9. Rachel Hughes on September 24, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks for this great post about Hawthorn Seraphina! I just recently discovered them myself and had a lot of fun harvesting them to make this yummy ketchup recipe that turned out really well. Thought you might enjoy seeing it if you haven’t already. Xo http://gathervictoria.com/2014/11/28/savory-hawthorn-ketchup-reviving-a-traditional-recipe/

  10. Vera Algoet on September 24, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Is there some reason you don’t crush the berries to get more of the fruit into the syrup? I have a conical food mill and thought I could put the cooked berries through that to make a thicker syrup.

    • Seraphina Capranos on December 24, 2015 at 11:44 pm

      Hi Vera,
      Good question. The seeds of the hawthorn are hard as stones. So, I personally haven’t had experience trying to crush them for this reason. The flesh is soft though, and so I either cook them down so the flesh turns to mush and strain and separate the hard seeds.

  11. Rosalind Jackson on November 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Seraphina: I am taking about 3000mg of Hawthorn berry (in capsule form) daily – 2 x 550mg three times a day. If, in addtion, I take the hawthorn syrup would my intake of hawthorn berry be too much?

    Rosalind Jackson

    • admin on November 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Hi Rosalind,

      No,I don’t think that’d be too much, seeing as hawthorn is generally considered more of a “food” herb. But good question!

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