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 botanical family Rosaceae. The species often found where I live in southwestern Canada are C. monogyna, C. 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 shares their bounty twice a year, when the veils are thinnest at the crossroads Beltane and Samhain. At Beltane celebrated May 1st, Hawthorn blooms creamy, 5 petaled white-pink flowers; and then again produces a flush of cherry-red berries at the end of October through Samhain. 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, even with some cardiovascular medication. However, always consult with a qualified professional before embarking on usage if you are on prescriptions.
MAKING HAWTHORNE MEDICINE
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.
Apple cider vinegar infused fresh berries is delicious and gorgeous. This is a great alternative for those who prefer to avoid alcohol.
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.
honey or other sweetener such as maple syrup or sugar
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.
I'd love to hear from you! Do you have a story to share about Hawthorn? Share below.