Hawthorn

Hawthorn berries on tree (Crataegus monogyna)
One of the most common trees in the British Isles, Hawthorn is surrounded by tradition and folklore. The berries are nutritive and have amazing medicinal properties, as they are considered "food for the heart".

Table of Contents

Hawthorn: Plant profile

Common names

Hawthorn, Common Hawthorn, Oneseed Hawthorn, Haw, Thornapple, May Tree, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, Sceach Gheal (IE), Espino Albar (SP)

Botanical name

Crataegus monogyna

Plant family

Rosaceae (Rose)

Distribution

Hawthorn originates from Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia. It thrives extensively throughout Ireland and the UK, with the exception of the northern region of Scotland.

Where to find Hawthorn

The hawthorn tree is prevalent in various habitats, including deciduous woodlands, hedgerows, scrublands, and public parks.

When to find Hawthorn

Pick buds and flowers during the early to mid-spring season, and berries during the early to mid-autumn period.

How to identify Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 6 m. It typically has a structure consisting of tangled masses of thorny branches. The leaves, resembling parsley, are lobed into three segments.

The flowers emit an almond-like fragrance and are small, white, with five petals. The fruit, which is red in colour and small in size, contains one stone, although other species may have more.

Hawthorn lookalikes

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) frequently hybridises with Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata). Both species exhibit remarkable similarity, but Common Hawthorn produces fruits with a single seed, while Midland Hawthorn bears berries with two seeds.

Apart from this distinction, it can be challenging to differentiate the different hawthorns, although both species are edible.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) bears berries that superficially resemble those of Hawthorn, characterized by a dark-orange colour. However, the leaves of Rowan are completely different from Hawthorn.

Hawthorn berries on tree (Crataegus monogyna)

All about Hawthorn

The humble hawthorn is one of the most magical and enchanted trees of Britain’s hedgerows. It is steeped in numerous traditions and folklore, earning its reputation as a fairy tree cherished by hedge witches.

This omnipresent tree breathes life into the countryside, adorning it with its intoxicating and captivating May blossom. As autumn arrives, the hawthorn transforms its blooms into glistening red berries, just when the tree starts to shed its leaves.

Culinary uses and recipes with Hawthorn

Young shoots and unopened flower buds were once known as ‘bread and cheese’. Though much healthier, unfortunately they taste of neither.

The berries, known as Haws, bear a resemblance to mild apples, although their flesh is notably dense and dry. They are particularly suitable for making delicious jellies to accompany cheese, and can serve as an excellent substitute for ketchup.

Haws have also found their place in the production of country wines and homemade schnapps, adding their unique flavour and medicinal properties to these beverages.

In addition, the leaves, flowers, and berries of the hawthorn can be used to make an herbal tea.

Medicinal properties of Hawthorn

Hawthorn stands as one of the most extensively scientifically validated herbal medicines, renowned for its remarkable restorative properties for the heart and circulation.

It plays a crucial role in regulating heartbeat and managing high blood pressure effectively.

Additionally, this plant harbours a wealth of beneficial compounds, including vitamins B and C, which further contribute to its overall health-enhancing properties.

Windswept hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna)

Safe foraging of Hawthorn

When collecting Haws, it is essential to exercise caution due to the presence of thorns on the plant.

The seeds of Hawthorn contain a cyanogenic compound known as amygdalin. As a result, consumption of these seeds should be avoided for safety reasons.

Ecological importance of Hawthorn

Hawthorn serves as a valuable provider of shelter and nesting spaces for hedgerow birds, offering them a safe haven in their natural habitat.

The leaves of Hawthorn are a food source for caterpillars, especially those of moths, and its flowers serve as a rich pollen source for bees and other essential pollinating insects, supporting their vital role in ecosystem health.

In addition to these ecological benefits, the berries of Hawthorn serve as a nourishing food source for migratory birds, adding to the seasonal sustenance they rely upon during their journeys.

Sustainable Hawthorn foraging

Foraging Hawthorn berries is a sustainable option, as it’s one of the most common trees in the British Isles.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to uphold the usual foraging guidelines while harvesting. Ensure that you distribute your picking efforts across various trees, ensuring there are ample berries left behind for birds to nourish themselves.

Similarly, it is important to leave an adequate number of flowers on the tree, allowing it to produce berries later in the autumn.

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Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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45 thoughts on “Hawthorn”

  1. Hello, I love your article. It says gather berries in autumn. I’ve picked some this weekend, are they still ok to use? I plan to soak them in vodka for a tincture.

    Reply
  2. I often eat the raw leaves of hawthorn (any types) while out walking. They are pleasant tasting though somewhat chewy. I have never noticed any ill-effects afterwards. I have tried cooking them but they don’t tase nearly as good as raw. I guess that if sheep /goats eat hawthorn leaves then it’s a good bet that humans can too.

    (Hi Alvaro. New to your website. I tried signing up for your ebook but its not downloading)

    Reply
    • Hi Christopher. Hawthorn leaves are edible indeed, they are at their best in Spring.
      Though be careful, some animals can eat some plants and mushrooms that might be poisonous to humans too!
      Thanks for the heads up on the newsletter issue, I have just fixed it and it should work now. If not, please contact me on the link at the bottom of the page, I’ll subscribe you manually with an email of your preference and I’ll send the ebook straight to your inbox. Cheers!

      Reply
  3. I have really enjoyed reading the comments, I recently bought a jar of Hawthorn jam whilst in Cyprus, it was so delicious and whilst using it, I had less heart palpitations, amazing! I wondered if anyone had a recipe for making it, Hawthorn jam or honey whatever you call it… as this little jar has now run out, sadly!

    Reply
  4. Hi I thought I’d ask this because I’m new to berry picking i have seen loads of what I think is Hawthorn trees but I’m not sure it grows in the hedgerows where I live
    It looks like pictures Iv see but it doesn’t have any thorns
    It’s berries are red and there is one pip inside

    Reply
    • Hi Roslyne. Hawthorn do not always have thorns and it’s very common everywhere, so there is a possibility that it could be.
      Compare the leaf against a picture, check it out again in spring when it flowers to compare the flower as well, etc until you familiarise with the tree.
      Also be aware of possible lookalikes. Always be 100% sure before consuming any berries!

      Reply
  5. Just checking, although I think it’s been answered above, in combination … We have a hawthorn in the garden but it has dark pink/red blossom. Can this be treated the same?

    Reply
  6. I never knew hawthorn was such a medicinal gem. A huge bush of it grows in my little garden. It’s beautiful all year with its blossom and then its berries and the birds love it. I’m thrilled, having been told my blood pressure is too high and could benefit from it, to have it on tap for free! Thanks for all the tips on how to use and preserve it.

    Reply
  7. Since the medicinal advice says that the seeds contain a cyanide compound, are hawthorn berries safe to eat in their entirety or do you have to ensure that the seeds are removed …either before cooking or stained out after cooking?

    Reply
    • Hi Pam,
      Think of hawthorn seeds as you’d do with cherries: the stone contains poisonous compounds too, but you’d not want to eat it anyway, because it’s so tough. And if you do, you’d need to ingest a good quantity in order to cause any adverse effects.

      Reply
    • The Amygdalin in the seeds is Vitamin B17 which is an ancient and well known cure for cancer. Tollerance to the B17 must be increased gradually, so only start out with small amounts initially.

      Reply
      • Vitamin B17 is actually a misnomer, not an actual vitamin. While amygdalin is a naturally occurring chemical compound, vitamin b17 ( laetrile) is a chemical derivative.

        There is not enough reliable scientific evidence to show that laetrile or amygdalin can treat cancer, so its use remains controversial.

        Either way, amygdalin may cause serious adverse effects if taken in quantities, so please anybody make sure you do your own research and talk to your medical practitioner for professional advice.

        Reply
  8. I need to get my blood pressure down I don’t take any blood pressure tablets. I always eat fruit for my breakfast. With weetabix. I have a hedge of Hawthorn. Can I chew the leaves as new leaves are forming. I don’t know the amount to use. For the berries, I have been told not to eat the pips.

    Reply
    • Hi Mary,
      The leaves are best eaten in Spring when the new growth starts to emerge. Afterwards, the leaves get tougher and unpalatable.
      The berries are edible but the seeds are not; best made into jams and jellies or infused in alcoholic drinks, such as vodka or brandy.
      I am afraid I cannot give any medical advice, as I am not qualified for that.

      Reply
    • You can make a decoction with the berries (boil up the berries in water to make a tea) about a tablespoon of fresh, half of dried, per cup. They’re pretty safe so as much as you like really though maybe start with one cup and build up to see how it affects you x

      Reply
          • Hi Justin,
            Radiators are awesome dehydrators. I use them a lot.
            Otherwise, you can use the oven at a very low temperature (door ajar), but you’ll waste far too much energy, as you need to use them for long periods.

          • Pull the berries off the tree in handfuls. Freeze them as they are.
            When you take some to use, crunch them to break off any twigs,
            Roll them down a tray to separate them from the twigs and THEN wash them. If you freeze them wet they will form a solid block. Bring them to boil in some water and then turn off heat and break the skins with a potato masher. Leave to stew for at least ten minutes (or 10 hours if you like) strain and leave to settle, and drink. I use 15 to 20 berries daily

  9. Do you know if the leaves and flowers are edible on the Double Pink Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)? The leaves are pretty much identical to Crataegus monogyna, but the flowers are very different.

    Reply
  10. Thanks for this beautiful article. Can you eat raw hawthorn blossom? Or do you need to heat it? I was going to use it in salad and on top of a cake for decoration. Is it just flowers or is the stalk edible too? Thank you! ?

    Reply
    • Hi Melissa,
      The flowers are edible raw. I would recommend to use the leaf buds or young leaves for a salad and the flowers for decoration purposes as you mentioned, or to make tea or a cordial. Don’t bother with the stalks, as the flavour is in the flower.

      Reply
  11. I harvested some berries to make into a tincture tomorrow (Equinox), but I heard today that they shouldn’t be harvested until the first frost, when the tree fills the berries (or tree seeds) with optimum goodness. Could I still make a tincture, or would it be medicinally ineffective?

    Also have you information on the energetic properties of crataegus?

    Kind regards

    Reply
    • Hi Amanda,
      As long as the fruit is red and ripe, it’s ready to use.
      In the past, people would wait until the first frost when foraging for berries, because the frost has the effect of both breaking the skins of the fruit and make them release the natural sugars. Luckily, we can replicate the effect with freezers nowadays, so you do not need to wait that long!

      Reply
  12. I love foraging, but I don’t do much maybe in the local park for elderberries. I hate to waste things that are natural gifts. At the moment I want to find some fresh Hawthorne berries, I’d even try the leaves for tea.
    I just feel such satisfaction from picking these things from scratch.
    My problem is that I don’t know where to find Hawthorne , oh I know that they’re not ready yet, but I’d like to find them.
    I would like to join a foraging group but I have a back problem which affects my ankle …I where a brace. So it depends on where I walk.

    Reply
    • Hi Beverley. The best time to spot hawthorn is around May, when the trees are in full bloom. Beautiful white flowers easy to see from the distance. Otherwise, just keep your eyes peeled, hawthorn is a very common tree, easily found all over the UK and Ireland in every corner!

      Reply
    • Hope this one helps, Kathy:

      -Hawthorn ketchup recipe-
      Put 500 g berries in a pan with 300 ml vinegar and 300ml water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until soft and squishy. Sieve pips / skins and add 170g sugar to the puree. Bring to the boil and simmer for another 5 min. Finally, bottle and seal.

      Reply

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