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

Botanical name

Crataegus monogyna

Plant family

Rosaceae (Rose)

Distribution

Native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. Very common everywhere in Ireland and the UK, except north of Scotland.

Where to find Hawthorn

Common tree in deciduous woodland, hedgerow, scrubland and public parks.

When to find Hawthorn

Leaves and flowers early to mid-spring and berries early to mid-autumn.

How to identify Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 6 m. It normally has an structure made of a tangled mass of thorny branches. The leaves resemble those of parsley and lobed into three segments. The flowers are small, white, with five petals and an almondy smell. The fruit is small, red in color and contains one stone, although there can be more in other species.

Hawthorn lookalikes

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) often hybridises with Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata). Both species are remarkably similar but the Common Hawthorn fruits have a single seed, whereas the berries of Midland Hawthorn have two. Otherwise it can be hard to tell apart, however they are both edible.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) have superficially similar berries, dark-orange in colour, but the leaves are totally different.

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. There are so many traditions and folklore associated with it that is considered a fairy tree amongst hedge witches.

This omnipresent tree enliven the countryside with its heady and dazzling May blossom that develops into shiny red berries in autumn, 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, are much like mild apples but the flesh is quite dense and dry. These make good jelly to eat with cheese and a great ketchup substitute.

Haws have also been used in the production of country wines and homemade schnapps.

In addition, leaves, flowers and berries can be used to make a tea.

Medicinal properties of Hawthorn

Hawthorn is one of the most scientifically validated of our herbal medicines and it’s a restorative for the heart and circulation thus it helps to regulate heartbeat and high blood pressure.

The plant also contains vitamins B and C.

Windswept hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna)

Safe foraging of Hawthorn

Care should be taken when collecting Haws, because the plant has thorns.

The seed of Hawthorn contains a cyanogenic compound called amygdalin, therefore should not be consumed.

Ecological importance of Hawthorn

Hawthorn provides shelter and nesting space for hedgerow birds.

The leaves are a source of food for caterpillars of moths and its flowers provide pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The berries are eaten by migratory birds.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. 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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31 thoughts on “Hawthorn”

  1. 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
    • Hi Sylvia,
      Green unripe fruit turns red eventually. Hawthorn often hybridise naturally, so colour tone may vary from tree to tree (and flavour profile too). As long as the haws are red, they are ripe and ready to eat.

      Reply
    • Hi Laura,
      Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) have thorns too.
      It’s only certain hawthorn cultivars that do not have thorns, such as C. Crusgalli var. Inermis, a popular ornamental landscape tree.

      Reply
  2. 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 sorry 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

  3. 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
    • Hi Hugh,
      Both leaves and flowers are edible on the midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) and the cultivar hybrids (Crataegus × media). That includes double pink flowering hawthorn.

      Reply
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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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