Hawthorn: Plant profile
Hawthorn, Common Hawthorn, Oneseed Hawthorn, Haw, Thornapple, May Tree, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, Sceach Gheal
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.
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.
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.
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.