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Traditional Food, Hawthorn: The Heart Tree


Traditional Food, Hawthorn: The Heart Tree. Article by our guest writer, Gemma.


Hawthorn has a long ancestral connection with European people where it was used for fertility, protection, a heart tonic and as a gift of love. Hawthorn is associated with the May Day Festival which is a celebration of love, courtship and as a blessing on the growing season to come. On the first of May, young maidens would rise at dawn and wash themselves with dew from the blossom to ensure beauty for the coming year. An old English proverb goes:

The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.

Young men would go gathering blossom to make garlands for the maidens, they’d sing Here we go gathering nuts, meaning ‘Knots of May’. Blossoms were also placed on doors and to decorate the May Pole for protection. However, it was very unlucky to bring blossoms or branches into the house as it brought illness and death to its occupants. The smell of the blossom is where this idea comes from as a chemical, called ‘trimethylamine’, found in the flowers is given off by decaying animals.

The most famous hawthorn is the Glastonbury Thorn. It is said that St. Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin Mary’s uncle, pushed a staff into the ground overlooking Glastonbury Tor where it took root and grew into a tree. This tree flowers twice a year, May and Christmas. Pilgrims to the tree have claimed that by touching it they have deepened their spiritual understanding.

Hawthorn is all about the heart, both emotional and physical. Here are a few ideas in how to use this heart-warming tree. Flowers are harvested in spring. You can make tea to strengthen the heart and circulation. As the tea makes the heart strong it is a good remedy for a broken heart. A flower remedy that uses the energy of the flowers is known to help overcome grief. Leaves are best harvested in spring but can be picked right through till autumn. Leaves make a wonderful nutty addition to spring salads. A poultice can be made to draw out embedded objects within the skin; an easy way to do this is to chew a few leaves and place over the splinter or thorn.

Berries are harvested in autumn. Again, make a tea to strengthen the heart. The berries can help with all nervous conditions including stress and anxiety. They boost the immune system and can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Berries are best collected after the first hard frosts as this elevates the vitamin C content, if you are eager to collect berries before this I suggest placing them in a bag and freezing them for a few days before use.

As we are in the month of October berries are abundant and here are two recipes that are easy to make.


Hawthorn Berry Syrup

1kg berries
3 litre boiling water
450g sugar

Place water and berries in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring and mashing with a potato masher. Strain and discard the berries. Place liquid and sugar back into a saucepan and boil again for 10 or so minutes until syrupy. Pour into sterilised bottles for use as an autumn tonic.


Hawthorn and Apple Jam

1kg Berries
4 or 5 apples, 8 to 10 if using crab apples
Enough water to cover fruit
500g Jam sugar

Place berries, chopped and cored apples (you can leave the skin on as that helps to set the jam) and water in a pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 hour. You may need to add more water to stop the mixture drying out. Stir and mash using a potato masher. Strain through a sieve, discard pulp. Put the sugar and liquid back into a saucepan and bring to the boil and simmer again for 10-15 minutes. To check that your jam is set get a teaspoon of jam and place it on a cold plate, run a finger through and if its gel-like it is ready to put into sterilised jars. If your jam is still a bit runny simmer for a little longer. Lovely on toast, made into jam tarts or mixed in with natural yoghurt or ice cream. Please note that hawthorn berry seeds contain toxins and should therefore not be consumed.

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