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Hawthorn
(Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn Berries
Hawthorn Flowers

By Sarah Head

If anyone asked me to name my favourite hedgerow herb, it would have to be Hawthorn. Its bright green leaves are amongst the first to emerge in the pale warmth of springtime and were a useful addition to meagre diets in the hungry part of the year. My father, now in his 80th year, told me how cheated he felt when adults told him the leaves were called “bread and cheese” and encouraged him to try them, but he found they tasted nothing like cheese at all!

When hawthorn blossoms in May, the tiny white flowers are tinged with pink and smell faintly of cherries. This cherry flavour is captured when you make hawthorn flower tincture with vodka - easily made by filling a glass jar with blossoms and leaves, covering with vodka and then leaving in a cold, dark place for three weeks before straining and using.

Hawthorn has always been associated with the heart, whether medicinally for heart problems or high blood pressure or energetically to open the heart to embrace spiritual development or giving courage during the early stages of bereavement or helping to assuage the loneliness of a broken heart.
Hawthorn Flower Remedy
Hawthorn Flower Remedy

Gather hawthorn flowers in the morning when the dew has evaporated, but the flowers have not become too stressed by sunshine. Pour 1 litre of spring or mineral water into a clean glass bowl and sprinkle the flowers on the surface of the water until it is completely covered. Leave for three hours in direct sunlight in a safe place. Remove the flowers with something other than metal or your hand e.g. a stick and pour 50ml of fluid into a clean dark bottle. Add 50 ml of brandy. Label the bottle and date. Dosage is 4 drops of flower essence under the tongue or in water or fruit juice three times a day, or every half hour if the need is great.

As the year progresses and summer turns to autumn, hawthorn berries shine out with scarlet or crimson glory from the hedgerows. I used to think the difference in colours depending on the ripeness of the berry, but I have recently discovered it is probably due to a difference in tree or perhaps the soil they grow in. The trees in the Cotswolds which are limestone hills have a scarlet berry, but fruit of the tree in my garden with an acid soil is definitely crimson.

Hawthorn brandy is another tincture, easily produced by soaking fresh haws in whatever quality brandy you can afford for three weeks in a dark, cold place in a sealed glass jar. The better the quality, the more mellow the finished drink.

You can also make an interesting liqueur from haws, using Christina Stapeley’s basic liqueur making recipe.

Hawthorn Liqueur
To a jar full of infused hawthorn berry brandy, add 1 grated nutmeg, one cinnamon stick (crumbled), the chopped peel of one orange, 4 cloves and ½-1 cup full of sugar or honey. Seal the jar with a screw top lid, place in a warm, dark place for 8 weeks shaking regularly, then strain and pour into a sterile bottle. Seal the bottle with a screw top lid or cork and leave in a cold dark place to mature for as long as possible (at least two years).

Haws can also be dried and used to make a decocted tea with other herbs and spices. The easiest way to dry them is to place the haws inside a paper bag and hang them in a warm, dark cupboard for several months until they are totally hard and dry. They can then be stored in a glass jar for several years if kept out of the light and used as necessary. To make a decoction, take a tablespoonful of dried haws, add to a small saucepan together with a pint of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid tightly on for 20 minutes. Strain and use. Decoctions can be stored in the fridge for two days.
Haws In Close Up
Haws are not restricted to making drinks, they can also be used to make a wonderful sauce to accompany duck or other game meats. The original recipe comes from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Autumn, but I have adapted it slightly to suit what I had available.

Haw-sin Sauce

375g haws
200g runny honey
250ml water
250ml cider vinegar
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Wash haws in cold water and remove stalks. Cook in saucepan with water and cider vinegar for 45 minutes until soft. Sieve through metal sieve pushing through as much softened material as possible. Measure liquid. Clean saucepan. Return liquid to saucepan adding honey to liquid in equal volume (100ml:100g). Heat gently while stirring with wooden spoon until honey is dissolved. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes if you wish to reduce the amount of liquid and thicken the syup. Pour into hot, sterile bottles. Seal, label and date.

References

Davies, J R - Hawthorn 2000 Element Books Ltd ISBN 1 86204 557 7

Shaw, N - Bach Flower Remedies : A Step-by-Step Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1 86204 106 7

Stapley, C Herbcraft Naturally 1994 Heartsease Books ISBN 0 9522336 1 4

Sarah Head is a member of The Herb Society and a regular contributor to our forum and website. She offers training on coping with bereavement to professionals all over the country. And also runs herb workshops and grows over 100 herbs in two gardens in Solihull and the Cotswolds.


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