Hawthorn tree (Crataegus oxyacantha) was sacred to many an ancient civilization, one of the sacred trees to those that practiced witchcraft or part of Wicca. The hawthorn tree is also known by many names: the May tree, Beltane tree, Whitethorn, May blossom, Quick, Thorn, Haw, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat and the Bread and Cheese Tree. In Ireland it is known as Sceach geal, in France L’épine noble and in Germany Hagedorn. The Celtic meaning for the hawthorn tree deals with balance and duality. The hawthorn tree is full of contradictions, all of which the Celts were fully aware of.
The hawthorn tree has beautiful striking blossoms, historically known for a May arrival but recent changes to climatic conditions have changed the arrival of the blossoms anywhere from early April to late May, depending on your specific location. Countering the beautiful blossoms on most hawthorn trees are some of the most sinister looking thorns you will ever see on a tree. Although there is thorn less varieties available, the closest I am aware of is planted at the entrance of Garlo Park outside Bloomville Ohio.
Symbolic association between life and death with the hawthorn tree stems from the herbalist knowledge of using the leaves, blossoms, and fruit of the hawthorn tree to create powerful remedies for the heart. But superstition would never allow branches of the hawthorn tree to be taken inside the home, because the smell of rotten flesh would be equated with death. The chemicals components of the two are the same. Hawthorn is also known for male energy, but closer inspections of the historic documents suggest that fertility was actually the expected outcome. So virility or fertility, we are again back to that duality aspect of the trees history.
I think that duality is suggesting balance of opposites, balance of use and balance in our lives. The Hawthorn tree is also considered to be a sacred tree, one of the fairies. Although day of the fairies is not a calendar date, it is noted as the date of the hawthorn bloom. During the return of the fairies, you are supposed to open your heart to the hawthorn, for hawthorn is the herb of healthy hearts. The crimson haws were fermented into wine or baked into cakes to commemorate the return of May. Later the flowers, leaves, and haw fruit were consumed in teas, infusions, and tinctures with similar results. The seeds are one thing that should not be eaten. Even one or two seeds could make an adult sick to their stomach, so please take care when processing the berries. The time spent is well worth it.
Regular use of hawthorn can
• Lower blood pressure
• Increase the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping action
• Strengthen the heart muscle
• Slow the heartbeat
• Dilate coronary arteries
• Prevent heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
• Help those healing from heart surgery
• Support the immune system
• Increase longevity
The German Commission E – the German equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which determines the effectiveness of herbal medicines recommends tea or tincture of hawthorn for Cardiac insufficiency corresponding to stages I and II of the NYHA
• Feelings of pressure and tightness in the cardiac region
• The ageing heart not yet requiring digitalis
• Mild bradyarrhythmia (heart rate of less than 60 beats a minute)
• Increasing coronary and myocardial circulation
There are no indications of drug interaction and no overdose of hawthorn. It is safe to take with any other medicine, including other heart medicines. Hawthorn does not block calcium channels nor is it a diuretic. In fact, it is highly regarded as a safe way to lower blood pressure when dealing with a diabetic patient or someone with a kidney disease. A hawthorn preparation was injected prior to the introduction of blood pressure drugs and heart-valve surgery, even in modern day medicine. It is still available ln Germany today.
Hawthorn is member of the rose family, and thus closely related to rose hips, apples, cherries, apricots, and almonds. Hawthorn tea is typically made by steeping two teaspoons of dried leaves and flowers in a cup of boiling water for several minutes. Hawthorn infusions are made by steeping one ounce of dried flowers and leaves or one ounce of dried haws in a quart of boiling water for at least four hours. I make hawthorn tincture by soaking dried hawthorn haws in 100 proof vodka for at least six months; fresh haws are soaked for a minimum of three months, then strained and stored in dark containers out of sunlight.
Hawthorn Wine (Courtesy of Andy Hamilton)
• Four pints (2 liters) of Haw berries
• l lb. (500g) of chopped raisins
• 2.5 lb. (1.25 kg) Sugar
• Juice of one lemon
• 1 gallon of water
• 15 gram yeast and l0 gram yeast nutrient.
Rinse the Haw berries with cold water. Pour six pints of water over the top of them and leave loosely covered for a couple of hours. Now it is crushing time, squeeze every last berry with your hands so that you get right messy. Add the raisins and lemon juice leave for 24 hours in a fermentation bin if you have one, otherwise a sterilized bucket covered in a kitchen towel. After the 24 hours is up, stir in the sugar. When you are sure the sugar has dissolved add the yeast and yeast nutrient. Keep covered in a warm place for 5-7 days.
Strain into a demi-john and fit an airlock, leave for about 3 months, and rack by siphoning into another demi-john leaving the sediment, then bottle after a month, storing the bottles on their side. Ensure that the wine has stopped fermenting before putting into bottles. This is very important and they can blow up. Basically when the water in the airlock on the bottle is level and there are no more bubbles being formed it has stopped fermenting. Yield is about 5 bottle of wine.
Hawthorn Jelly (Euell Gibbons)
To make Haw Jelly, crush three pounds of the fruit, add four cups of water bring it to a boil, cover and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then strain the juice through a jelly bag and discard the spent pulp, seeds, and skins. If red haws are not too ripe, they will furnish ample pectin for jelly making, but if they are very ripe, add one package powdered pectin to the strained juice.
We felt our juice could stand more acid, so we added the juice of two lemons. We put just four cups of this juice in a very large saucepan and brought it to a boil, then added seven cups of sugar and very soon after it came to a boil again, it showed a perfect jelly test.
Vince Kirchner, a certified Permaculture instructor and an Ohio State University Master Gardener, is owner of Great Lakes Permaculture, Tiffin.