hawthorn: fierce & gentle protectress of the heart

Dear one, is your heart aching? Whether it be a personal emotional woe, the collective pain, or a physical manifestation of these in the heart organ or heart center, call Hawthorn your new best friend. Just sitting with Hawthorn and gazing at her protective thorns can give one the sense of relief to grief, heartbreak, or stress. Hawthorn is a beauty any time of year, with her May flowers, late summer to autumn berries, and always those magnificent thorns. Read on for more of Hawthorn's magic...

Crataegus monogyna. Image: Wikipedia

Crataegus monogyna. Image: Wikipedia

 

HAWTHORN (CRATAEGUS spp.)

Lesson:
you are protected, open your heart to love

Offering:
circulation of energy, protection, assimilation

Element & planetary affiliation:
Fire, Mars

Energetics:
sweet, tart, slightly warming (some consider cooling)

 

In Western Medicine (meaning European and American traditions of medicine), Hawthorn is
the ultimate heart tonic. It has the power to both raise and lower blood pressure (this is known as being “amphoteric”). How does it do this? According to herbalist Matthew Wood, it "improves the deposition of lipids in the walls of the capillaries and red blood cells that are squeeze through them.” This cuts down on “irritability” allowing free passage of the blood flow. Hawthorn also helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Hawthorn can help heal a broken heart and is often recommended during times of grief. The flower essence can also be useful in addition to the herb, or alone, to heal emotional wounds.

Symbolism and lore

With its abundance of healing properties, Hawthorn also holds several strong associations. Death, fertility, chastity, marriage, witchery, fae, and protection are all linked to this shrubby, thorny tree. I’d also add longevity to this mix, considering Hawthorns can live 400 years.

Perhaps its association with death comes from the scent of the flowers – some liken it to a rotting fish odor – thanks to trimethylamine. And such the flowers attract carrion insects. Others associate the same scent with sex and therefore fertility. I suppose the association with fertility could also be due to Hawthorn’s ability to cross breed so easily. Or maybe it’s because Hawthorn flowers in May, during Beltane, a time of pagan fertility rituals.

Sleeping under the “May tree” when in bloom is said do bring you to fairyland. The same goes for being amongst Oak, Ash, and ‘Thorn trees simultaneously (see below for Rudyard Kipling's "Oak, Ash and Thorn" poem). Witches are said to be able to turn themselves into Hawthorn trees. Merlin was also trapped in a Hawthorn by a witch.

Birds find refuge in the thorny branches of Crataegus, nesting there to keep away from predators. I learned something fascinating about the true thorns of Hawthorn (versus the "prickles" of roses) from friend and teacher Leda Meredith – true thorns have the potential to become branches. If you look closely at one of these trees you might spot thorns with leaves, flowers, and berries growing off of them. Consider all of that potential energy stored in this healing tree and you begin to get a sense of her power. 

Etymology

The botanical name Crataegus comes from the name given this tree “krátaios” by Dioscorides. The root of this word is “krátys" meaning “strong” or “hard” (referring to the wood).

“Haw” is an old word for “hedge,” and Hawthorn is used in that way. I really like this description of the etymology of Hawthorn from Sacred Earth:

But in the mindset of the ancients a hedge was more than just a living fence; it signified the boundary between the known, safe and civilized world, and the wild woods beyond. The word 'hedge' derives from 'Haga' which is contained in the old name for Hawthorn 'Hagathorn' and shares the same root as 'hag'. The hag, in old English was not just an old, ugly woman, but is cognate with 'haegtesse', a woman of prophetic powers, and 'hagzusa' spirit beings, and 'hedge riders' - in other words, beings that live 'between' the worlds of mundane reality and the otherworld beyond, and who could easily traverse the boundaries between them. Likewise, healers, seers and soothsayers were also considered 'boundary-walkers'. Thus, Hawthorn's symbolism is that of protection, but also as a gateway to this other world of magical beings.

Yes! 

Clockwise from top left, fruit of clockwise from top left: Crataegus coccinea, C. punctata var. aurea, C, ambigua, C. douglasii. Image: Wikipedia

Clockwise from top left, fruit of clockwise from top left: Crataegus coccinea, C. punctata var. aurea, C, ambigua, C. douglasii. Image: Wikipedia

MORE ABOUT HAWTHORN

Constituents and Nutrients
crategolic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, glavone, sugars, glycosides, flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins, pectin, saponins, tannins, selenium, chromium, B vitamins, vitamin C

Actions
amphoteric, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cholesterol lowering, circulatory stimulant, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, hypotensive, mild sedative, tonic, vasodilator

Conditions
ADHD, abdominal distention, angina, anxiety, arrhythmia, arteriosclerosis, boils, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, fluid retention, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, hypotension, indigestion (esp. stuck food, esp. meat), migraines, palpitations, poor memory, stagnation, stones/tumors, tightness and/or weakness around heart, valvular insufficiency

Botanical Description
From A. Vogel: “The monostyle (single seed) hawthorn is a very branchy, small bush to medium-sized tree with thorny branches. The latter bear oval to rhombic, deeply and three- to five-lobed, dark green leaves. The flowers have five white to pink petals and one pistil. They are arranged in cymes. In the autumn or Fall, they form brilliant red, ovate to spherical berries (pseudocarps), 4mm to 8 mm in diameter and 6 mm to 10 mm long. The mealy, yellowish flesh contains a pip. The end of the berry has a small dimple, around which the remains of the five corolla tips can be seen. The di-style (double seed) hawthorn is very similar. But its leaves are only three-lobed and display rounded, serrate sections. Its flowers have two to three pistils and the berries have two to three pips. The two species cross readily and are thus difficult to distinguish. The hawthorn flowers from May to June. Other species of hawthorn, some of which are also used in medicine, include C. azarolus L., Azaroldorn, with yellowish-orange fruits; C. nigra, the black-fruited hawthorn; C. pentagyna, the pentastylous or five-pistilled hawthorn, with dull, dark purple fruits; and C. laciniata, the oriental hawthorn, with small, pear-shaped, red fruits.”

~~~

PRECAUTIONS
If you are using cardioactive pharmaceuticals like digoxin, consult your doctor for supervision. Dose adjustment may be necessary.


Hawthorn berry jam. Image: China Sichuan Food

Hawthorn berry jam. Image: China Sichuan Food

RECIPES

Hawthorn Berry Decoction
Add 1 ounce of berries to 1 quart of water. Simmer for 20 minutes. Drink 1/2 cup up to 3 times per day.

~~~

Love Me Tender Tea Blend
Makes 5.25 ounces (net weight)

2.5 ounces oatstraw (Avena sativa)
1 ounce rose (Rosa spp.)
.5 ounce hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.)
.5 ounce ginger (Zingiber officinale)
.25 ounce red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense)
.25 ounce cinnamon chips (Cinnamomum verum)
.25 ounce cardamom, hulled (Elettaria cardamomum)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Store in an airtight glass container. To make an infusion, steep 1 to 2 tablespoons per cup of boiling water.

~~~

Hawthorn Berry Cordial
from Wild Foods & Medicine

2 oz dried hawthorn berries
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon dried ginger
4 oz tart cherry juice concentrate
4 oz honey (this could be rose, lavender or hawthorn flower honey)
12 oz alcohol (this could be vodka, brandy or better yet, a tincture of hawthorn leaf and
flower or berry with a minimum of 40% alcohol.

Place hawthorn in 16 ounces of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the water is reduced to 8 ounces. Strain through muslin cloth and place the tea back in a clean pot. Add black cherry concentrate and honey. Heat and stir until honey is dissolved but do not allow to boil. Turn off and allow to cool. Add alcohol, stir ingredients well, then bottle in glass jars and store in the refrigerator. This cordial will last 6 months to a year.

Hawthorn berry is high in a thickening agent called pectin. When making fresh plant tincture, it may become jelly-like. This is less likely to happen if the berry is dried. Pectin is an adventitious ingredient when making jelly and a simple recipe of ground hawthorn berry, ground rosehips and apple juice makes a delicious tonic jelly.

~~~

Hawthorn Ketchup
from Great British Chefs

You can find another recipe for this ketchup in Leda Meredith's book, The Forager's Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles.

500g of hawthorn berry
300ml of cider vinegar
300ml of water
170g of sugar
1/2 tsp salt freshly ground black pepper

1. To begin, remove the berries from the stalks and wash well with cold water. Add to a large pan with the water and vinegar, then bring to the boil. Allow to simmer for approximately half an hour, until the skins of the berries begin to burst

2. Take off the heat and pour the contents of the pan through a sieve to remove any stones and tough pieces of skin

3. Transfer the liquid to a clean pan with the sugar and place over a low heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar

4. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes more, until syrup-like and reduced

5. Season the syrup to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer to sterilised bottles. The syrup is good to use for 1 year

~~~

Hawthorn Jam
from China Sichuan Food

1 pound of fresh hawthorn berries
1 cup sugar or more as needed
1 and 1/2 cup water
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Airtight and clean containers

Wash and rinse your storage containers. Clean the fresh hawthorn berry and then soak in slightly salted water for around 20 minutes. Then wash again and remove the core. Transfer hawthorn into a food processor, add water. Blend until almost smooth but there are some small particles or smooth according to your own taste.

Pour the mixture to a sauce pan; add sugar and simmer for around 80 to 100 minutes. Add fresh lemon juice in the middle. Stir from time to time. Pour the jam into the prepared containers. Leave 1/3 of space at the top of each container to allow room for the jam to expand in the freezer. Seal the containers and let the jam sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Then store the jam the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

For a longer storage time, you can increase the amount of sugar used in the recipe.


Image: "Hawthorn Tree" by Arthur Rackham

Image: "Hawthorn Tree" by Arthur Rackham

 

POETRY/SONGS/LORE

The Hawthorn Tree
by Willa Cather (1873-1947)

CROSS the shimmering meadows--
Ah, when he came to me!
In the spring-time,
In the night-time,
In the starlight,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Up from the misty marsh-land--
Ah, when he climbed to me!
To my white bower,
To my sweet rest,
To my warm breast,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Ask of me what the birds sang,
High in the hawthorn tree;
What the breeze tells,
What the rose smells,
What the stars shine--
Not what he said to me!

 

From The Traveller
by Kathleen Raine

A hundred years I slept beneath a thorn
Until the tree was root and branches of my thought,
Until white petals blossomed in my crown.

 

Oak, Ash, and Thorn
by Rudyard Kipling

Of all the trees that grow so fair, old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the sun than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn good sirs,
All on a midsummer's morn.
Surely we sing of no little thing
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Oak of the clay lived many a day o'er ever Aeneas began
Ash of the loam was a lady at home when Brut was an outlaw man,
And Thorn of the down saw new Troy town, from which was London born
Witness hereby the ancient try of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.

Sing . . .

Yew that is old, in churchyard mould, he breedeth a mighty bow
Alder for shoes do wise men choose, and Beech for cups also
But when you have killed, and you bowl it is filled, and your
shoes are clean outworn
Back you must speed for all that you need to Oak, and Ash, and Thorn

Sing . . .

Elm, she hates mankind, and waits till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him that anyway trusts her shade,
But whether a lad be sober or sad, or mellow with ale from the horn,
He'll taketh no wrong when he lyeth along 'neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn

Sing . . .

Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin,
But we've been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in,
And we bring you good news by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn
Now is the sun come up from the south, by Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.

Sing . . .

 

Image: Cicely Mary Barker

Image: Cicely Mary Barker

The Song Of The Hawthorn Fairy
by Cicely Mary Barker

These thorny branches bore the May
So many months ago,
That when the scattered petals lay
Like drifts of fallen snow,
"This is the story's end," you said;
But O, not half was told!
For see, my haws are here instead,
And hungry birdies shall be fed
On these when days are cold.

 

The Hawthorn Tree
by Nathaniel Haskell Dole (1895)

At the edge of the hedge is a Hawthorn Tree,
And its blossoms are sweet as sweet can be,
And the bees are humming there all the day,
And these are the words that I hear them say:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

All the breezes that breathe o er those blossoms rare
A burden of perfume happily bear;
And the songsters revel there all day long,
And these are the words of their merry song:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

And a maid and her lover wander by
As the twilight glories fade and die;
And they pause neath the fragrant boughs to rest,
And above them sways the robin's nest:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree !

We too, they whisper, shall soon build a home
Neath the azure arch of the infinite dome;
And we, all the day, shall sing like the birds,
But with deeper meaning in music and words:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

~~~

MORE LORE
from Mandy Haggith

  • Hymen, Greek goddess of marriage, carried a torch of hawthorn
  • Greek goddess Hera touched hawthorn and had an immaculate conception of twins Ares (Mars) and Eris (Venus)
  • Hawthorn-decorated May ceremonies were traditionally scenes of 'lascivious revelry and sexual merriment'

Read more beautiful magic about Hawthorn at Eco Enchantments.


RESOURCES

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants.
North Atlantic Books. 2008.

The Goddess Tree. Hawthorn. Available at: http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Hawthorn.htm

Wild Foods and Medicines. Available at: http://wildfoodsandmedicines.com/hawthorn/

Weed, Susun. Take Heart From Hawthorn. Wise Woman Herbal Ezine. Available at: http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/November08/healingwise.htm