Hawthorn (Crataegus spp), is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. The Hawthorne has many folk names including Thorn, Thornapple, May-tree, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, Mayblossom, Hagthorn, Hedgethorn, Quickset, Hawberry, Halves, Bread and Cheese tree, Huath, Lady’s Meat, May bush, Tree of Chastity, Pixie Pears, Cuckoo’s Beads, Chucky Cheeses, Hazels, Gazels, Albesyne, L’Epine Noble, Hagedorn, Fairy Bush, May Blossom, May Bush, May Flower, Quick, Thorn, Crown of Thorns and Haw.
The botanical name Crataegus oxyacantha comes from the Greek kratos, meaning “hardness”, oxcux, meaning“sharp” and akantha meaning“thorn”. Species of Hawthorn can grow in the form of a bush or a tree.
Myth, Magic & Folklore
This beautiful, and mysterious tree is surrounded by myth, superstition, folklore and magic. The tales told about the Hawthorn are as numerous as the folk names it has been given. It is said by many, especially the Irish, that the Hawthorn is home to Fairy Folk and to cut one down is to anger the wee folk, as is referring to them as Fairies. Numerous stories thru-ought history have been told regarding this mystical tree. It is considered by some to be bad luck to cut down a Hawthorn tree. It is also thought to be a gamble to bring Hawthorn flowers into the house, as this invited the Fairies inside to conduct their mischief. Roadways have been diverted around Hawthorne trees to prevent bad luck and the lone trees can sometimes be seen standing alone in the middle of a farmers field, as to cut it down would surely bring bad luck to the farmer’s crops. If one is to cut from the tree, they should first ask the Wee folk for permission and leave a gift of gratitude, so as not to anger them.
In the early 1980’s the Folklore Society’s survey of ‘unlucky’ plants revealed that 23% of the items referred to hawthorn, more than twice as many instances as the second most unlucky plant.
Serbian and Croatian folklore notes hawthorn (Serbian глог, Croatian glog) is particularly deadly to vampires, and stakes used for their slaying must be made from the wood of the thorn tree.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, sgitheach and in Irish, sceach) ‘marks the entrance to the otherworld’ and is strongly associated with the fairies. Across Britain there was the belief that bringing hawthorn blossom into the house would be followed by illness and death.
In Christian tradition, hawthorn is associated with the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and the wood from which the staff of Joseph of Arimathea was made. In Arabic culture, Hawthorn has been long associated with death and was used in funeral pyres. Possibly this was because fire fed by hawthorn burns extremely hot.
It has been claimed by many thruought history that if you fall asleep beneath a Hawthorn, the Wee Folk will carry you on an adventure to the Otherworld, but when and if you return, you will have lost days, if not years, of time.
Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut from the Hawthorn tree at any time ,other than when it is in bloom; however, during this time, it is commonly cut and decorated as a May bush to celebrate May day or Beltane. Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells, they are sometimes known as rag trees, for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals.
Hawthorn has long been a hedge plant; the German word for Hawthorn is Hagedorn; haw is also an older word for hedge. Hawthorn, especially in the UK, was planted heavily in hedges for boundaries to fields; while it was used throughout the ages for this purpose, in the 18th and 19th century with new fencing laws, the hedges grew even more prominent. It was from these hedges, full of medicinal and magical plants, that the “hedge witch” term derives.
Hawthorne is seen as a masculine figure in magical lore. In astrology, Hawthorn is considered masculine and is associated with Mars. His element is fire.
The magic of Hawthorn is most evident in how he interacts in his environment. Hawthorn is bushy and spreading, and he’s thorny. He provides some food, especially in late winter when his haws are still edible, but more importantly he provides a hedge of protection to a variety of prey animals, most notably small to medium-sized birds. Birds such as the ruffed grouse, robin, cedar waxwing, fox sparrow, and pine grosbeak seek shelter from hawks and other predators in Hawthorn’s thorny space year-round. This tells us Hawthorn is a protector of the small, the vulnerable, and the weak. Hawthorn magic is the magic of shelter and protection, especially in times of stress.”The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Encyclopedia
The tree is considered sacred to the fairies and is part of the tree fairy triad of Oak, Ash and Thorn – where all three grow together, it is said that it is possible to see fairies.
Hawthorn trees are an important part of the ecosystem, being a nectary for insects in the spring and providing food and shelter for many birds and mammals. Because the haws are a very late-dropping fruit and some may remain on the trees even into the winter, thrushes and cedar waxwings will eat them and spread the berries through their droppings. Certain moths and butterflies feed exclusively on the nectar and leaves of the hawthorn tree.
While gathering a small handful of blossoms today, I saw a beautiful white butterfly land next to me on the trunk of my Hawthorn tree, it sat beside me while I gathered a few thorns from the lowest branches, which I wanted to use for inscribing my candles. I found this to be quite mesmerizing and maybe even a bit coincidental, as it is only the first week of March and I have not yet seen any signs of other butterflies returning.
Hawthorn responds differently depending on how you approach it. If you ram yourself into a hawthorn, its going to hurt and you aren’t going to get anywhere—and you may wish you never came upon it. But, if you are mindful, you can can carefully work with it and reap rewards. If you are true of heart and kind to the land, the hawthorn is likely to be your ally. It’s a tree of mystery and magic, as much as it is a tree that opens the heart. Its defensiveness can be aggressive when warranted, but nurturing when it wants to be.” …..The Druid Garden
Hawthorne however is not all dark and sinister. The Hawthorn is said to assist in taking your prayers to heaven, Blooms are often used in weddings and marriage ceremonies to bring good luck and fertility and are said to be highly erotic to men. The blooms of the hawthorn are sometimes used in spells and charms for fertility, happiness, and good luck in fishing. Native Americans often used Hawthorn to make fishing hooks,sewing awls, and lances for probing blisters, boils, and for piercing ears.. Hawthorn has also been used for protection, worn as an amulet or rubbed on the heart in the form of tincture or salve to assist in healing a broken heart or in helping assist one out of a state of depression or sadness.
I felt a little nervous in approaching my Hawthorn tree today, as it was the first time I had ever approached it. I am of Irish & Celtic ancestry, so some of the folk lore regarding the Hawthorn, I was already very familiar with. There are many Irish superstitions that still abound here in Mississippi and I don’t tend to take the lore of the Wee Fairy Folk lightly. I have always tried to be respectful of them, superstition or not. I was careful to explain my presence and what I was there to do. But after a few minutes of sitting beneath the tree, taking some beautiful photos of the flowers and explaining what I was there to do, I began to feel very relaxed and almost as if a weight had been lifted. This was the first time I had ever noticed the Hawthorn on my property, even though I am sure it has been there for many years. They say that the Hawthorn shows itself to you when it wants to be seen, so I feel very happy to have been introduced today.
Hawthorn is a familiar sight growing alongside paths and near rivers, as well as being widely used as a hedging plant in the countryside. It can often grow to 30 feet tall. From the end of April onward it has clusters of beautiful five petaled white flowers with a musky odor which people either love or hate. While the Hawthorn usually blooms in late April to May in Europe, it is only the first week of March here in Mississippi and the Hawthorne trees are blooming all around my area, so what time the Hawthorne blooms may vary, depending on where you live. Some species of Hawthorn ( and there are over 500) may even bloom twice a year. The blooms are usually white but there is also a pink or reddish colored Hawthorne. I have read that the pink species is not as good or used as widely for medicinal purposes and is more of an ornamental variety, usually seen in city and urban settings, I have never seen a pink one growing wild here in the rural countryside.
Hawthorn is a very hard wood and burns very hot, so it makes an excellent charcoal. It is often used for making wands and broomsticks, tools and wood handles. The thorns are often used for inscribing candles in magic work. They are very sharp and one must be careful not to catch one in the eye when harvesting or sitting beneath the tree.
For medicine making, the flowers and leaves can be harvested, along with the berries. Of course, if you harvest the flowers, there won’t be berries, so there is always a choice to make! I have always tried personally not to take more than 1/3 of any blooms from fruit or berry producing trees and I will only take what I absolutely think I will need, I do the same when picking blackberries, I always leave some behind. You can use a pair of scissors or just your hands to harvest leaves and flowers.
Hawthorns, like apples, give of their haws (fruit) in the fall and sometimes early winter when they are ready—when you lightly tug on the haw and it is ripe, it will come easily from the tree, and likely others with it. If you tug on the haw and you get resistance, come back later, and the fruit will be ready. The ground is also a fine place to gather When they are perfectly ripe, they start dropping to the ground in quantity. When harvesting haws, there are all shapes and sizes . Hawthorn berries can come in red (most common), yellow and black (least common) varieties. The fruit of the red variety is initially green in color but gradually turns a rich, intense red. It is best gathered after a frost. The leaves are deeply divided into toothed lobes, which are bright green when just out of bud but become shiny green on top and grey-green below once mature. The tree can live to over 400 years old, and hawthorn remains found in megalithic tombs show that the tree was widespread around Britain before 6000 BCE.
After harvesting , be sure to check your hawthorn berries for worms. Hawthorn berries often have small worms in them (again depends on the tree), Open your berry and if there is a worm, simply remove it , just as you would from an apple. You also want to remove the seed of the berry for sure—the seeds, The berries have either one or two seeds depending on which species of Hawthorn it is & depending on the size of your berry, like the seeds of apples and cherries, they contain cyanide. However, the fruit of the berries are quite edible and taste like an over-ripe apple. They are often used to make jams and jelly. The contain a natural pectin which also helps in making a good jelly set.
In terms of making medicine from hawthorn, the most complete medicine is a combination of flowers, leaves, and berries in a tincture; you can also make decoctions of berries; tea with leaves, tinctures,herbal vinegar, glycerate, elixir, flowers, syrup and food such as jelly and jam.
Hawthorn has a favorable effect on the heart and has been used as a medicinal for the heart by Native American, Chinese and European Cultures for many years. Many scientific studies have been done and confirmed that Hawthorn has a medicinal effect on the heart. The fruit, flowers, berries, leaves and branch tips have been used to create cardiac tonics. The flowers, leaves and berries all have vasodilatory properties, improving blood supply around the body. It is an excellent herb to use to treat high blood pressure when this is related to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) as it helps to dissolve the fatty deposits that cause the problem. In addition to this, it can be used to treat poor memory and confusion when this is caused by inadequate blood supply to the brain.
Hawthorn helps to dilate blood vessels, especially coronary vessels, lowers blood pressure and helps reduce angina attacks. Long term use may be necessary in some cases to see effective results. The flowers, leaves and fruits of the Hawthorn have properties that reduce blood pressure and stimulate the heart, as well as act as a mild sedative. In herbal medicine not only do they treat heart and circulatory disorders, they are also used to treat migraine, menopausal conditions, angina, and insomnia. The flowers are strongest as sedatives, and used externally can treat acne and skin blemishes. The berries (also known as “Pixie Pears”) contain Vitamin B complex and Vitamin C. They can be crushed and used to ease diarrhea, dysentery, and kidney disorders. The leaf and flower tops can be used to ease anxiety and act as a gentle sedative, especially good for bad dreams, insomnia and menstrual related mood swings. It can be helpful for those struggling with ADHD and related disorders. The bark of the hawthorn tree can be used as a sedative, anti-spasmodic, diuretic and to help regulate blood pressure. It is used as a heart tonic and for kidney troubles. The bark can apparently be used as a febrifuge, to lower fevers. Traditional Chinese medicine uses Hawthorn to improve sluggish digestion, especially where this relates to fats and meats. Hawthorn is cooling, soothing and restorative, and can be used to help those who suffer from diarrhea and overheated digestive tracts. The flowers and berries are also astringent and can be used for sort throats.
As with any herbal use, please speak with your physician before using any herbal supplements or remedies as they may interact with prescription medications you may already be taking. Heart conditions are serious health issues and you should always contact your doctor before using any herbal remedies.
Note : You should not take hawthorn if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Do not give hawthorn products to children. Supplementing with hawthorn is recommended for short-term use by adults. If any symptoms get worse when taking hawthorn, you should discontinue use and seek emergency medical care.For some users, hawthorn can cause nausea, upset stomach, fatigue, sweating, headache, dizziness, palpitations, nosebleeds, insomnia, agitation and other side effects. While hawthorn is known for being excellent for the heart, it can interact with prescription medications taken for heart disease. Medications for other heart concerns, high blood pressure and male sexual dysfunction are also known to interact with hawthorn. Some specific medications known to possibly interact with hawthorn include digoxin, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers (CCBs), nitrates, phenylephrine and phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors.
On the emotional and spiritual side, hawthorn is a great herb for heart healing. Herbalist Jim McDonald also uses it to help people establish their own emotional space. As Jim McDonald has discussed, about anytime that you’ve had heartbreak—you can literally feel your heart hurt, and wounded, and as part of this to prevent further hurt, you close up/constrict yourself and are unwilling to open yourself again. Hawthorn helps us heal from this kind of emotional damage—we can see this in the tree itself, who offers its medicine freely but also creates a protective space with its thorns. Hawthorn, therefore, provides an energetic/etheric protection to the heart and helps us establish our own space. Some have been known to use Hawthorn for protection, by wearing an amulet made of Hawthorne or casting a spell.
Carefully gather a few thorns from the tree. On a piece of paper, write the name of the person or situation from which you seek protection, and then wrap it around the thorns. Bury this in the ground – if possible near the tree from which the thorns were collected. Whispers from the Woods, by Sandra Kynes
My elderly Aunt also gave me a similar suggestion years ago, collect the thorns of the Hawthorn (or if none are available you can also use nails), write the persons name or situation you seek protection from on a piece paper, wrap the thorns ( or nails) in the paper with a string or twine (for added protection fill the jar with water or pee in the jar) then seal it up with a lid and bury it.
Other Ways To Use Hawthorne
Teas: To create teas (infusions and decoctions) from the hawthorn, use the leaves and flowers or de-seeded berries. For a strong medicine, pour boiling water over the leaves and flowers, seep for 10-20 min, and drink (with honey, if you’d like!). For the berries, bring water to a boil, add berries, and boil covered for at least 20 min (depending on if they are whole or smashed prior to drying). Hawthorne was also used in combination with Motherwort and warm water by some Native Americans to treat Arrhythmia.
Syrups: Chop of hawthorn and cover with 1 quart of water. Boil this for an hour or so, then strain the berries. Boil it down to 1 cup, then add your choice of sweetener (honey, maple syrup).
Elixirs: Tincture in brandy with honey or maple syrup; Elixirs as concentrated as a typical tincture
Paste: Hawthorn berry powder can be made into paste or pastilles with a bit of honey. Spread it, ball it up and eat it, however you’d like!
Hawthorn Schnapps: Tincture of fresh berries in lower-proof vodka (80proof) for an enjoyable beverage!
Jelly: Both the blossoms and berries can be made into wine and jellies.
Salad:Hawthorn leaves can be eaten alone or added to salad and were once referred to as bread-and-cheese.
Tincture: Place fresh leaf and flower or berry (fresh or dried) in a glass jar and cover with alcohol (brandy or vodka.) Let sit for at least 2 weeks. Strain with muslin cloth. Store the tincture in a glass jar in a cool dark place. Take 30-40 drops three to four times a day.
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.
Intake of an herbal decoction might be beneficial for managing hot flashes experienced by women in their menopause, occurring as a part of ovarian ageing.
Pour a cup of boiling water into a teapot
Add 1 teaspoon of dried hawthorn berries to the water
Cover and let it steep for 8 to 10 minutes
Strain the mixture
Sweeten it with sugar or honey and drink
In a similar way, you can prepare the healthy drink with the dried leaves and flowers of hawthorn by boiling them in water for 15 minutes followed by steeping for about 15 to 30 minutes.
Note: The tea can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Hawthorn Berry Cordial
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.
Rose Hawthorn Tea
1 generous tablespoon dried hawthorn berries, soaked over night
1 – 2 generous teaspoons dried organic rose petals
1/4 cinnamon stick (or to taste), crushed
Measure 1.5 – 2 cups water into a pot. Place hawthorn berries into pot and cover.Bring water to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, covered. Prepare roses and cinnamon and place into teapot, cup, or jar. Pour hot water and berries over roses and cinnamon, cover. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
I personally see the Hawthorn as a tree of balance, having both a dark and sinister side, full of mystery, magic and superstition, as well as, a healing and heart mending medicine, and a presence that promotes harmony of the heart. It has a power of protection when provoked, as well as, a healing touch when given the respect it seeks and deserves. I feel very honored to have found that I have a Hawthorne tree on my property and I look forward to visiting it often. I have lived here on this property for 7 years and only now has it revealed itself to me. For that, I am truly grateful and consider myself very blessed.
May Blessings find you as well.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Types Of Hawthorn Trees: How To Grow Hawthorn In The Landscape https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/hawthorn/growing-hawthorn-trees.htm
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