Hawthorn is the queen of May
PUBLISHED: 10:59 25 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013
There's a lot more to the hawthorn than just a pretty display of white blossom in the spring, as herb expert Ed Berger explains
Theres a lot more to the hawthorn than just a pretty display of white blossom in the spring, as herb expert Ed Berger explains
Named Haegthorn (hedgethorn) by the Anglo-Saxons who inhabited East Anglia a thousand years ago, hawthorn is also known as the May Tree for its magnificent spays of white flowers that appear at the beginning of May, announcing the arrival of summer and filling the Suffolk hedgerows with their heady aroma.
The arrival of the Mayflower was traditionally celebrated at the Pagan festival of Beltane, or May Day when people tied ribbons in these trees to bring luck for marriage and fertility, and decorated their homes with their white blossoms. The rhyme Here we go gathering nuts in May is believed to actually refer to knots of May blossoms gathered by young men for their sweet-hearts.
Another folk name is bread and cheese tree, because the young leaves and buds are amongst the first to appear in spring and were eaten to provide essential vitamins after a winter of poor food. Young leaves and buds are a delicious addition to spring salads with a nutty and slightly sour taste.
Interestingly hawthorn seeds have been discovered in Neolithic excavations, suggesting the berries were a food for our ancient ancestors.
A valued medicine since the times of ancient Rome, hawthorn has powerful effects on the cardiovascular system. The flowers, leaves and late summer berries contain chemicals called oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) and antioxidant bioflavonoids that support the heart and blood vessels. Scientific research has found that hawthorn reduces blood pressure, dilates coronary arteries in angina, strengthens the heart muscle in heart failure, reduces cholesterol and protects arteries from atherosclerosis.
Leaves and flowers are gathered from hedgerows at the beginning of May as the flowers start to open (the ripe red berries are harvested in late summer).
Use a good plant guide to identify the correct species (Crataegus laevigata/oxycantha/monogyna) and, wearing thorn proof gloves, cut several 12 inch sprigs of flowers and leaves. These are tied in a bunch and hung in a well ventilated place for 2-3 weeks. When dry, separate from the stem and store in a labelled paper bag or jar out of direct sunlight.
To use hawthorn to support cardiovascular health, crush your dried leaves and flowers and infuse 1 heaped teaspoon in a cup of just boiled water for 15 minutes, strain and drink three cups daily. It tastes delicious and is safe for long term use.
However, dont take it at the same time as prescription heart medicines, without first speaking to your GP, pharmacist or a qualified herbalist.
In the late summer the clusters of deep red berries can be made into delicious jams and jellies, providing valuable antioxidants and cardiovascular support through the winter.
Berries have also been used in China for thousands of years as a digestive support and contain compounds which have a gently relaxing effect on the nervous system.
The author of this article, Ed Berger has been practicing herbal medicine for 12 years and lives in Suffolk. He also teaches herbal medicine for a leading complementary heath college and is a keen plantsman, growing many medicinal herbs in his woodland garden.
To discuss any aspect of herbal medicine including herb walks, herbal garden design or to arrange a consultation please contact on 07931 797148 or firstname.lastname@example.org