Hawthorn berries hang out side by side with rosehips in our native hedgerows in this, our most abundant season. It is time to harvest, preserve and store the berries in their various guises for the winter months ahead.
Deeply nourishing for heart and soul, the hawthorn berries physically heal the heart, bringing us courage to face life’s toughest challenges and darkest winters.
Description and habitat
Full of the fire of Mars energy and heart medicine, this spiky, protective, robust, familiar hedgerow tree is often called May blossom. Its creamy white and pink flowers are out in force in the month of May, lining our roads and waysides and creating spring snowstorms in the wind. Both male and female blossoms are found on the same tree. The fruits create a riot of bright colour on dull winter days.
Hawthorn is in the rose family and is distinguishable from the rosehips by its less tangy, more pappy flavour and its single seed in the middle. Rosehips have the itching powder in multiple seeds covered in a layer of fine hairs. Hips and haws can be almost identical in appearance but generally rosehips are considerably larger and less perfectly round.
Physical and emotional uses
Hawthorn berries look a lot like a physical representation of the heart. With the idea that plants have a signature to communicate their potential uses with us, there is no denying the affinity of this herb to the heart. It is known to strengthen the blood vessels specifically connecting to the heart, thus improving the heart’s function. I have used the herb to give more courage where nerves and anxiety can lead to palpitations. Sometimes it is enough to carry a few of the dried berries in your pocket, almost like worry beads. When a repeated worry arises, just rubbing your fingers over the berries can bring calm confidence.
Hawthorn has a strong association with fairies and is considered a doorway to the fairy realm in Celtic traditions. We make hawthorn heart brandy and on the odd occasion have noticed the profound effects of its incredible opening powers, the gnarly old hawthorn tree being a guardian of the gateway. It is delicious when mixed with a shot of Chilli Hot Chocolate (recipe in Issue 30, Winter 2012).
When connecting with the hawthorn, our apprentices have predominantly seen an older man, living alone out in the wilds, seemingly harsh with his tongue but full of love and care if you approach him for a cup of tea. Indeed hawthorn hedges are impossible to penetrate and you’ll soon know with a sharp prick if you’ve harvested too much. But the berries were known in the countryside as ‘bread and cheese’, either because they were thought to contain all you need to survive or because they dull the appetite so were picked and eaten out in the fields to keep the workers satiated until tea time.
Being from the rose family, hawthorn berries have their own pectin, but the general consistency of the ketchup can be quite runny unless you boil it for a long time.
You can use apple concentrate in place of sugar, but you need double the quantity to preserve the berries. It’s nice to use spices of your choosing to warm up the flavour too.
You will need
500g hawthorn berries
300ml cider vinegar
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
½ teaspoon ginger powder
¼ teaspoon clove powder (or any other combination of spices you fancy)
salt and pepper to taste
Place the berries, vinegar and water in a pan. Simmer gently and start to crush them with a potato masher. When all the berries are nicely softened, place the mix in a sieve and scrape it through to remove the stones from the pulp.
Place the sieved pulp, the sugar and the spices in a pan and heat through. Simmer until you have a consistency like brown sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a sterile jar or wide-rimmed bottle and cover. Refrigerate once cool.
Use on mashed potato, falafels, burgers (veggie or other), or anywhere you care to splash it as a delicious condiment.
Fiona Heckels is one of the Seed SistAs, herbalists, eco-activists, writers, performers and speakers. Authors of The Sensory Herbal Handbook and Poison Prescriptions, they travel far and wide teaching about plant medicine, while running the community interest company Sensory Solutions Herbal Evolution. Join them for courses, sign up for their newsletters and follow them on social media. seedsistas.co.uk and on Instagram @seed_sistas
First published in issue 33 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.