Hawthorne is the plant I am most careful to bring gifts to. There is a lot of folklore surrounding this thorny tree.
It’s heart medicine. In herb school, my teacher told us a story about a woman who cut down a hawthorne tree and subsequently had a heart attack. She warned us to watch out if you ever wanted to harm one. It’s a magic tree.
It’s always good practice to ask permission before harvesting a plant, and spend time listening for the answer. It’s also good to say thank you, and bringing offerings doesn’t hurt. I’m especially aware of these relational ethics when working with hawthorne.
There are native hawthorne species in North America, but most of the hawthorne growing has come from Europe. Some areas consider it invasive and it’s being weeded out. You’ll often find hawthorne where it’s been planted in farm or country hedgerows, along city streets and in people’s yards.
Crataegus, as it’s known in Latin, can be harvested throughout the year. It’s a tree with a few seasons - we can harvest the flowers, leaves and berries at different times.
The first medicine of the year is the flowers. They usually emerge in May in the Pacific Northwest and slightly later further east. Typically they’re white, and there are ornamental varieties with pink flowers too. All species of hawthorne are fine to use. It’s in the same family as apples (Rosaceae), and its flowers look like little apple flowers or tiny roses.
These flower clusters can be picked and dried for tea. Bees love them, and though you won’t be able to reach all the flowers on one tree, be sure not to take too much.
Once picked, the flowers don’t stay strong long, but according to Michael Moore in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, they’re the strongest medicine on the tree. Dried hawthorne flowers can be stored in the freezer to keep them fresh for the year. The flowers, like the leaves and berries, can also be tinctured.
Hawthorne’s leaves are ready to harvest in midsummer, and can also be dried for tea. Their strength is similarly fragile to the flowers.
The tree’s berries come out in the fall. They’re best harvested after a frost if possible, as it will increase the number of flavonoids that provide antioxidant protection to our bodies. The berries will stay strong for a few years dried.
I also love preparing the berries as honey. To do this, chop the fresh berries and cover them with four to five times as much honey. If you have a scale, you can weigh the berries. If you have say 50g of berries, you’d use 200-250mL of honey. With herbal honeys I like to leave the jar’s lid very slightly loose, so that if any fermentation does occur the jar will not explode.
Hawthorne is a gentle, safe heart remedy. It can be used to prevent heart disease, and treat mild heart disorders like minor arrhythmia or tachycardia. If heart disease is advanced hawthorne will not be strong enough to reverse it, though it may be able to play a supporting role. It shouldn’t however be used in concert with pharmaceutical heart medications or blood thinners.
This magical tree is a gentle circulation stimulant as well, and can help improve things like colds hands and feet. It also works as what’s known in herbalism as an “amphoteric” - whether someone’s blood pressure is too high or too low, hawthorne will help normalize it.
It’s also useful for the emotional heart. Hawthorne is a well-used grief, heartache and heartbreak remedy.
This is a well-researched and long-used herbal medicine with lots of lore around it. Visit some hawthorne this spring if you like – even sitting under the tree is medicine.