Plant of the Month: Hawthorn
Crataegus oxyacantha

The berries are just starting to turn red on local hawthorn trees which means autumn is most certainly around the corner. Hawthorn thrives all over the Island of Montreal and several different species have been identified, some with small berries, others large. The bright red berries, which are also called haws, remind me of tiny apples, which makes sense since they’re both members of the rose family. The most identifiable characteristic of Crataegus is the long thorns jutting out from the branches, which force us to pay attention! They can measure anywhere from an inch to five inches in length. As a result, hawthorn trees were often used as hedges to keep deer out of fields and gardens. If you have a sunny spot in the corner of your yard, plant a hawthorn tree. They’re beautiful in blossom, vibrant green all summer and speckled with bright red in the fall.

Hawthorn is best known as an excellent cardiovascular tonic that makes the heart beat more efficiently, enabling it to pump more blood per stroke. It’s been used to prevent and treat high cholesterol, angina, stroke, atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. It’s also used to normalize high or low blood pressure. If you want to protect your cardiovascular system and stay off the many heart drugs on the market, add this herb to your active lifestyle! Hawthorn may have a potentiating effect on anti-hypertensives, beta blockers or digitalis products, so be sure to consult your health practitioner before indulging in this herb.

All species of Hawthorn can be used to make a cardio-tonic jelly that anyone can spread on toast for a nourishing, heart-healthy snack. Euell Gibbons shares this recipe for Haw Jelly in his delightful book “Stalking the Healthful Herbs” (page 174):

Crush 3 pounds of the fruit, add 4 cups of water, bring it to a boil, cover the kettle and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then strain the juice through a jelly bag and discard the spent pulp, seeds and skins…. add 1 package powdered pectin to the strained juice… and add the juice of two lemons. Put 4 cups of this juice in a very large saucepan and bring it to a boil then add 7 cups of sugar and very soon after it comes to a boil again, it should show a perfect jelly test…... Pour jelly into sterilized straight-sided half-pint jars and seal them with sterilized two-piece metal dome lids.

I’ve tried cutting back on the sugar in this recipe but ended up with hawthorn syrup instead of jelly that winter so be forewarned!! Hawthorn is loaded with antioxidants and this is a great way to slip some into your diet!

If making jelly sounds like too much work you can also cover the berries in a mason jar with vodka or brandy that is at least 80 proof. Six weeks later, strain off the liquid, rebottle and label your tincture. A typical dose is 25-40 drops, 2-4 times per day. You could also make a tincture using the blossoms and young leaves in the spring when the trees are in flower with the same effects.

If you prefer a water-based preparation, simply dry the red berries on a screen or wicker basket. They’ll get as hard as a rock! To make a heart tonifying tea, boil two or three teaspoons of dried berries in two cups of water for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and steep for another half hour. Drink a cup 2-3 times per day.

Keep your eyes open this month as you wander through the wild spaces around your neighbourhood. Once you recognize the berries (which look just like mini-apples) on a tree, examine the branches for long, sharp, unmistakeable thorns. If you’ve identified the right tree, harvest three pounds of free food and enjoy making and eating your medicinal jelly!

Over the years I have been blessed with many inspirational teachers. I thank them for sharing their wisdom through their lectures, workshops, websites and books. For more information about Hawthorn and many other herbs, enjoy these insightful and informative resources.

Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause:
Herbal Allies for Midlife Women & Men
by Gail Faith Edwards
(Bertha Canterbury Press, 2003) Click for website
Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons
(Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc, 1966)
The Green Pharmacy by James A. Duke, Ph.D.
(Rodale Press, 1997)
Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific &
Traditional Approach
by Merrily Kuhn & David Winston
(Lippincott, 2001)
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