Sunday, 31 May 2015

Hawthorn the hedgerow healer

May is the month of Hawthorn blossom so this post is all about Hawthorn which is my herbal ally for the year.  I have put together some photos of Hawthorn trees and collated research I have done into the historical and modern uses of Hawthorn as a medicinal plant and the many herbal preparations that can be made with Hawthorn. It illustrates the great benefits to be had from working with our native plants for healing and wholeness.

The trees in my woods have been a bit late to come into flower this year due to the cool & unsettled conditions since late April.  But they are finally blossoming in their full glory.  Here are some pictures of these beautiful trees and their flowers taken over the last few weeks in the woods .

Hawthorn leaves & buds

 Hawthorn buds close-up

 The first Hawthorn flowers coming out

Hawthorn & bluebells in full bloom

Hawthorn arch over the path

Hawthorn covered in blossom

Hawthorn sprig in flower

Hawthorn flowers close up

Hawthorn blossom & last year's Haws

There are two native species of Hawthorn in Britain, Crataegus monogyna the common Hawthorn and Crataegus laevigata the Midland Hawthorn, which can be used interchangeably for medicinal purposes.  It is the most common species in our hedges and spinneys.  The Anglo-Saxon word for Hawthorn was Haege, our word hedge comes from this.  It has a variety of popular names reflecting the time of year it blooms, the colour of the blossom and its widespread use as a hedging plant.  The popular names include May Tree, Quickthorn & Whitethorn.  There is much folklore associated with Hawthorn.  It was traditionally gathered on Ascension Day and preserved to keep the house from lightning, storms & other calamities.  It was associated with Christ's crown of thorns and reputed to be able to ward off evil due to this.  The famous Glastonbury holy thorn which blooms at Christmas is associated with Joseph of Arimathea, the legend has it that he thrust his staff of Hawthorn wood in the ground at Glastonbury and it took root and sprouted.  The children's rhyme 'Here we go gathering nuts in May' was originally ' Here we go gathering knots of May' from a Germanic word for bud, so this is rhyme is really about gathering blossom not nuts.

In the old herbals cited by the great 17th Century herbalist John Parkinson, as quoted in 'the Herbalist's Bible' by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hawthorn was recommended for a variety of conditions.  Drying and powdering the berries and steeping them in wine was cited as an excellent treatment for kidney stones.  It was also recommended for treating water retention due to its astringent and drying qualities.  Distilled wine in which the flowers had been steeped was said to be a sovereign remedy for pleurisy.   Distilled water of the flowers was also recommended for diarrhoea, a tea made from flowers and leaves could be also be used for this purpose.  Hawthorn was also recognised as a drawing agent for splinters and thorns.  Parkinson states cloths steeped in distilled Hawthorn flower water applied to where thorns & splinters have entered the skin will draw them forth.  Using a Hawthorn thorn to lance a boil will help it heal.  Mrs Grieve says a decoction of flowers or berries is useful to cure sore throats due to their astringency.   Penelope Ody states it was also traditionally used for heavy menstrual bleeding.

In modern times Hawthorn has become renowned as a herb for the heart.  This usage was pioneered by a Dr Green in Ireland in the late 19th Century.   He used a tincture of Hawthorn berries for the treatment of heart disease.  He kept this a secret but his daughter revealed this following his death in 1894.  An article by a Dr Jennings was published in the New York Medical Journal in 1896 in which he discussed the action of Hawthorn to regulate cardiac function and the central nervous system see  for reference.  It is now well recognised that Hawthorn protects and strengthens the heart muscle and blood supply and the circulatory system generally.  It is useful for preventing heart disease and strokes used as a tonic as well as treating heart & circulatory disorders.  Hawthorn is amphoteric, it will relax or stimulate the heart to normalise its function according to need.  It is helpful for both high and low blood pressure.  It improves metabolic processes in the heart and has anti-inflammatory effects.  It is also helpful for peripheral circulation problems such as Raynaud's and varicose veins.  It is also calming for the nervous system including anxiety, stress, grief and insomnia. 

Matthew Wood, author of the 'Earthwise Herbal' provides a good account of the actions of Hawthorn.  He states that research has found that Hawthorn contains flavonoids, particularly rutin, which is believed to act on the capillaries to reduce wear & tear, removing congestion and increasing blood flow.  It reduces unhealthy cholesterol and increases healthy cholesterols.  It normalises blood pressure and increases blood circulation to the heart.  It is a cardiac tonic which reduces the risk of heart attack and relieves angina symptoms and cardiac arrhythmias.  It has a beneficial effect on the muscles of the heart so is helpful in degenerative conditions.  It also has a tonic effect on blood vessels such as arteries.  It is also helpful in reducing restlessness, irritability, anxiety and attention deficit problems.  He also states that Hawthorn has also recently been recognised as a remedy for autoimmune disease by reducing irritation of the skin, mucous membranes & blood vessels.  It is helpful for respiratory conditions such as allergies, colds, bronchitis, asthma & sinusitis.  It is also helpful for skin irritation, particularly red, dry, irritated skin on the hands & arms.  

Susan Weed states that Hawthorn along with other rose family plants can be used to relieve menopausal symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, menstrual cramps, mood swings & hormonal surges and to nourish the nerves and heart during the change.   Henriette Kress states that Hawthorn, particularly the flowers & leaf accelerate collagen generation which strengthens connective tissue, so it is helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and injuries to tendons & ligaments.  She also states it is helpful for tinnitus, Meniere's disease and other inner ear problems combined with Gingko.

In traditional Chinese medicine Chinese Hawthorn Cratageus pinnatifidia is used for sluggish digestion, particularly of meat.  Hawthorn berries also used to be used in Europe with meat to make it more digestible.  It is thought that this is due to action on the cells of the gut, assisting them to absorb lipids more effectively.  Penelope Ody states in China Hawthorn berries are used as a digestive and circulatory stimulant.  They are mainly taken for symptoms of 'food stagnation' including abdominal bloating, indigestion & flatulence.  They are also used to relieve stagnation of the blood particularly after childbirth and for period pain.  Partially charred berries are used in Chinese medicine for diarrhoea.  It is a Sour food, with yin cooling qualities which causes contraction, to prevent or reverse leakage of fluids & energy and to dry and firm up tissues.  It counteracts the effects of rich, greasy food and helps break down fats & protein.

Wood states the berries are the part that was used traditionally, particularly tinctured in brandy.  The recommended dose is 20 drops of tincture first thing in the morning and before bed, taken long term.   Penelope Ody states that the flowers have also been found to be effective as a heart tonic and research has found that the flowers actually have more constituents which affect cardiac function than the berries.  The flowers can be taken as an infusion for poor circulation and as a tonic for heart problems, they can be combined with Yarrow for hypertension.  They can be used as a tincture for heart & circulatory disorders.  The berries can be used in a decoction, 30g of berries to 500ml water boiled for 15 minutes, for diarrhoea.  The juice from the fresh berries can be used as a cardiac tonic and for diarrhoea & as a digestive tonic.  The berries can be used to make a tonic wine.  Kress states that the flowers and leaves act more quickly than the berries, but the effects of the berries last longer.

Bartram states tea should be prepared with 1-2 teaspoons dried leaves & flowers for each cup of boiling water, infused for 5-10 minutes, taken 3 times a day for insomnia or for the heart under stress.  He states the berries can be decocted with 1-2 heaped tablespoons to each cup of water, simmered gently for 2 minutes.  He states the dose of tincture is 15-30 drops.  Susan Weed puts fresh leaves or flower buds or fresh or dried haws in alcohol, glycerine or vinegar for 6 weeks, then uses 30 drops of tincture, 2 teaspoon of glycerite or one or more tablespoons of vinegar daily, or tea made from dried infused leaves.  Hoffman states that Hawthorn berries can be used externally in lotions, compresses or poultices for inflammation and pain in local blood vessels such as phlebitis & varicose veins. 

Hawthorn is generally regarded as non-toxic.  It is regarded as a tonic herb which is safe to use on a long-term basis.  It takes time to work as its effects are gradual by toning tissue and regulating function.  It may increase the action of some heart medications and decrease their side-effects so anyone taking medication for heart or circulatory conditions should check with their doctor before taking Hawthorn.  It can cause palpitations and low pulse rate & blood pressure, use should be stopped if problems such as palpitations or feeling faint, dizzy or weak occur. There is a good discussion of using Hawthorn for heart disease and things to consider if on medication in 'Practical Herbs 2' by Henriette Kress.  In Chinese medicine sour foods such as Hawthorn should be used sparingly by those who are prone to dampness, heaviness of mind or body, constipation and diseases of tendons & ligaments.

I have been making various Hawthorn preparations with the leaves & flowers I have gathered this month with recipe ideas from 'Practical Herbs 2' by Henriette Kress, 'Letting in the Wild Edges' by Glennie Kindred and 'The Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller.

I made Hawthorn flower essence in the woods on a sunny day when the flowers were first coming out.  I placed a bowl of spring water in the limbs of a Hawthorn tree and put a few of the flowers in the water.  I asked the tree to infuse the water with her essence and sat beneath the tree to meditate for a while.  I left it to infuse overnight then returned to the tree the following morning and removed the flowers with a sprig of Hawthorn, strained the liquid through a piece of clean muslin and a funnel into a jug.  The liquid was poured into bottles to half fill them, then topped up with brandy to make the mother essence.  Some of this was offered back to the tree in thanks.  7 drops of the mother essence can be diluted in a 30ml dark dropper bottle half filled with spring water & half with brandy, to use 4 drops at a time to work with the energy of the plant at a subtle level.  Hawthorn has the ability to release blocked energy and open the heart to giving and receiving.  It releases stress and helps to let go and trust.

Making Hawthorn flower essence

Later in the month I harvested a bag of leaves & flowers trees in my woods.  I picked clusters of leaves and flowers together from the tips of branches I could reach easily .  I asked the trees if I could pick leaves & flowers for my remedies and tested it was ok to pick them by tugging gently, some came away very easily, those that did not I left.  I thanked the trees and sang to them as I was picking.  I offered some of the flower essence I made earlier in the month in return.  I took the bag home and separated the leaves and flowers into two bowls to make up separate remedies.

Harvested Hawthorn leaves & flowers

 Hawthorn leaves & flowers after being separated

The young leaves are edible and are traditionally known as 'bread & cheese' for eating raw in salads or sandwiches.  I used the fresh leaves and flowers to make up a variety of herbal preparations as detailed below.  I also dried some of the leaves & flowers on the lowest setting in my dehydrator, to keep as dried herbs for teas or herbal baths.  

Hawthorn Flower Syrup

325ml water
600g white sugar
7 tablespoons rosewater
50ml lemon juice
2 good handfuls of freshly picked Hawthorn flowers

Boil the water & sugar briskly for 3 minutes.  Mix the rosewater & lemon juice with the syrup.  Pour the syrup over the flowers in a bowl and leave to stand for 1-2 hours, until cool.  Strain through clean muslin or a jelly bag and bottle in sterilised bottles.  This makes about 900ml of syrup.  It should keep for about a year until opened, then up to a month in the fridge once opened.  The syrup preserves the heart-strengthening & uplifting qualities of Hawthorn flowers.  It can be taken neat or diluted with water.  Recipe from 'The Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller.

 Making Hawthorn flower syrup

Hawthorn flower syrup

Hawthorn tincture

A classic use for Hawthorn is to make separate tinctures of leaves, flowers and berries and combine them.  To make tinctures of the leaves & flowers fill a clean jar with leaves &/or flowers and fill with vodka.  Poke the contents with a chopstick to release any air bubbles.  Leave for 2-4 weeks, strain and bottle.  Dosage 15-30 drops 3 times a day.

Hawthorn leaf & flower tinctures

Hawthorn Elixir

I made Hawthorn leaf & flower Elixir by filling clean jars with leaves & flowers, filling 2/3 full with brandy, then fill the remaining 1/3 jar with runny organic honey, then giving the mix a good 'podge' with a chopstick.  This will be left to steep for 2-4 weeks in a dark cupboard, then strained.  1-2 teaspoons to be taken as needed.

Hawthorn flower & leaf Elixir

Hawthorn honey

I also made herbal Hawthorn leaf and flower honeys by filling empty honey jars with the leaves and flowers respectively then filling with runny honey and poking with a chopstick to release air bubbles.  Honey draws out the goodness from plants and combines them with the benefits of honey.  Herbal honeys should be left to infuse for 4-6 weeks.  They can be taken by the spoonful, added to hot drinks or taken with food such as yoghurt or fruit.

 Hawthorn herbal honeys
Hawthorn vinegar

I also made Hawthorn leaf and flower vinegar.  Making herbal vinegars is another way of extracting and preserving the goodness of plants and combining them with the many benefits of cider vinegar.  I filled jars with Hawthorn leaves and flowers respectively then poured in apple cider vinegar to fill the jars, then 'podged' the contents with a chopstick to release air bubbles.  The vinegar will be left to steep for about a month then strained and rebottled.  Herbal vinegar can be used in salad dressings or drunk in hot water with honey.

 Hawthorn herbal vinegars

Hawthorn oil & salve

I used some of dried Hawthorn leaves to make a double-infused oil.  I put 4 handfuls of dried leaves in a small saucepan then covered them with olive oil.  This pan was placed inside a slightly larger pan with about an inch of water in the bottom and simmered on a low heat for 2 hours.  The first lot of leaves was removed and another 4 handfuls of leaves was added to the oil which was heated in the water bath for another 2 hours.  The oil was then strained through muslin and poured into a clean jar.  

Some of the oil was then used to make a salve by adding soya wax.  I used 15g of soya wax to 60ml of oil.  This was heated in the same way as the oil, until the wax melted then poured immediately into jars and left to cool and set.  There are no documented uses of Hawthorn Leaf oil or salve I have been able to find but based on the properties of Hawthorn discussed in the literature the oil should be useful for splinters & boils and the salve should be helpful for problems with peripheral circulation such as phlebitis, varicose veins.  

Making Hawthorn leaf double-infused oil

 Making Hawthorn salve

 Hawthorn leaf infused oil and salve

I hope this will inspire you to try your hand at making and using Hawthorn in home-made herbal remedies and to experience its healing blessings for yourself.


'A Modern Herbal' Maud Grieve.
'Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine' Thomas Bartram.
'Healing with Whole Foods, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition' Paul Pitchford.
'Hedgerow Medicine' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
'Letting in the Wild Edges' Glennie Kindred.
'New Menopausal Years The Wise Woman Way' Susan S Weed. 
'Practical Herbs 2' Henriette Kress.
'The Concise Herbal Encyclopedia' Donald Law. 
'The Domestic Alchemist' Pip Waller.
'The Earthwise Herbal' Matthew Wood.
'The Herbal Drugstore' Linda B White & Steven Foster.
'The Herbalist's Bible' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody.
'The New Holistic Herbal' David Hoffmann. 
'Wild Drugs' Zoe Hawes.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you so much Anne. What a depth if information and magic contained on one page and the pictures are wonderful. I had known that hawthorn was an important plant here but you have opened my eyes still further. Thank you.

    1. Glad you like it, I have put a lot of work into this post, it is lovely to share my images and research into this wonderful healing tree xxx

  3. Boy oh boy, Hawthorn is a real treasure - my tree shamanically is cousin Blackthorn but I do love the humble beauty of Hawthorn! Thank you for this excellent blog btw

    1. Hawthorn and Blackthorn are an interesting contrast. I haven't done much work with Blackthorn, though we do have quite a lot of Blackthorn in the woods as well. We make Sloe gin every year which goes down well as Yule presents.

  4. A lovely read and very informative , thank you

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading and found it informative xx

  5. It's obvious that you've put a lot of time into this page, a very interesting read.

    1. It is a bit of a labour of love, glad you have found it interesting.

  6. Wow! What a great blog! We made hawthorn berry brown sauce last year and it was delicious, although I am now keen to try and make the flower/leaf/berry tincture as I think it would have better medicinal properties!
    What magic you have here, Thankyou!

    1. Thanks for the lovely comments. The tinctures will be the most medicinal of the things that can be made with Hawthorn, the other preparations will have similar properties but less concentrated. Hawthorn is best used as a tonic in small doses on a long term basis anyway.

  7. Hi...What a lovely information packed article! I can't wait to try some of these recipes! Hawthorn is calling! I was just wondering if you need to dry the flowers before putting them in vodka for the tincture? Many thanks!

  8. I enjoyed reading your blog very much and will experiment with some of your recipes. I've been making Hawthorne berry tincture for years but this year I want to try making a tincture from the leaves and flowers and then marry them at a later date. It wasn't clear to me if I could make the flower & leaf tincture from dried material or does it need to be fresh?

  9. Hi,
    is it recommended to make tincture from dried berrie or leafs,too?thank you in advance.Andrej