Hawthorn Harvest

Hawthorn ~ The Healthy Heart Berry

In the distant past berries were an important part of the human diet in the autumn fall, when we foraged in the wild for seasonal food. Many berries are among the most potent nutrients in nature, and if they weren’t poisonous, we ate them. With December here we are pretty much at the end of the berry season, but as berries dry and store well, their benefits can be available throughout the winter.

Many berries are wonderfully rich in bioflavonoids, some of which are super nutrients for the cardiovascular system – the heart, arteries, veins and capillaries – particularly helpful in our modern age when heart and artery disease is the leading cause of death. 
The current thinking of some researchers is that hardening of the arteries and some cancers may have their origins in inflammation, and this is probably why several of the rich red berries are believed to have their beneficial effects.

Bilberries (which also grow wild in Ireland) are currently highly rated as one of nature’s super-foods, along with the recently popular goji berries from the Himalayas. Both these berries, along with hawthorn, are rich in bioflavonoids, compounds which naturally act to mop up molecules known as free radicals. These are renegade molecules that can result from some cooking processes such as frying, as well as unhealthy foods such as hydrogenated fats, and can disrupt our healthy DNA, potentially causing serious disease. For the herbal student or technically minded, hawthorn berries also contain flavone glycosides, catechins, ascorbic acid (Vit C) and some saponins.

Though in ancient times hawthorn was mostly known as a food, today the medical herbalist regards it as one of the finest remedies for the heart and arteries, and one of the many pleasant jobs in the herbal calendar is to go out into the countryside on a sunny autumn day and wildcraft a harvest of hawthorn berries. I always like to harvest the berries (having first asked the landowner for permission;-) from plants growing near the coast on land that is not adjacent to fields sprayed with agrochemicals. On the windswept southwest coast of Ireland, regularly washed with rain straight off the sea, this ensures as clean and unpolluted a crop as one could hope for.

In herbal medicine, hawthorn is used to ‘tune up’ the heart and circulation. If you have a motor car engine that isn’t performing at its best you tune it up a bit, getting more power out of the engine for less petrol consumption, and in herbal medicine we consider hawthorn berries to do much the same for the heart, boosting its pumping ability and dilating coronary arteries to improve oxygen supply. Hawthorn also dilates capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, which can help to reduce blood pressure. One could make a good case for everyone over the age of forty-five taking a little hawthorn on a daily basis – nature’s gift of a harmless remedy.

There are many ways to store and use hawthorn berries. The medical herbalist generally finds that the most convenient way to process the berries is to make a tincture out of them, which can be done using the fresh or dried berries. This effectively preserves the medicinal properties, is concentrated enough to make taking a dose quick and simple, as well as making it easy to combine with other herbal tinctures in a prescription.

Traditional use has been to take between a third to one gramme of the dried berries, three times a day. Ideally the berries are gathered when not absolutely fully ripe – you’ll notice the one’s in the photograph are not quite the lovely deep red you typically see on the trees as the autumn draws to a close. They are best stored by drying, and later powdering them as they are used. Ideally the hard little stone inside should be removed before drying, as you wouldn’t want it included in the powdering process, but this would be unbearably fiddly to do at home. Alternatively the whole dried berries can just be infused in boiling water to make a tea to drink, which is probably easier.  (A commercial herb tea that I particularly like, which contains hawthorn, is Dr. Stuart’s Tranquility tea.)  Needless to say, always be absolutely sure that you have correctly identified whatever it is that you are gathering from the wild, which in the case of hawthorn is particularly easy.

The heart is of course an absolutely vital organ, and one should never ever consider stopping prescribed medication to try something else. Any changes to one’s prescription medicine regime should only be made on the Dr’s. advice. Personally and professionally, as a medical herbalist, I would never recommend someone to stop taking a medicine which someone else has prescribed, as that is solely a matter for the patient and the person who prescribed their medicine.
Over more than twenty years of herbal practice I have consulted with many people suffering cardiovascular illness, almost invariably prescribing herbs that can be taken in conjunction with medicine the person may already be taking, and giving dietary and lifestyle advice to seek to optimise the health of the cardiovascular system.

Kevin Orbell-McSean, M.N.I.M.H., M.I.M.H.O.

PS. Hawthorn has a wonderfully rich folklore, spanning thousands of years. Check our website next spring when I’ll be writing about the medicinal value of the leaves and flowers, as well the the folklore of this valued tree.


10 Responses to “Hawthorn Harvest”
  1. morris paul says:

    today is sept.3rd. 2013…………..had a look at some hawthorn today……..some looks definitely ripe for eating.

    is this possible this early……..of course later would be more traditional……however a health problem will not wait.

    just woundering.

    also what is the best way to dry berries……..for long term storage.
    in a linnen bag in the hot cubard………..would that do it.

    • Evergreen says:

      Thanks for your email. You could dry berries in a linen bag in the airing cupboard, but you’d best shake the bag up gently once a day to prevent mould. Ideally the bag would be a very loose weave, more like muslin, to allow free circulation of air. Once properly dry (hard and wrinkly) they will keep well in a jar, tin, or plastic container with a lid.
      I don’t dry much plant material as I mostly buy from commercial suppliers due to the quantities I use, but when I do, I use the common method of spreading a couple of sheets of newspaper on a shelf in the airing cupboard, spreading the plant material on top. Again, it needs to be shaken up a bit each day to make sure air circulates evenly around the material, to prevent mould. Time to dry will vary depending on heat, air circulation, type and thickness of the plant material. The thicker you pile it up, the more likely it is to go mouldy, but so long as air circulation is good and you mix it up a bit each day, it will dry nicely.
      Hope that helps,
      Best regards

  2. Steven Taylor says:

    I have just recently read up on the Hawthorne berry. I have had one in my yard since the arbor day foundation sent me a packet of 10 trees. The Hawthorne is the only one to survive. Every year I make jellies from the fruit trees and bushes in my yard to give as gifts at Christmas to family and friends. I bought a juicer from a gardening catalog several years ago, which helps me remove juice from the fruits without all the fuss of cooking down first and straining. I just add the fruit (washed), I don’t even have to stem the fruit. A pan of water under the colander passed through a tray (looks like a angel food cake pan). The steam then passes into the colander (lidded) and bursts the berries, allowing the juice to strain down into the angel food like pan for collection. This allows me to have an extra clear juice that I then can can for later use in jelly making, or just to drink straight from the jar.
    My question is this. If I juice the Hawthorne berries, I will have a pulp free, clear juice that I can use to make jelly. Only one problem. I don’t have a recipe for jelly from straight juice. Any suggestions!

  3. Barbara Maynord says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Just gathered Hawthorne berries off my roof from the tree that I believe I identified as crataegus monogyna.
    We purchased the property 2 years ago. As I have recently been diagnosed with brady cardia (slow heart rate,
    with no other problematic symptoms… so I was very happy to have this tree flowering and providing berries.

    I wonder if you would recommend drying them in my dehydrator, probably for tea (convenient).
    And if so, would you have any thoughts about how long.

    Many thanks,

    • Evergreen says:

      Hi Barbara
      Dehydrators are a quick efficient tool for the job, so drying your hawthorn berries this way should be a good way to go. Hawthorn berries have a relatively low moisture content when fresh, and the seed forms much of the bulk of the berry, so they should dry more quickly than softer fruits of similar size. Unfortunately, as I don’t have or use a dehydrator, I can’t give precise advice on how long to leave them in, but there shouldn’t be an issue if you dry them too much. Not drying them enough is the thing to avoid of course, but once they come out of the drying process quite hard and wrinkly they should keep well in sealed container like a jar or tin.
      Hope that helps.
      Best regards

  4. Great information! I just found a massive quantity of these berries and have been harvesting all week! Looking forward to making jelly, juices and tea with these amazing berries!


  5. Colin McGee says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m mildly obsessed with Hawthorn, and am fortunate in being able to harvest the haws each year from a family member’s farm. They have about 15 wild-growing trees.

    My question is this – you said “Check our website next spring when I’ll be writing about the medicinal value of the leaves and flowers, as well the the folklore of this valued tree.” Did you post this article? I wasn’t able to find it.

    Thank you!

    • Evergreen says:

      Hi Colin,
      Alas I haven’t had a chance to post about the leaves, flowers and folklore, but thankyou for reminding me.
      In the meantime, just briefly, the flowers have a very similar action to the berries (as mentioned in the post above) and most commonly the two are combined together in one medicine. I’ve never gathered the flowers myself, after all, they’re going to turn into useful berries and the flowers are so bright and attractive in spring that I prefer to leave them on the tree, though the commercial tincture which I prescribe medicinally is a combination of the two.
      The leaves are not much used, relative to the berries, as their action is milder, but none-the-less they have a cardiotonic action as well as being mildly diuretic.
      As for the folklore, I daresay I’ll write a little about it another day.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Colin McGee says:

        Thanks Kevin. I’ll wait with interest for your folklore piece – there’s a lot of fascinating material there!

        One more question if you don’t mind? I gather that the bark, both of the tree limbs and also of the roots, was also used medicinally, specifically by native Americans. Do you have any information on that?

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