The month of May is a particularly apt time of year to talk about Hawthorn because its well known alias is the May tree. It is called that because its flowers bloom in May. You wouldn’t at first suspect it, but the Hawthorn has a very full, rich place in the history and folklore of Europe and Asia. In the US we mostly know it for its role in heart health.
Hawthorns are part of the rose family and thus have both beauty and thorns. There are many many species of Hawthorn and all of them have health benefits. The most common Hawthorn is the Crataegus monogyna or Common Hawthorn.
Second is the Crataegus laevigata known as the Midland Hawthorn and then there is the Chinese Hawthorn Crataegus pinnatifida. Crataegus oxyancantha is a name sometimes used referring to Hawthorn, but it was actually a confusion between the common and the midland varieties that brought this name about and its use is rejected for the most part because of that confusion, although you still see it being used here and there. Sometimes you see Crataegus spp. This means that it could be multiple unknown species within the genus Crataegus.
I suppose people use whatever Hawthorn they have available in their environment with there being close to 300 varieties. At Herbal Roots we use the Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.
I grew up in the US barely knowing that May 1st was May Day and that it involved dancing around the Maypole. It was very interesting to find out that the Maypole was historically made from a hawthorn tree and that the Hawthorn’s flowers, little white and sometimes pinkish cuties were used to make a crown for the May Queen in England and many parts of Europe.
Every year the May Queen was selected out of the fair maidens of the community and she and the Green Man, a boy dressed in leaves carrying a wreath of hawthorn flowers, would lead a parade through town which started the festivities. The whole idea of May Day was to celebrate Love, Marriage, Intimacy and Fertility. This was celebrated at the beginning of May and the Beltrane celebration, a pagan holiday celebrating the peak of Spring and Fertility was celebrated at the end of May, but both involved the Hawthorn and its flowers.
The Hawthorn's Role in American History
The Hawthorn even touches American history. The Hawthorn had come to be a symbol of hope and the Pilgrims came over to America with all the hopes the Hawthorn stood for so their ship was named the Mayflower! Everybody knows about the Mayflower, but how many had this related to the Hawthorn flower? I sure didn’t. But it isn’t called the Hawthorn in Europe, it is commonly called the May tree as mentioned earlier.
Hawthorn can be a tree or a bush. The root of Haw is latin for bush or hedge and of course thorn is self explanatory. So Hawthorn basically means thornbush. This is fitting because the Hawthorn was commonly used to make boundaries between fields and properties that could not be easily crossed. These boundaries were called hedgerows.
They were made by taking the tree saplings and splitting them almost all the way down the middle and then laying them sideways in the ground in rows and columns so the branches would grow straight up and create a thorny entanglement of impenetrable branches. Now I finally understand that line in Led Zeppelin's classic song “Stairway to Heaven”:
“Is there a bustle in your hedgerow - don’t be alarmed now - it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen…”
Ah, the things you can learn unexpectedly!
The folklore on cuttings of Hawthorn is almost contradicting. You have to pay attention to details on this. It’s bad luck to cut hawthorn branches, especially if you bring them inside, as young children would find out when they would try to bring these pretty little flowers home to mother.
The smell of the May flower reminded medieval peoples of the Black Plague, but if the branches were left outside the house it would keep the witches away, so that was kind of good luck. But if the branch fell off the tree of its own accord it was considered powerful and they said witches would make magic wands and broomsticks out of them.
There is also a myth that if you fall asleep under a May tree you will be carried off into the land of the Fae and have experiences with the fairies. The Hawthorn was said to be the guardian of their realm.
Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of the Hawthorn Berry, Flower, and Leaves
Although Haw essentially means bush, people also used the term to refer to the fruit of the May tree. The fruit is a berry that ranges from yellow to red varying all the way to a dark purple. This along with the leaves and the flower have a long history of being used medicinally.
Currently the flower is used in China because it has been shown to protect the integrity of DNA. It and the leaves have a kind of astringent flavor in teas with an overall drying quality.
The berry has more of a sweet/sour taste and was used as a food. It was used to make wine, vinegar, jellies, jams, syrups and just eaten as is.
With the importance of heart health most of the concentration presently is on the berry or haw because it:
- Helps the heart muscle contract harder
- Increases the integrity of the blood vessel walls
- Improves blood flow to the heart muscle
- Improves Oxygen Utilization
It is also good for digestion because it contains probiotic fiber. And it is loaded with antioxidant flavonoids such as hyperoside which protect cells from free radical damage.
Herbal Roots Organic Hawthorn Berry Supplement gives you 1200mg of certified organic hawthorn berry per serving with no binders, fillers or additives. Click below to order this totally pure source of goodness for your overall health and well-being.