White is your bride, something glimpsed in a thicket
and then no more, and comes the scent that flies on flowers
cannot hide, from which there is no protection.
Red is your wife, sharply stained by old ideas, restlessly
full of something new that is not, looking over a shoulder, saying
the moon is white tonight, I remember, I remember.
— “Thorn” (iii), The Three Trees
Hawthorn has long been considered a feminine herb. To be certain, the tree’s flowers and berries are used with particular reference to the heart, it is in the Rose family, and the history of the tree is tangled up with fertility or chastity rites. Any of these facts might elicit a sense of the feminine. But I have been more familiar with Hawthorn as a symbol of male-female duality and so was recently interested to learn another feminine aspect of this remarkable tree:
Herbalist Holmes implies that Hawthorn’s primary Western use as a cardiac herb was an application first carried on by women practitioners. He views Hawthorn as a “neglected wise woman’s remedy” that did not receive the notice of male doctors for centuries (299). He also views Hawthorn as “a feminine type of plant” in an Eastern sense, exemplifying Yin, one which “found no part in the trend to quick, radical, heroic fixes” (ibid).
Hawthorn I still find to be an elusive tree, simultaneously dangerous and welcome, both fertile and abandoned.
The flowers bear a peculiar scent that has been compared to something rotting or to the Great Plague. It has also been compared by many to the sexual scent of women. All these comparisons are likely because the flies that fertilize the flowers are largely carrion insects attracted by a scent of decomposition. I confess that when I gathered the blossoms in May one Scottish afternoon, I was not troubled by the scent, only fascinated that while in the States we tend to use the berry, the blossoms are instead used in Europe.
Hawthorn is sacred in many traditions: through its association with Christ and the crown of thorns or through Celtic faery lore. Damaging a Hawthorn tree in Ireland (even today) is said to bring repercussions of great personal loss. In some places, even bringing parts of the tree indoors remains something that really ought not to be done.
French herbalist Mességué summed up the symbolism of the Hawthorn thus, hinting at a darker historical use for the wood, which cannot overshadow a feminine kind of beauty:
Malgré leurs épines acérées et la dureté de leur bois dans lequel on taillait autrefois les billots des supplices, elles ont toujours été pour les poètes un symbole de beauté et de délicatesse.
Despite their sharp thorns and the hardness of their wood, which was once carved for chopping blocks for martyrs, they have always been for poets a symbol of beauty and delicacy (25).
For this poet at least, I see the Hawthorn as beautiful but also as possessing a fierce delicacy.
Hawthorn | Crategus oxyacantha or C. monogyna
Haw: old Germanic word for “hedge.”
Crategus: derived from ancient Greek κράτος, meaning “strength”: a reference to the remarkable hardness of the tree’s wood.
oxyacantha: from ancient Greek ὀξύς, meaning “sharp” and from ἄκανθα, meaning “thorn”.
monogyna: from ancient Greek μόνος (“single/alone”) and γυνή (“woman/wife”); the berry of this type of Hawthorn, which is technically a pome, has only one seed.
Common names: Thorn, Haw, Maybush, Mayblossom, Whitethorn, Quick, Hogberry Wickens, Quickset, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat, Bread and Cheese, Aggles, Red Haw, Hazels, Gazels, Hedgethorn; French: Aubépine, L’épine noble, Epine de mai, Bois de mai, Epine blanche, Hague de cochon, Senelle, Pain d’oiseau, Poire d’oiseau, Cenellier; Latin: Arbustus, Ornus, Sorbus aculeata, Spina alba
Family: Rosaceae (Rose)
In its Western essence, Hawthorn is a primary tonic herb for cardiac care (but in the East, one for food stagnation).
You can read more in-depth about Hawthorn in the Materia Medica.
I was startled a couple of weeks ago to find the bright berries along my usual wild-crafting route, having been accustomed to seeing them much later in the year in the States. They make quite a lovely syrup or cordial, but this month’s experiment is with a sort of jelly. Enjoy!
Hawthorn berries contain pectin, which is likely why this works so well as an effortless jelly. My attempt resulted in a pleasantly bittersweet delectation.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- A sterilized jar
- A pot and spoon
- 1.5 cups filtered water
- 1.5 lbs. fresh Hawthorn berries, stems and leaves removed (this amount will yield one standard jar of jam)
- 1 lemon
WHAT YOU’LL DO
1. Gather your fresh Hawthorn berries, removing both leaves and the little stems. Remember to gather away from roadsides (due to absorption of exhaust) and to leave some fruit for birds and other creatures to enjoy. Because I was wildcrafting from three small trees, I had to take far less than the ideal 1.5 lbs. For a great step-by-step guide, visit eatweeds.co.uk.
2. Just cover berries with water and bring to a boil. Then simmer for a full hour, pausing to mash the berries about every twenty minutes or so. They will take on a brownish hue.
3. Let drain overnight through a cheesecloth or strainer. If you want clear jelly, do not exert pressure on your mashed berries. Collect the liquid the next morning.
4. Juice your lemon and add its juice and the sugar to your Hawthorn liquid. Bring to a boil, at which point let it boil a further 10 minutes until the jelly reaches its setting point. Be careful not to over-boil; my first jar turned out with the consistency of gum drops, so I had inadvertently made Hawthorn candy. Perhaps a more seasoned jelly-maker can enlighten further on this point.
5. Transfer into your sterilized jar and enjoy!
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I am a doctor of philosophy, not of medicine. While I am a holistic practitioner, this information is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent conditions and diseases. It is a compilation of current and historical research combined with personal experience. Use herbs with caution, do your own research, and consult with your own health practitioner(s).