From 2cm – 6cm in length, Hawthorn leaves consists of 5 to 7 toothed lobes.
When young, the leaves start off a brighter green, darkening later and eventually turning yellow before falling in the autumn.
Known for its large clusters of creamy-white flowers.
White with an occasional hint of pink, this five petalled flower grows in flat top clusters that give off an intense, musky aroma.
Known as haws, they bear a crimson red fruit that is o.5 – 1.5cm in diameter, growing in clusters of small, round berry-like fruits with thick red skin and creamy-yellow apple like flesh. A great way to identify is to look out for the tiny 5 pointed star at the base of the fruit, as well as its thorny branches! Much like an apple in texture, they have a large seed inside.
One of the most common native British trees, it is a hardy plant that flourishes in harsher conditions, making it a very tolerant tree. Generally found in woodland, hedgerows and parklands – commonly used as a barrier for livestock (and humans!) thanks to its prickly thorns.
Hawthorn trees are of great benefit to British wildlife, with the thorny foliage providing a wonderfully protected area from predators. Foraging for hawthorn can be great in the winter as the fruits are very durable to the seasons, and often last through to the spring, making them a great food for winter birds.
March / Early Spring
Mid to late Spring (generally appearing in May) – thus often known as the Maythorn.
Ripens through September, but can stay on the tree until late Winter/early Spring
Whilst the haws are edible; they are notoriously sour and too tangy for most people straight off the plant (they can also cause an upset stomach when raw). However, when foraging for hawthorn berries it’s important to note that when processed, they can be made into something rather delectable, they have a slightly sweet, spicy flavour similar to that of rose hips and medlar fruits.
Using the fruits:
The fruits are packed with pectin, like many wild fruits, so they can be used to make jellies, wines, infused liqueurs and sauces.
If you’re gathering a selection of wild berries throughout the autumn, they’re also great in our wild fruit pastille recipe.
Using the leaves:
Young leaves have a pleasant, nutty flavour, which can be used in salads or any recipe that calls for spring greens. The darker, older leaves will be tough and leathery.
Using the flowers:
If you’re foraging for hawthorn blossoms, be sure to pick them only on a warm, sunny day for their yummy aniseed-y scent (otherwise the blooms can have a bit of a fishy unpleasant smell!)
Rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids, Hawthorns have been used for centuries to lower blood pressure and improve circulation, a key player in traditional Chinese medicine.
Research suggests that Hawthorn may aid in reducing chest pain and improve heart failure conditions and congestive fluids built up in the body and help anxiety.
There are also claims that Hawthorn helps with a range of body functions such as cognitive function (memory and thinking skills), sedation and high cholesterol.
The Hawthorn is steeped in folklore – with the hawthorn tree the abode of fairies, standing at the threshold of ‘the otherworld’. Because of the thorns, the tree is often considered to be protective, including against fire. Also known as the Mayblossom (as it was known to flower on May Day) – which also happens to be when the pre-Christian celebration of Beltane takes place (traditionally, dedicated to the fairies).
The five petals of the blossoms form a pentagram – a magical sign known as the elven cross. When the haw berries develop, they also have a 5-pointed star at the base of the fruit. The rules were that anyone who cut down a fairy tree was doomed to perish! In days gone by, a globe of woven hawthorn would be hung outside a home to ask the fairies to protect the home from fire.
The hawthorn has many similarities to the apple, thus the seeds contain cyanide which can be potentially harmful when consumed in significant quantities.
It is also important to note that when foraging for hawthorn it may interact in harmful ways with certain medications related to heart problems. We always recommend consulting a professional before consuming hawthorn, if this may be relevant to you.
Sometimes confused when foraging for hawthorn, is the blackthorn (upon which sloes grow). Due to the similar appearance of the flower – and the fact the hawthorn and blackthorn often grow side by side.
The easiest way to identify between the two when they haven’t yet fruited, is that blackthorn leaves are oval (and not lobed) – so be sure you double check.
If you’re foraging for hawthorn, it’s much easier to tell the difference between the two when they come to fruit, as blackthorn fruits a dark blue/black berry, considerably larger than a red haw berry.
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.
If in doubt, leave it out.
Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.
One step at a time.
No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow.
Enjoy the process.
Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.
With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?
The 10% rule.
Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.