Blog Castanea Hawthorn Berries

Blog Castanea Hawthorn Berries – Crouching on the damp ground, we gathered crimson and golden fruit into our hungry bags, talking about life as old friends would, with vague themes and understandable nuances. Picking through fallen leaves and the occasional thorn, our bags swelled with fallen healing jewels. A curious passerby interrupted our conversation and asked what fruit we were picking. My dear friend, more patient than I, the whole tale was spun, from the identity of the trees under which we would drown, to the future of our cache, which was to contain honey, brandy, and spirits.

Our guest revealed that he had been wondering what trees grew in this grove for nearly ten years; She danced naked on their drooping branches in the spring, when the hawthorns were decorated with creamy humming flowers. Some people might be surprised to hear such a story, but we were close to Asheville, so we gladly dug into this little thing and got it. Personally, I’m happy to hear about someone dancing under the trees, and what better place to strip than under a sacred grove of hawthorn high in the rocks (Craggy is the Appalachian term for a rocky place).

Blog Castanea Hawthorn Berries

Early that morning I visited the farmers market and bought some pears from local fruit and humor expert Bill Whipple (pictured here). When I got home, I just knew I needed some rock hawthorn to meet her bronze pear — with brandy, of course. Then Khurma called: we also want to participate in this action. Hence the inspiration for a recipe that is this year’s epitome of fall in the mountains.

Persimmon Pear Brandy Recipe

Hawthorns are small thorny trees of the Rosaceae family, with fruit similar to apples. It is estimated that there are 150 to 1000 species in the hawthorn genus (Crataegus). The reason for such a large discrepancy in the number of species is the tendency of hawthorn to interspecific relationships, which leads to confusion of hybrids and blurred separation of species. Most botanists do not care to recognize or identify hawthorn species due to extensive hybridization. Fortunately, proper species identification is not necessary, as all hawthorn seeds are edible and medicinal, with a long history of use in Europe, North America, and Asia. The berry was eaten wherever it grew, and it was a staple of the famine that saw many people through the lean winter.

The Chinese used native species of hawthorn as a heart remedy, with recorded use dating back to the seventh century. Western herbalists use hawthorn as a treatment for hypertension, atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure, and angina pectoris. There is a large body of literature on the use of hawthorn as a cardiotonic with its diverse flavonoids found in the fruit, flowers and leaves. Flowers and berries are also used for more energetic heart ailments – grief and loss. In these situations I prefer to use flowers because they carry lightness and hope. Hawthorn is an edible herb and therefore can be taken in a wider variety of ways than most herbs. Teas and tinctures are the classics, but the fruit is also used to make honey, jams, syrups, cordials, elixirs, and vinegars. The hawthorn infused honey is a beautiful pink and quite fruity and pleasant.

Most of the traditional recorded uses of hawthorn by Native Americans focus on its use as a digestive tonic for various gastrointestinal ailments such as diarrhea, dysentery, and flatulence. The bark and branches are more astringent (astringent) than the flowers and fruit and were therefore used to treat diarrhea and excessive menstrual bleeding. Thorns were used as poultice tools for boils, and the Okanagan would place the thorn in the arthritic area and light the distal end, allowing the thorn to burn to an embedded point. This painful remedy apparently caused the formation of scabs, but it cleared the affected area from the pain of arthritis.

Folklore about the magic of hawthorn is particularly rich in Europe, with admonitions not to cut down the tree except in spring – the trunk is used in the Beltane dances for the Maypole, and the flowering branches are a decoration for the house and the maiden. Trees are associated with fairies and are seen as portals to another world. Hawthorn branches are placed on thresholds as a protection against evil energies in Europe. The Iroquois used decoctions as protection against personal physical manifestations of witchcraft.

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Hawthorn trees are often found in young forests, hedgerows and cow fields. Look for thorns and small red fruits. The leaves are variable, but often wedge-shaped, with teeth and straight veins. Some hawthorns have slightly lobed leaves. Small trees are often planted as ornamental flowers and fruits. In addition, they have a suitable height for small urban spaces. Of course (so why am I writing this?!) that you must be 100% positive about your identification before harvesting the fruit. Ask your local botanist, herbalist, extension agent, arborist or gardener about identification.

Finely chop the pears and persimmons and place in a food processor. You may need to peel the persimmons if they are particularly astringent. If you’re working with fresh hawthorns, throw them into the food processor with the whole other fruit. Roughly blend the fruit in a food processor and add to a gallon glass jar (or several smaller jars). If you are working with dried hawthorn, place them directly in the jar. Add all the other herbs and brandy and leave for 2 to 4 days. If you’re hot, place all ingredients (except honey) in a double boiler or saucepan, cover and simmer on lowest heat for 5 hours. When the perfect synergy is achieved, strain with a cloth and squeeze out all the brandy with your hands. A clean old cotton shirt with a loose weave works well. Another option is a denser cloth sold for cheese making (regular cloth is too porous). You’ll probably have to strain several batches to be able to effectively extract the brandy from the pulp. Heat the strained cognac a little to dissolve the honey, mix, stick on the label and bottle. You can compost the leftover cake of herbs and fruits, or add apple cider and heat it up a bit. The sediment will dissipate along with some of the brandy, so the cider infusion will have a punch and is intended for adult palettes only.

I enjoy this brandy on its own, or added to warmed apple cider and paired with a cinnamon stick and thin slices of pear. I highly recommend it accompanied by cognac with pomegranate seeds and cocoa nibs.

Juliet Blankspur is the founder, primary instructor, and creative director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the world. She is a professional plant-human matchmaker and plant botanist with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong passion for medicinal weeds and herb gardening has spawned many botanical ventures over the decades, including a plant nursery and farm-to-pharmacy herbal products business.

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These days, she channels her botanical obsession through writing and photography in her online programs, her personal blog Castanea, and her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family live in a house full of houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.

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