Can I Chew Hawthorn Berries? – Hawthorn berry picking is new to me this year. They’re sweet and mild if you get the timing right, and in previous years I’ve been tasting them in early fall. This year, Hawthorn Washington was sweet and mild in late October. But at that time, the single-seeded hawthorn began to rot, so next year we will look for those in mid-October.
I owe some credit to Josh Fecteau’s recent hawthorn post, which inspired me to try hawthorn berries again. As Josh pointed out, there are many species of hawthorn, perhaps 50 in New England. And, in all of North America, perhaps a thousand species, according to George Symonds (from his wonderful book Tree Identification Handbook: A New Approach to Cultural and Tree Identification
Can I Chew Hawthorn Berries?
, my favorite guide to learning tree identification). Fortunately, you don’t need to be able to identify specific species. You just need to know it’s a hawthorn, because all hawthorns have edible fruit. However, like apple seeds, hawthorn seeds contain cyanide and should not be eaten. Don’t be afraid; just spit out the seeds.
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Why bother hawthorns? They are beautiful, interesting, and tasty wild food with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I haven’t tried this yet. Berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make tea. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I make hawthorn berry extract.
I will describe two types here, to illustrate the general characteristics. That will help you recognize a hawthorn when you see one, but i
If you are not sure if you have an herb when you are picking the leaves, please check with an additional source until you are sure, before eating the fruit.
This grows as a small shrub or tree, and bears white flowers in late spring. The fruits turn red in September (here), but later sweet. By October 31st, they were sweet and may have passed their peak. Each berry has 3-5 seeds.
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The leaves are perforated and toothed, as you can see in the picture above. Many other species of hawthorn have similar leaves. The plant is heavily armed with long thorns, up to 3 inches long. However, with reasonable care, you can easily harvest the berries, which seem to hang from the branch. It is even easier late in the season after many of the leaves have fallen and can no longer hide the thorns.
Also known as the common hawthorn, this is a native of Europe that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. Sometimes they are labeled as attractive plants, but I don’t find them often, when I see them, there are not many of them in one area. It may have invaded other parts of the country, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly aggressive here. Like the Washington hawthorn, the creative hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree, and bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. The purple fruits ripen a little earlier (compared to Hawthorn Washington) in the fall and contain one seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are much deeper than those of the Washington Hawthorn, but the thorns are much smaller, only about 1/2 inch to an inch long.
Hawthorns are common in the forest understory here in Massachusetts, but these are tough specimens that don’t fruit well. It is very quiet in the forest. To find oak trees loaded with fruit, look in sunny areas, such as grassy fields and woods, pasture edges, and near streams. It is often planted as an ornamental, so if your friend has one and doesn’t think to pick some berries, you have an easy leaf experience at your fingertips.
This is my first experience using hawthorn seeds, and I’m using them to make an extract, the same way you would make vanilla extract. I look forward to using hawthorn extract as a flavoring in cooking and baking. I filled a clean canning jar about 3/4 full of berries, covered it with 80 proof vodka, and sealed the jar. I’m not sure how long it takes to extract enough flavor from the berries, so I’ll be checking each day. I know that other things, (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I expect here., or rose, family. It is native to northern Europe, but now it grows all over the world. The purple, spine-like fruit is sometimes called “haw”, and has been used both medicinally and as a food. Hawthorn berries are added
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The fruit has been used as a traditional medicine since the first century, and contains phytonutrients known as anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that have various therapeutic effects including strengthening the walls of blood vessels. Extracts from hawthorn berries, leaves and flowers also contain compounds that have a positive effect on the heart and vascular system. Hawthorn has been studied for its use in the treatment of health concerns related to the heart and blood vessels. This includes congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, low blood pressure, angina, atherosclerosis, and high cholesterol. A meta-analysis based on data from 14 studies concluded that hawthorn extract provides “significant benefit” over conventional treatment of chronic heart failure. In particular, symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue were significantly reduced, compared to placebo treatment.
Hawthorn has also been used for digestive and kidney problems, including indigestion and diarrhea, and to treat anxiety. Above all, hawthorn may be applied to wounds, ulcers, frostbite and to reduce itching. However, there is enough evidence about the effectiveness of using these.
Before taking hawthorn, talk to your health care professional, as it may interact significantly with several prescription medications. Hawthorn can affect blood pressure, and should not be taken with drugs for high blood pressure, including beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, “male enhancement” drugs (most of which are based on dilating blood vessels and increasing flow blood), and drugs that increase blood flow to the heart. Additionally, people taking digoxin should not take hawthorn.
In general, any herbs and supplements that may affect the heart and/or lower blood pressure should not be taken with hawthorn. Dr. Weil recommends taking it only under a doctor’s supervision.
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Hawthorn is considered safe for most adults. Side effects are rare and may include stomach upset, headache, and dizziness.
Products available in the United States include hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries, sometimes in combination. Take a look at some of the leaves and flowers and measure the content of flavonoids (about two percent) or oligomeric procyanidins (18-20 percent).
Most studies used doses ranging from 500 to 1,500 mg per day. Hawthorn berries can be taken indefinitely.
Hawthorn berry preparations are not as well studied as those of hawthorn leaves and flowers. The German Commission E no longer recognizes its use, and approves only preparations of Hawthorn leaves with flowers. Very little research in the United States has been done on hawthorn berries using modern methods. Although there is probably no harm in taking it, I would not rely on hawthorn berry extract alone to treat heart related problems – I suggest a supplement that includes the leaves and flowers as well, and only part of the complete treatment program. Additionally, always use hawthorn under the supervision of your healthcare provider if you have a heart condition.
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Source: Hawthorne. Natural Medicines Consumer Version Complete Database. Stockton, CA: College of Therapeutic Research, updated January 28, 2013, accessed January 22, 2014 at http://naturaldatabaseconsumer.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=NONMP&s=NDC&pt=100&id=5dc Busse WR, Juretsek W, Koch E. Hawthorne (Crataegus). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:337-347. Hawthorne. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:182-191. Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E (2008). Hawthorne extract in the treatment of chronic heart failure. Guo, Ruoling. “Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. Jan 23(1): CD005312. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005312.pub2.PMID 18254076. Plants in: Hawthorne. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Updated April 2012, retrieved January 22, 2014 at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/hawthorn « Fall walks and more “Shrooms”. | The main | The game is on! And snow without berbera. »
I’ve never been overly keen on hawthorn, until the trees are gone. At a young age I realized that it was not climbable because of its thorny branches, in a wild way they formed an impassable border in the countryside that often hindered my travels wherever I went, Oh the obstacles! What is the reason for the thorn? It’s not like she has anything worth stealing…or so I thought.
And as I grew older so did my appreciation for the humble hawthorn. When you think about it, three things spring to mind: all year round it has excellent firewood, and when it burns it gives off enough heat to melt raw iron (pig). Spring leaves (mostly the first of all leaves to emerge) are useful for any meal. The third is the fruit they produce