Can I Eat Hawthorn Berries – In the “Since You Ask” column in each issue of BirdWatching, contributing editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our March / April 2019 issue.
Q: I thought people shouldn’t eat apple seeds because they contain cyanide. I have read that hawthorns are related to apples and also have cyanide in their seeds. But I see birds continually eating hawthorn fruit. Can birds that eat hawthorn be poisoned? –
Can I Eat Hawthorn Berries
A: The seeds of many plants including cherries, almonds, apples, crabapples, and hawthorns contain varying amounts of a compound called amygdalin. Hydrocyanic acid can be formed and released from seeds when they are chewed or damaged. The amount of amygdalin in the seeds of most fruits is small, and many seeds would have to be chewed and eaten by a human to cause harm. Although obviously much smaller, birds that eat hawthorn and crabamelo fruits swallow them whole and the seeds pass intact through the birds’ digestive systems, with little or no chance of hydrocyanic acid release.
Green Hawthorn Delivers A Brilliant Show Of Berries
Amygdalin is just one of the cyanogenic compounds commonly found in many fruits consumed by birds, both in seeds and pulp. At least some bird species, such as Cedar Waxwing, are more tolerant of these compounds than mammals because their digestive processes differ. It is believed that various chemicals are present in seeds and fruits to discourage mammalian consumption, which would frustrate the plant’s reproduction, while birds are able to play their role as seed dispersers.
Sign up for our free newsletter to get news, bird photos, attract and identification tips and more to your inbox. Hawthorn berry picking is new to me this year. They are sweet and delicate if you take them at the right time, and in years past I was tasting them too early in the fall. This year, Washington hawthorn was sweet and mild in late October. But by that point, the single-seeded hawthorn was starting to rot, so next year I’ll be looking for those in mid-October.
I owe some credit to Josh Fecteau’s recent post on hawthorn, which inspired me to try hawthorn berries again. As Josh points out, there are many species of hawthorn, perhaps 50 in New England. And, across North America, perhaps a thousand species, according to George Symonds (from his wonderful book Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees
, my favorite guide to learning tree ID). Fortunately, it is not necessary to be able to identify particular species. You just have to know that it is a hawthorn, because all hawthorns have edible berries. HOWEVER, like apple seeds, hawthorn seeds contain cyanide and should not be eaten. Don’t panic; just spit out the seeds.
Hawthorn (shan Zha)
Why bother with hawthorns? They are beautiful, interesting and tasty wild edibles with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I have yet to try it. Berries, leaves and flowers can all be used to make tea. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I’m making hawthorn berry extract.
I will describe two species here, to exemplify the general characteristics. This should help you recognize a hawthorn when you see one, but me
If you are unsure if you have a hawthorn when foraging, check with additional sources until you are sure before eating the berries.
It grows as a small tree or large shrub and bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. Berries turn red in September (here), but sweeten later. By October 31 they were sweet and maybe slightly over the peak. Each berry has 3-5 seeds.
Ready To Eat Hawthorn Berry Fruits Snacks
The leaves are lobed and toothed, as you can see in my photo above. Many other hawthorn species have similar leaves. The tree is heavily armed with long spines, up to about 3 inches long. However, with reasonable caution, you can easily pick the berries, which tend to hang from the branch. It is even easier later in the season, after many leaves have fallen and no longer obscure the thorns.
Also called common hawthorn, it is a European native that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. It is sometimes labeled as an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often and when I see it, there isn’t much of it in one area. It may be invasive in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly aggressive here. Like Washington hawthorn, single-seeded hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree and bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. The oval red berries ripen a little earlier (compared to Washington hawthorn) in the fall and contain only one seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are more deeply lobed than those of Washington hawthorn, but the spines are much smaller, only 1/2 inch to one inch long.
Hawthorns are common in the forest undergrowth here in Massachusetts, but they are lean specimens that don’t bear fruit well. It is too shady in the forest. To find fruit-laden hawthorns, look in sunny places, such as shrub fields and thickets, at the edges of pastures and along streams. They are often planted as ornamental, so if your friend has one and you don’t mind picking a few berries, you have an easy foraging experience on hand.
This is my first experience with hawthorn berries and I am using them to make an extract, with the same process you would use to make vanilla extract. I hope to use hawthorn extract as a condiment in cooking and baking. I filled a clean jar about 3/4 full with berries, covered them with 80 degree vodka and capped the jar. I’m not sure how long it will take to get enough flavor out of the berries, so I’ll check it every day. I know other extracts (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I expect here. The common hawthorn, or Crataegus monogyna, is planted throughout North America as an ornamental tree or shrub. Its bright red berries, also known as “haws”, look like small crabapples and ripen in September and October. You may not know that hawthorn berries are edible and you can make a delicious jelly with them.
How To Make Hawthorne Berry Tea
Hawthorn berries can be enjoyed raw, but their flavor improves when cooked. They can be candied, made into fruit skin, or even a tasty ketchup-style sauce. Their high pectin content makes them a great candidate for jams and jellies.
If you have hawthorn trees growing nearby, try making a small amount of hawthorn jelly. It’s an inexpensive and tasty way to preserve the season by adding some variety to your range of jams.
Hawthorn: A Little Known Super Fruit
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Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and are used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. Written by Ariane Lang, BSc, MBA and SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD – Medically reviewed by Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE, Nutrition – Updated December 13, 2021
These nutrient-rich berries have a tart, tangy taste and mild sweetness. They have a color ranging from yellow to dark red (
For hundreds of years, people have used hawthorn berry as a herbal remedy for digestive problems, heart problems, and high blood pressure. In fact, the berry has been a key part of traditional Chinese medicine since at least 659 AD. (
Twig Of Hawthorn Berries Stock Photo
Antioxidants help neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can harm your body when they are present at high levels.
Free radicals can come from certain foods. You can also have higher levels of it due to exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution and cigarette smoke (
Polyphenols are associated with numerous health benefits due to their antioxidant activity, including a lower risk of
Although initial animal and cell research is promising, more human studies are needed to evaluate the effects of hawthorn berries on disease risk.
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Summary The hawthorn berry contains plant polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties that