Cockspur Hawthorn Berries

Cockspur Hawthorn Berries – Hawthorn berry harvesting is a new one for me this year. They are sweet and mild if you get them at the right time, and in recent years I have been tasting them too early in the fall. This year, Washington Hawthorn was sweet and mild in late October. But by this time, one-sided Hawthorn was beginning to Poland, so next year I 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 points out, there are many hawthorn species, perhaps 50 in New England. And, in all of North America, possibly 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

Cockspur Hawthorn Berries

, my favorite guide for learning tree ID). Fortunately, you do not need to be able to identify particular species. You only need 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.

Washington Hawthorn Berries

Why bother with Hawthorne? They are beautiful, interesting and delicious wild food with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I have yet to try that. Berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make a tea. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I make hawthorn berry extract.

I will describe two species here, to exemplify the general characteristics. This should help you recognize a Hawthorne when you see one, but I

If you are unsure that you have a hawthorn when foraging, please check with additional sources until you are sure, before eating the berries.

It grows as a small tree or large shrub, and produces clusters of white flowers in late spring. The berries turn red in September (here), but sweeten later. By October 31, they are sweet, and maybe a little past peak. Each berry has 3-5 seeds.

Washington Hawthorn: A Symbol Of Hope

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 thorns, up to about 3 inches in length. However, with reasonable caution, you can easily harvest the berries, which tend to hang off the branch. It is even easier later in the season after many of the leaves have fallen and no longer strengthen the thorns.

Also called common hawthorn, this is a European native that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. It’s sometimes branded as an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and when I do see it, it’s not a lot of it in one area. Perhaps it is invasive in other parts of the country, but it does not seem to be particularly aggressive here. Like Washington hawthorn, one-seeded hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree, and produces clusters of white flowers in late spring. The oval red berries ripen a little earlier (like Washington hawthorn) in autumn and contain a single seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are more deeply lobed than those of Washington hawthorn, but the thorns are much smaller,​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Hawthorns are common in the forest understory here in Massachusetts, but these are cranny specimens that do not fruit well. It is also shady in the forest. To find fruit-laden hawthorn, look in sunny spots, such as scrubby fields and thickets, at pasture edges and along streams. They are often planted as ornamentals, so if your friend has one and doesn’t mind picking some berries, you have an easy foraging experience at your fingertips.

This is my first experience with hawthorn berries, and I use them to make an extract, using the same process you would use to make vanilla extract. I hope to use hawthorn extract as a flavoring in cooking and baking. I filled a clean canning jar about 3/4 full with berries, covered them with 80 proof liquor, and capped the jar. I’m not sure how long it will take to extract enough flavor from the berries, so I will check it daily. I know that other extracts, (such as vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I expect here. Hawthorn berries (hawberries) and mayhaw (Crataegus). There are many different hawthorns in North America. All over the world, there are hundreds of them. Many of the hawthorns you find here are naturalized hawthorns that came from other parts of the world. Hawthorns are from the same family as Apples and Roses, so it’s no big surprise that the easiest way to describe a Hawthorn in general is that it looks like a smaller apple tree with large thorns and fruit that looks like rose hips or crabapples. Be careful, the larger of the woody thorns can be very dangerous – they are hard, sharp and strong and will go through meat with ease. There is also a serious danger from the fruit of the tree – the seeds are very poisonous. Never eat a seed – you have to take this seriously.

The Hawthorn: Rich With Color

Hawthorn has long been used medicinally for heart conditions. It is now believed that hawthorn can act as a beta blocker similar to beta blocker prescription medicines. Because of this, you should be careful with eating hawthorn berries if you use such a drug, because the combined effect may be too strong. A link here for starting further research on this topic. I also read that it is now shown to be a heart strengthener, and you see hawthorn sold in the vitamins section of drug stores and health food stores as a cardiac tonic. As I understand from my reading, it is the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) that is used for this purpose. Whether the other hawthorns you’ll find in eastern North America have the same medicinal properties is something I can’t confirm or deny from my research.

There is another introduced hawthorn from Europe called the smooth hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata). The one I read can be treated and used as if it were the common hawthorn, because it has the same medicinal properties. However, there was no proof offered to support this claim, so it’s a bit up in the air as far as I’m concerned. This and the common hawthorn also form hybrids. Below in the descriptions under the Common Hawthorn is a picture of the hybrid.

I do not know the eating of the fruit of the majority of the trees in the hawthorn genus. The three trees that make up the group known as the Mayhavs don’t even grow in my area, so my knowledge of them is limited to what I’ve read. Most of my familiarity is with the common hawthorn, but even then, I don’t really try to distinguish between the different hawthorns from an eating perspective. As far as I am aware, none of the hawthorns have fruit that is poisonous (except the seeds which are very poisonous), but I cannot say if they are all good for eating. Do research on any you find, and experiment with small amounts and see if you like them. I have never encountered a hawthorn with fruit that is really good tasting, but they are edible, and if cooked properly, not bad in small amounts. Even in the past, they were more or less a food you eat when other crops are doing poorly, not a first choice food.

If you choose them for medicinal properties, it only makes sense to choose from the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), because it seems that the others have the same properties, or if they do, how comparable the strength of the medicinal properties are from The different types.

Using Georgia Native Plants: September 2013

As far as cooking with the common hawthorn (and I’m guessing most others), you need to cook it and strain out the very poisonous seeds once they have cooked down – the poison will remain in the seeds when cooking. You can eat them fresh, but there is little there, as the stone (one seed in the common hawthorn) takes up a good portion of each hawberry, and besides, the taste is dull – and – some people report that they get stomach aches from Eat them raw. I don’t, but I only eat two or three raw at a time, and maybe it takes more. Due to the medicinal effect mentioned above, I also suggest only eating small amounts of cooked or fresh hawthorns at a time. If you’ve read the book all the way through to this point, you’re no doubt aware that I try to err on the side of caution.

Basically, after collecting a bunch of them, rub off the ends and stems by rubbing them between your hands, rinse, put in a pot, just cover with water, put in about half as much apple cider vinegar as water (some people say