Fresh Hawthorn Berries

Fresh Hawthorn Berries – Harvesting hawthorn berries is a novelty for me this year. They are sweet and mild when you get them at the right time, and in years past I tried them too early in the fall. This year the Washington hawthorn was sweet and mild in late October. But by then the single-seeded hawthorns have started to rot, so next year I’ll be looking for them in mid-October.

I owe some credit to Josh Fecteau’s recent hawthorn post for inspiring me to try hawthorn berries again. As Josh points 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 excellent book, The Book of Tree Identification: A New Method for Practical Tree Identification and Recognition

Fresh Hawthorn Berries

, my favorite tree ID study guide). Fortunately, you don’t need to be able to identify a specific 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.

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Why worry about hawthorn? They are beautiful, interesting and delicious wild edibles with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I haven’t tried it yet. You can use berries, leaves and flowers to make tea. Scroll down the page to see how I make hawthorn berry extract.

I am going to describe two species here to show the common characteristics. This should help you recognize a hawthorn when you see one, but I do

If you are not sure if you have hawthorn while foraging, check additional sources until you KNOW before eating the berries.

It grows in the form of a small tree or a large bush, with white flowers in late spring. Berries turn red in September (here), but sweeten later. By Oct. 31, they were sweet and may have peaked a bit. Each berry has 3-5 seeds.

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The leaves are lobed and toothed as you can see in my photo above. Many other species of hawthorn have similar leaves. The tree is heavily armed with long spines, up to about 3 inches in length. However, with reasonable care, the berries, which tend to hang from the branches, can be easily harvested. It’s even easier later in the season when many of the leaves have fallen and are no longer hiding the thorns.

Hawthorn, also called common hawthorn, is a European native that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. It’s sometimes called an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and when I do, it’s not that many in one area. It may be invasive in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly aggressive here. Like Washington hawthorn, single-seeded hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree and produces clusters of white flowers in late spring. The oval red berries ripen slightly earlier (than Washington hawthorn) in the fall and contain one seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are more lobed than Washington hawthorn, but the spines are much smaller, only about 1/2 inch to an inch long.

Hawthorns are common in the forest understory here in Massachusetts, but they are scrawny specimens that don’t bear fruit well. It’s too shady in the forest. To find fruit-rich hawthorn, look for sunny spots such as brushy fields and thickets, along pasture edges and along streams. They are often planted as ornamentals, so if your friend has berries and doesn’t mind you picking them, you’ll have an easy foraging experience at your fingertips.

This is my first experience with hawthorn berries and I use them to make an extract with 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, poured 80 proof vodka over them and closed the lid. I’m not sure how long it will take to get enough flavor out of the berries, so I’ll be checking it daily. I know other extracts (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so I’m waiting for that here. The hawthorn berry, also known as “the berry,” has been a popular ingredient in desserts and wines and a key medicinal herb for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, it was used to relieve diarrhea. It is also a major herb in traditional Chinese medicine. In the Middle Ages, Europeans used it to support heart health.

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There are hundreds of species of hawthorn around the world. Despite their tiny size, hawthorn berries are very beneficial for health, especially for the heart. They can also improve your exercise (x).

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of physician visits, hospitalizations, and death in the United States. More than 600,000 people die each year from heart disease (x).

Hawthorn berries contain phytonutrients, including anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins – antioxidants that strengthen the walls of blood vessels. They can also reduce symptoms of congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia, low blood pressure, angina, atherosclerosis, and high cholesterol (x).

Studies show that hawthorn berry extract significantly improves heart health compared to a placebo (x). In one study, scientists gave 78 heart failure patients 200 mg of hawthorn three times a day for two months. At the end of the trial, patients experienced improved heart function and reduced symptoms of heart disease (x). In fact, hawthorn berries were almost as effective as prescription heart medications at reducing symptoms — and had fewer side effects (x).

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Hawthorn can also keep your heart healthy by lowering blood pressure. In one study, scientists gave 79 patients with type 2 diabetes either 1,200 mg of hawthorn extract daily or a placebo. At the end of the 16-week study, participants who took hawthorn had a greater reduction in blood pressure than those who did not (x).

Often confused with indigestion, angina is the technical term for chest pain. This is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart and is often a symptom of heart disease.

Research shows that bioflavonoids (plant compounds) in hawthorn can reduce angina by dilating and relaxing blood vessels, which promotes healthy circulation. They also improve blood flow to the heart and reduce tension in the blood vessel walls, which helps prevent chest pain (x).

People have been using hawthorn berry extract to treat gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and indigestion as early as the first century (x). Today, research shows that hawthorn improves digestion by promoting gastrointestinal motility—the contraction of the muscles that move food through the digestive system (x). Hawthorn may also support the production of enzymes that ensure proper absorption of nutrients for optimal health (x).

What Is Hawthorn Berry

People use hawthorn berry extract topically to treat itching, boils, sores, ulcers, and frostbite. However, there is not enough research to support these claims (x).

Hawthorn can be effective when used in combination with various other supplements. Coenzyme Q10 may reduce the incidence of early heart disease when combined with hawthorn. Ginkgo biloba can be taken with hawthorn to improve blood circulation and ensure adequate oxygenation to the brain. Garlic (Allium sativum) and arnica (Arnica montana) can help treat cases of angina pectoris and poor circulation. Melissa officinalis and St. John’s wort are also used in combination with hawthorn to calm the nerves and induce sleep in insomnia.

Hawthorn is considered a safe supplement for adults. However, there are rare side effects that include stomach upset, headache, or dizziness (x, x).

Additionally, hawthorn berry extract may interact with prescription medications. If you are taking any medications that affect or treat the heart, consult your doctor before taking this supplement. Also, if you have high blood pressure, are taking beta blockers and calcium blockers, vasodilators, or any medications that increase blood flow to the heart, you should consult your doctor before taking this supplement. Hawthorn is also contraindicated in people taking digoxin (x). Pregnant women can also avoid eating hawthorn berries because it can reduce the tone of the uterus (x).

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As a supplement, it is best to take 1,200 mg or half a teaspoon once or twice daily or as directed by a physician (x). Alternatively, you can safely take hawthorn berry extract for 16 weeks (x).

Hawthorn berry extract is touted as a heart-healthy herb. Studies have shown that it promotes overall cardiovascular health. This is especially true for those who suffer from angina, congestive heart failure, high or low blood pressure, and other heart-related health problems. European doctors have been prescribing hawthorn for years under medical supervision, although not so much among American doctors. All in all, this little red berry is a helpful ally in heart health, and you can add this supplement