Harvest Hawthorn Berries Northwest – A few weeks ago, I was looking out the back door at a hawthorn tree in Washington whose fruit had begun to drop after a cold snap, and I thought about a comment Jan Grover wrote on this blog in October: “A friend who teaches told me about an abandoned orchard behind her school building and I went there with the intention of foraging for the apples she described—and I discovered beetles! There were two small gnarled hawthorns smothered in bright red hawthorns, and I picked several pounds, brought them home, and turned them into what turned out to be Kool-Aid-red-pink jelly. . . . The flavor is mildly, ahem, wild and pairs beautifully with fall stews. Sugar, lemon juice, water—that was all it took: Haws are evidently packed with pectin.’
If I wanted to try making hawk jelly this year, I had to act fast. So I took the orchard ladder and tasted the hawk. The tiny, orange-red fruit was just a piece of mealy pulp wrapped around five seeds.* The fruit was neither sour nor bitter, but had a sweet, spicy flavor similar to that of rose hips and medlar. This was no surprise as the hawthorn is a cousin of the rose and medlar. I thought the shells would make a really good jelly.
Harvest Hawthorn Berries Northwest
When I picked them, most of the fruits were freed from the stalks. In fifteen minutes I had enough heads, I figured I could make a small batch of jelly. I rinsed them, shook them in a colander to separate the remaining stems, and removed the stems before boiling the mushrooms in enough water to cover them.
Foraging 101: How To Identify And Harvest Hawthorn
The juice was cloudy pink but cleared up when I combined it with sugar. I added a lot of lemon juice because it seemed a little acidic. The syrup jelled quickly and firmly.
The finished jelly looks similar to quince jelly – in fact, it’s almost as clear and light as redcurrant jelly. You have to put your nose up close to pick up the warm, spicy aroma, but the flavor blooms in the mouth. It reminds Robert of a tropical fruit – passion fruit, he thinks, or guava. But I think haw jelly puts guava jelly to shame. Only rosehip jelly can match its taste.
Place the caps in a pot and barely cover them with water (you’ll need about 6 cups). We stew the uncovered meat for about an hour, while every 20 minutes we mash them using a potato masher or a spoon.
Strain the juice from the straw through a coarse sieve and then let it drip through a jelly bag for at least a few hours or even overnight. Don’t worry if the juice looks cloudy. You should end up with 2¼ cups.
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In a canning pan, combine the juice from the straw with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and stir. Increase the heat to high and cook the syrup until it boils from the spoon or reaches 221 degrees F. Pour the hot syrup into two sterilized pint glasses and add the lids and rings. Process the glasses for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
* The fruits of Washington hawthorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, have three to five seeds; apples of other species are red, yellow, black or purple in color and have only one seed per fruit. C. phaenopyrum is a native of the eastern states, which is grown abundantly elsewhere in the country, though I do not know why; its spiny branches shoot out randomly in all directions. But many other species of hawthorn grow in a similar manner, and are therefore most valued as material for impenetrable hedges; the word haw actually means “hedge”. In addition, this genus has other advantages: The wood is very hard, which is why it is useful for making tools, and the leaves, flowers and fruits have been used since ancient times to treat heart diseases (recent medical studies prove their effectiveness). The most widely used hawthorn species in jelly making is C. monogyna, native to Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia, which has become an invasive weed in Oregon and elsewhere. Douglas hawthorn, C. douglasii, is native here. Next year I will have to try making jelly out of small black Douglas-fir haws. Harvesting hawthorn berries is new for me this year. They are sweet and delicate if you get them at the right time, and in past years I have tasted them too early in the fall. This year, the Washington Hawthorn was sweet and mild in late October. But by that time the one-seeded hawthorn has already started to rot, so next year I’ll be looking for them in mid-October.
I credit Josh Fecteau’s recent hawthorn post with inspiring me to try hawthorn berries again. As Josh points out, there are many species of hawthorn, maybe 50 in New England. And in all of 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 ID tree learning guide). Fortunately, you may not be able to identify a specific species. You just need to know it’s 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 Berry Images
Why bother with hawthorns? They are beautiful, interesting and delicious wild foods with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I haven’t tried this yet. The berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make tea. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I make hawthorn fruit extract.
I will describe two species here to illustrate the general characteristics. This should help you recognize hawthorn when you see it, but also
If you’re not sure you have hawthorn when foraging, check other sources before eating the berries until you’re sure.
It grows as a small tree or large shrub and bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. The berries turn red in September (here), but sweeten later. By October 31st they were sweet and maybe slightly past their peak. Each berry has 3-5 seeds.
Crataegus Douglasii (aubepine, Black Haw, Black Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Douglass Hawthorn, Haw Apple, Hawthorn, May Bush, Oxyacantha, Pirliteiro, Red Hawthorn, Thorn Apple, Thorn Plum, Weisdornbluten)
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 care, you can easily pick berries that tend to hang away from the branch. It’s even easier later in the season when many of the leaves have fallen and are no longer covering the thorns.
Also called common hawthorn, it is a European native that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. It is sometimes referred to as an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and when I do see it, it isn’t very common 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 bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. The oval red berries ripen slightly earlier (than Washington hawthorn) in fall and contain a single seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are more deeply lobed than those of 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 produce well. There is too much shade in the forest. To find fruit-laden hawthorns, look in sunny areas such as scrub fields and thickets, at the edges of pastures and along streams. They are often planted as ornamentals, so if your friend has them and you don’t mind picking some berries, easy foraging is at your fingertips.
This is my first experience using hawthorn berries and I use them to make the extract in the same way you would make vanilla extract. I hope to use the hawthorn extract as a flavoring in cooking and baking. I filled a clean can about 3/4 full with berries, poured 80 proof vodka over them and closed the container. I’m not sure how long it will take to get enough flavor out of the berries, so I’ll be checking daily. I know other extracts (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I’m expecting here.