Hawthorn Orange 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
Hawthorn Orange 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.
Hawthorn: Foraging And Using
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.
Hawthorn Berries Powder
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 other extracts, (such as vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I’m expecting here.