Hawthorn Tree With Orange Berries – Hawthorn berry harvesting is a new experience for me this year. They’re delicious and easy when you get them at the right time, and in years past I’ve had them in early fall. This year, Washington’s hawthorn was nice and mild in late October. But at that time, the one-seeded hawthorn was starting to rot, so next year I will look for mid-October ones.
I owe it to Josh Fecteau’s recent hawthorn post, which inspired 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, there are probably a thousand species, according to George Symonds (from his excellent Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Identification and Recognition of Trees.
Hawthorn Tree With Orange Berries
, my favorite guide for learning tree ID). Fortunately, you don’t need to be able to identify the 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 be afraid; you just spit out the seeds.
Thornless Hawthorn Tree Berries #347687
Why bother with hawthorns? It is a beautiful, attractive, and delicious wild edible grain with known health benefits. Some people use the berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I have never tried this. The berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make tea. Scroll down the page to see how I extract hawthorn berries.
I will describe two types here, to illustrate the general characteristics. That should help you recognize hawthorn when you see it, but it is
If you are not sure if you have hawthorn when you are looking for food, please look at other sources until you TRY, before eating the berries.
This 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 are delicious later. On October 31st, they were good, and maybe a little over the top. Each berry contains 3-5 seeds.
Black Hawthorn (crataegus Douglasii) (conventional)
The leaves are lobed and toothed, as you can see in my picture above. Many other species of hawthorn have similar leaves. The tree is heavily armed with long thorns, up to 3 inches long. However, with reasonable care, you can easily harvest the berries, which often hang from the branch. It’s even easier later in the spring after most of the leaves have fallen and are no longer hiding the thorns.
Also called the common hawthorn, this is a European native that escaped cultivation and is native to North America. It’s sometimes called an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and when I do, it’s rarely in one place. It may be invasive in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly aggressive here. Like the Washington hawthorn, the single-seeded hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree, and bears clusters of white blossoms in late spring. The oval red berries ripen earlier (than Washington hawthorn) in the fall and contain one seed (hence the name). The toothed leaves are deeper than those of the Washington hawthorn, but the thorns are much smaller, about 1/2 inch to an inch long.
Hawthorns are common in the woods here in Massachusetts, but they are a poor variety. There is a lot of shade in the forest. To find hawthorns in full fruit, look in hot areas, such as scrub fields and forests, on the edges of pastures and near streams. They are often grown as ornamentals, so if your friend has one and doesn’t mind you picking berries, you have an easy experience getting food on your hands.
This is my first experience using hawthorn berries, and I use them to make a mixture, in the same way you would use to make vanilla. I hope to use the hawthorn extract as a flavoring in cooking and baking. I filled a clean canning jar about 3/4 full with berries, covered it with 80 proof vodka, and sealed the jar. I’m not sure how long it will take to extract enough flavor from the berries, so I’ll be checking it daily. I know that some extracts (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so that’s what I’m expecting here.