Should You Soak Hawthorn Berries Before Using Them – Picking hawthorn berries this year is new to me. They are sweet and soft if you get them at the right time, and in years past I have tried them too early in the fall. This year the Washington hawthorn in late October was sweet and mild. But by that time, the one-seeded hawthorn had begun to rot, so next year I will look for such in mid-October.
I have to give credit to Josh Fecto’s recent post on hawthorn 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, according to George Symonds, there may be a thousand species (from his excellent book Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees
Should You Soak Hawthorn Berries Before Using Them
, my favorite guide to learning the tree id). Luckily, you don’t need to be able to identify specific species. You just 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. Do not panic; just spit out the seeds.
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Why bother with hawthorn? These are beautiful, interesting and delicious wild foods with known health benefits. Some people use hawthorn berries to make hawthorn jelly, but I have yet to try this. Berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make tea. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I make hawthorn berry extract.
I am going to describe two species here to illustrate the general characteristics. This should help you recognize the hawthorn when you see it, but I
If you’re not sure if you have hawthorn before eating the berries, check with additional sources until you’re sure.
It grows as a small tree or large shrub and is covered in clusters of white flowers in late spring. The berries turn red in September (here), but later become sweet. By October 31 they were sweet and maybe a little past the peak. Each berry contains 3-5 seeds.
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The leaves are lobed and serrated, as you can see in my photo above. Many other types of hawthorn have similar leaves. The tree is heavily armed with long spines, up to 3 inches long. However, with reasonable care, it is easy to pick berries that tend to hang off the branch. It’s even easier at the end of the season when many of the leaves have fallen off and no longer hide the thorns.
Also called the common hawthorn, it is a native of Europe that has escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. Sometimes it is called an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and if I see it, it’s not in one place. He may be aggressive in other parts of the country, but he doesn’t seem particularly aggressive here. Like the Washington hawthorn, the one-seeded hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree and is covered in clusters of white flowers in late spring. The oval red berries ripen slightly earlier (than the Washington hawthorn) in autumn and contain a single seed (hence the name). The serrated leaves have deeper lobes than the Washington hawthorn, but the thorns are much smaller, only 1/2 inch to an inch long.
Hawthorns are common in the undergrowth here in Massachusetts, but they are scrawny specimens that don’t bear fruit well. It’s too dark in the forest. To find fruiting hawthorn, look for sunny locations such as bush fields and thickets, along the edges of pastures and along streams. They are often planted as ornamental plants, so if your friend has one and doesn’t mind you picking a few berries, you’ll have an easy foraging experience at your fingertips.
This is my first time using hawthorn berries and I am using 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 tin can about 3/4 full with berries, filled them with 80% vodka, and sealed the tin with a lid. I’m not sure how long it will take to extract enough flavor from the berries, so I’ll check it daily. I know other extracts (like vanilla extract) take weeks so I’m looking forward to it here. This post contains affiliate links meaning I can earn a small commission based on your purchase at no additional cost to you.
Hawthorn Tincture Photos
Gather around and drink a mug of uplifting magic hawthorn apple cider to heal our metaphorical hearts in times of great sorrow and grief.
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It is said that at this time of the year the proverbial veil is at its thinnest. The trees shed their magnificent foliage, and the remaining sun casts long shadows on the leafy ground. It’s time to let go. This is the time of the great cold. This is the time when we must acknowledge the nature of things, and in doing so we must consider death.
A string of great tragedies and natural disasters, and the recent death of a friend, convinced me of the seriousness of seasonality and the importance of gathering as an act of healing. I often write about the benefits of plants in a physical sense. But what about a metaphorical heart? I am very grateful to be working with Mountain Rose Herbs to bring you a message of healing and hope, even when our days and hearts may be dark and full of sorrow.
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Whether or not you observe any remnants of “old customs” and ancient spiritual traditions, autumn bears the unmistakable face of death and loss in its fading light. The frosts threw a ghostly pallor over the landscape. The trees have shed their leaves. The grasses go dormant. Even berries and fruits growing on branches and vines darken and fall over time. This is the time when the botanical world seeks earthly solace and plunges into a great sleep. A metaphor for mortality, if it ever existed.
Autumn is also a time of gathering and cooking. Perhaps modern society has moved so far away from the very acts of harvesting and hunting that our beings crave a sense of self-sufficiency and satisfaction. Thus, technology, convenience and commerce make these instincts obsolete. Maybe that’s why I see crazy behavior – irritable mothers on the playground (in the mirror), absent-minded fathers, people who drive too fast, people who hoard too many things. Our basic instincts are ignored. It is alien and strange, although we have never known anything else.
The hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) has a long history of association with the physical heart. But far beyond that are the hawthorn fables and folklore that tell me so much about this special, if not sacred, tree and its flowers, leaves, and berries—even its thorns. Hundreds of magically rich stories are woven about the mythical and revered hawthorn, and some of them resonate deeply and deeply in me.
Hawthorn, also known as hawthorn, is associated with the ancient Roman Cardea, goddess of hinges, overseer and protector of doorways and thresholds. Autumn is like Mother Nature’s great loop, the doorway between the season of abundance (summer) and the season of rigor (winter). The chosen ally plant of Cardea was the blessed hawthorn. Hawthorn branches were hung over the crossbar and over the cradle to provide protection to the inhabitants of the house. Etymologically, Cardea comes from the word cardo, which means “hinge”, but in a broader sense, it is an axis around which an object rotates. What is the heart if not the axis around which our life revolves? Perhaps we should learn from the legend of Cardea and protect our metaphorical axis, our hearts with hawthorn…
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Hawthorn lore often alludes to a magical dream. It is said that sleeping under a hawthorn or from one of its branches fell into a magical sleep, during which he did not grow old and did not see harm. Here I see winter, grief and sadness as a great dream – the hawthorn offering our metaphorical hearts its constant protection in our dark times.
We are going to. This is human nature. We collect food and supplies to feed and protect. We come together to celebrate and mourn. Gathering in all its forms and forms is part of human existence.
But now we are not going to. Not really. Not anymore. We share space, but we don’t always gather in a meaningful way. At the very least, we are rarely fully involved at the moment. Social media scrolls, locations are checked, selfies are taken. Our bond with each other is as subtle as ever. A family vacation turns into free food and a photo shoot – and nothing more.
And then life happens – events that change life,