When Hawthorn Tree Berries Ripe – The hawthorn berry harvest was new to me this year. They’re sweet and tender if you get them at the right time, and I’ve enjoyed them in the fall in years past. This year, the Washington hawthorn was sweet and tender in late October. But by that time, the single-seeded hawthorn had started to rot, so I would look for it in mid-October next year.
I owe it to Josh Fectow’s recent hawthorn post that 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, perhaps a thousand species, according to George Symonds (in his wonderful book Tree Identification Book : A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees
When Hawthorn Tree Berries Ripe
, my favorite guide to learning Tree ID). Fortunately, you don’t need to identify specific species. You 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.
Crataegus Pruinosa (frosted Hawthorn, Hawthorn, Thornapple, Waxy Fruited Hawthorn)
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 the page to see how I make hawthorn berry extract.
I am going to describe two species here to illustrate common characteristics. It helps you identify a hawthorn when you see one, but I
If you’re not sure you have hawthorn while foraging, check with additional sources until you’re sure before eating the berries.
It grows as a small tree or large shrub and bears clusters of white flowers in late spring. Berries turn red in September (here), but remain sweet later. By October 31st, they were sweet and maybe a little past the peak. Each berry contains 3-5 seeds.
Hawthorn: The Fruit Of Fall
As you can see in my photo above, the leaves are folded and toothed. Many hawthorn species have similar leaves. The tree is armed with long thorns up to 3 inches long. However, with reasonable caution, you can easily harvest the berries, which will come off the branch. It’s even easier in the season after many leaves have fallen and not covered the thorns.
Also known as common hawthorn, it is a European native that escaped cultivation and naturalized in North America. It’s sometimes labeled as an invasive plant, but I don’t find it very often, and when I do see it, there aren’t many of it in one area. Maybe it’s invasive in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t seem particularly invasive 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 in the fall (than Washington hawthorn) and contain one seed (hence the name). The serrated leaves are more deeply toothed than Washington hawthorn leaves, but the spines are much smaller, only about 1/2 inch to one inch long.
Hawthorns are common on forest floors here in Massachusetts, but they are scrawny specimens that don’t fruit well. The forest is very shady. To find fruit-bearing hawthorns, look in sunny areas such as shrubby fields and brambles, pasture edges, and streams. They’re often cultivated as ornamentals, so if your friend has one and you don’t mind picking some fruit, you’ll have an easy foraging experience at your fingertips.
This is my first experience using hawthorn berries, and I use them to make an extract using the same process you use to make vanilla extract. I hope to use hawthorn juice as a flavoring in cooking and baking. I filled a clean canning jar about 3/4 full with berries, covered them 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 check it daily. I know that other extracts, (like vanilla extract) take weeks, so I’m just waiting here.