Crataegus species - monogyna, oxyacantha, laevigata
Beloved Hawthorn, a wild food, home and medicine for many creatures of the land. It is abundant in this city and you will have seen its sensual clusters of creamy white flowers, sometimes pink if really special, in parks, wild edges, woods, marshes and along the canal in late April-early May this year. Signifying springtime life, fertility and fecundity, this tree also has a lot of lore associated with it, being sacred to the druids and pagan people. Its thorny branches make a welcoming habitat for an enormous range of insects, birds and more, while humans have long appreciated its ‘Mayflowers’ and its haws in autumn - the red fruits that result from all those flowers.
At the moment we are in between the flowers and berries - as above - but you can identify the tree (which is often a shrub or hedging as well) by its distinctive lobed leaves that are different to most other trees that you’ll see around. The leaves can be eaten - in early spring they and the flower buds were nibbled on as wild snacks and nicknamed ‘bread and cheese’. The flowers and the berries are used by herbalists as tonic medicine for the heart and the whole cardiovascular system. They are found in research to strengthen the tissue of the heart and the the blood vessels, but also to relax the whole circulation so are excellent medicine for high blood pressure and tension in the body, especially if anxiety and stress are part of the picture. A tea or a tincture made with the flowers and/or berries can be taken regularly for cardiovascular issues (always with guidance from a herbal practitioner so that any cautions around medications being taken are checked) - we use Hawthorn for anxiety, low mood, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and many other circulatory issues. The tea will often become red, denoting the presence of antioxidant flavonoids that are really good for the health of capillaries, veins and arteries. This is a Rose family plant and so gives the almondy flavour and the cooling, calming action of this family in its medicine. It is also commonly used to help the emotional heart, in situations where there is grief or loss causing heartache - it can be combined with Lemon Balm and Rose in this way.
Look out for a Hawthorn tree near you and keep watching it for the berries as the season goes on - there are lots of good recipes for Hawthorn medicines that you can make and food-based preparations like Hawthorn berry ketchup or syrup. Also it’s a beautiful hug of a tree to sit or lay under on a summer’s day to hold your heart and being - this way of appreciating its medicine is advised!
Here’s some lovely Hawthorn musings from Sussex herbalist Lucinda Warner.