Hawthorne Fruit

The Crataegus Clan: Food & Poison

The very first Hawthorn I ever saw — and the only one I knew for quite a while — grew on the other side of the dirt road that ran by our house in Pownal, Maine.

This Hawthorn was very old. They can live to at least 400. It’s gone now — road widening — and I never knew which Hawthorn it was but that’s not unusual with this species. Experts today can’t agree if there are 200 species of Hawthorns or 1,000. The genus has a lot of variability.  What I remember most clearly was its huge thorns, most about two inches long. It also had several families of bird in it each year. Few predators were going to brave those thorns.

Twenty-feet tall with a crown equally wide, it grew on high ground right at the intersection of two pastures, a very fitting place. Haw means hedge and indeed Hawthorns were used as hedges. In fact, in 1845 England pass the General Enclosures Act allowing Hawthorns to be used as hedges to mark off land. That caused a lot of irritation because until then folks could go wandering from hill to dale at will without obstructions. It took another 150 years or so for England to pass a right to roam act allowing people more access to such land. Let it not be said that England do not correct bad laws, it may just take a century or two.

The other thing that intrigued me as a kid growing up by the tree was that the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne had the same name as the tree. I’ve never met a Mr. Catalpa, Mrs. Hackmatack, or Ms. Oak. Truth be known that author’s family name was Hathorne. But, one of his ancestors was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials. The speculation is Nathaniel change the spelling of his last name to distance himself from that infamous incident. Indeed, just as he had an ancestor who judged “witches” at the trial I had an ancestor convicted at the trials for witchcraft and hanged (Susannah North Martin.) Over the years I have met a few Pynes, Apples and one Dr. Maples (the forensic anthropologist who identified Pizarro’s remains and those of the Russian royal family. We met under unusual circumstances. If you want to know, email me. He wrote “Dead Men Do Tell Tales.”)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 4 July, 1804 – 19 May, 1864

The first thing you need to know about the Hawthorn berries is you should not eat the seeds. They contain cyanide bonded with sugar, called amygdalin. In your gut — actually small intestine — that changes to hydrogen cyanide and can be deadly. You can cook the berries then discard the seeds, but don’t eat the seeds. I recently saw a recipe on the internet that called for using hawthorne berries whole. Clearly that cook never made that pie, or if she did, only once. Don’t eat Hawthorne seeds. If you eat the raw berries spit the seeds out. If an adult mistakenly eats one or two seeds they aren’t deadly but they could be to a child. The seeds are best avoided.  Very young spring leaves — called Bread and Cheese — can be a trail side nibble as well as the flower buds or young flowers. Mature flowers should be avoided or any part that smells like almonds when crushed.

The claim to fame for Hawthorn berries is they are high in pectin, so they have been added to other fruits to make jelly as the Hawthorn itself often has little apparent taste. However some Hawthorns are tasty enough in their own right to be made into jelly. Should civil society end and you want to make jelly, the Hawthorn berry is your friend. Just ripe berries have the most pectin and over ripe berries the least.

No-cook Hawthorn Jelly, photo courtesy of Ray Mears.

No-cook Hawthorn Jelly, photo courtesy of Ray Mears.

At least one Hawthorn’s berries (those of the Crataegus monogyna, the one-seed Hawthorn) can be made into a no-cook jelly.  If you have the-one seeded Hawthorn here’s the formula with thanks to Ray Mears and professor Gordon Hillman. If it doesn’t work you can always cook it, add pectin and make jelly.  I would suspect this was how jelly was discovered.

Hawthorn Jelly Dried, photo courtesy Ray Mears

Hawthorn Jelly Dried, photo courtesy Ray Mears

Put the berries in a bowl and quickly crush them thoroughly with your hands. The resulting liquid should be about the consistency of pudding just before it sets. It should be that consistency naturally. If you’ve had a dry year add some water to get to that consistency. Work quickly. Squeeze the seeds out of the berries then quickly filter the thick slurry into a bowl. In about five minutes the liquid will jell. Flip it over onto a plate. It can be eaten as is or sliced or sun dried. It will be sweet and will last for many years. Remember just ripe berries have more pectin that over-ripe berries. To see a video on this go here.

Hawthorne blossoms

Crataegus monogyna is native to Britain and Europe but is naturalized in the United States and Canada. It can be found north and east of Tennessee, up the west coast from California to Alaska, as well as in Utah, Montana and Arkansas. Local and regionally known Hawthorns are C. aestivalis (commonly known as the May Haw. The only tree I’ve tried to raise that died)  C. anomala, C. arnoldiana, C. calpodendron, C. canadensis, C. chysocarpa, C. coccinoides, C. columbiana, C. crus-galli, C. dispessa, C. douglasii, C. flava, C. intricata, C. marshallii, C. mollis, C. oxycantha, C. phaenopyrum, C. pulcherrima, C. pringlei, C. pruinosa, C. pubescens, C. rivularis, C. spathulata, C. submollis, C. succulenta, C. uniflora, and C. viridis. All but the C. phaenopyrum, C. pulcherrima and C. viridis are know to have been used as food. There are no “poisonous” Hawthorns except for the seeds. Many Hawthorns, while not poisonous, are not palatable. Some improve with cooking. The genus has many medicinal uses and is known for its heart support and is actually a beta blocker. Herbalist recommend one teaspoon of leaves or berries (minus seeds) or blossoms seeped in a cup of water twice a day.

Crataegus (krah-TEE-gus) comes from the Greek word Krataigos, which was the ancient name used by Theophrastus (372-287 BC) for a flowering thorn. Kratus means strong — the wood is tough — and akakia or akis, thorn. Monogyna ( mon-NO-gy-nuh) means one seed.

Hawthorn Schnapps

Stalkless berries from Crataegus monogyna or Crataegus laevigata are usually recommended. Direction: Rinse the Hawthorn berries and leave them to dry off. Fill 2/3 of a clean glass jar with berries. Cover with clear, unflavored vodka. Close the jar with a tight-fitting lid. Let the berries steep for 5-6 weeks in a dark place at room temperature, 64-68°F. Shake lightly from time to time. Strain and filter into a clean glass bottle or jar with tight-fitting lid. Age for a couple of months in a dark place at room temperature before serving.

Haw sauce

* 1½ Lb stalkless Hawthorn berries

* ¾ pint vinegar of your choice

* 4 oz sugar

* Salt to taste, optional, some use up to one ounce of salt

* 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Wash berries. Put in pan with vinegar and cook gently for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through sieve, return to the pan with sugar and seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal.

Hawthorn Berry Soup

One pound of stalkless Hawthorn berries

1/2 cup water

Half a pound of sugar (more or less if you like)

2 cinnamon sticks

Pinch of chili flakes or powder (optional)

Add the Hawthorn berries to a pot  with the water. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pot tightly, cook for 30 minutes. Allow to cool, pass through a sieve (throw away the seeds). Transfer the sauce to a pan, add the sugar, cinnamon sticks and chili flakes or powder (if using). Cook until the sauce thickens sufficiently and serve.

Here is Euell Gibbon’s Recipe for Hawthorn Jelly:

To make Haw Jelly, crush three pounds of the fruit, add four cups of water, bring it to a boil, cover and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then strain the juice through a jelly bag and discard the spent pulp, seeds, and skins. If red haws are not too ripe, they will furnish ample pectin for jelly making, but if they are very ripe, add one package powdered pectin to the strained juice. We felt our juice could stand more acid, so we added the juice of two lemons. We put just four cups of this juice in a very large saucepan and brought it to a boil, then added seven cups of sugar and very soon after it came to a boil again, it showed a perfect jelly test.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A medium-sized deciduous tree, 15 to 30 feet tall, branches slightly pendulous if not erratic. Leaves greatly varied, with C. monogyna they are simple, lobed, serrated at lobe tips, alternating to three inches long. Flowers small and white, bloom in late spring, five petals. Fruit a red pome with one seed, other species have multiple seeds. Long thorns on stems. Bark resembles an apple tree.

TIME OF YEAR: Autumn

ENVIRONMENT: Prefers moist fertile soil and full sun. Make a good landscape tree.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Out of hand (do not eat seeds.) Can be used to make jelly or as pectin for other fruits. Can be made into a sauce for cooking, or used to flavor alcohols.

 Herb Blurb

Herbalists say two teaspoons of leaves or seedless berries (or both) made into a tea twice a day is an effective beta blocker and lower blood pressure.

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Owen October 20, 2012 at 16:11

thank you. i love your website. would u have mentioned more about how much berries can make a herbal tea for eg, and the health benefits of it for ones heart, cholestrol and blood pressure etc! than you. blessings

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2 Pam October 25, 2012 at 12:55

I see you’ve covered this on other forums, but this is the easiest way for me to write you, so here goes……

I believe that I have numerous Indian Hawthorne bushes in my landscape (which has not received a stitch of chemicals in 8 years.), but I’d like to confirm this with an expert before I go and do something like make jelly from the berries.

Do you know of a resource in the Tampa Bay area?

Thanks so much. You’ve given me great ideas as I slowly incorporate perennial edibles into my landscape (not much of a forager).

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3 Green Deane October 25, 2012 at 13:22

As I said in an email you might have Hawthorns but more likely it is something else unless someone planted them. I usually find htem farther north.

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4 Courtney January 24, 2013 at 14:44

Hi there! Great post, I got a lot of ideas for this heart health cooking workshop I’m formulating.

I purchased a bulk amount of whole dried berries from my local health food store, and they appear as if they were dried with the seeds still remaining.

Do you know if this reduces the toxicity of the seeds? I’p have ideas of pulverizing and adding them to ice cream/smoothies/salad dressing.

Thank you!

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5 Green Deane January 25, 2013 at 06:17

The seeds have cyanide in them. Do not consume them in any way. You can cook the berries whole and filter out the seeds. Cooking does not impart cyanide to the rest of the material. Or you can use the whole berry to make tea et cetera. But you cannot eat or otherwise consume the seeds in any way, form or manner.

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6 Henriette February 3, 2014 at 02:11

No. Hawthorn berry seeds aren’t toxic.
There’s a lot of rose family plants with cyanoglycosides in the seeds, including apples, cherries, plums and peaches.
(And really, cyanoglycosides aren’t cyanide. Pet peeve.)
Dunno that I’ve heard about hawthorn seeds containing cyanoglycosides. _Generally_, those seed husks are thick enough that the question doesn’t even arise.
_However_, if you crush the dried berries in a coffee grinder, those husks break open.
I’ve made teas with dried crushed berries (and thus, crushed seeds), and there’s no taste of cyanoglycosides (= bitter almond) whatsoever.
If you find the taste of bitter almonds in your crushed berry tea, well, rejoice … you’ve found a cheap source of laetrile, a single constituent used to ditch cancer.
You’ll really need to apply yourself if you want enough cyanoglycosides for that bitter-almond tasting tea to be toxic.

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7 Green Deane February 3, 2014 at 05:49

Thanks. I’ll have to look into it.

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8 Christopher Wanjek January 25, 2013 at 17:42

I’m rather certain I’m picking hawthorns, with every single ITEM except the thorn. I’ve read there are thornless varieties.

Anyway, I soaked them last year in vodka for four months to make a very nice drink. I’ll have a new batch ready next month.

I look forward to anyone’s support that hawthorns don’t always have thorns.

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9 Monica November 28, 2013 at 18:00

At last! Another person who knows about thornless hawthorn trees!

I ordered 2 ‘Texas Hawthorn’ trees from a gardening catalog. That was about 3 years ago. The young trees are now producing fruit but NO thorns! This made me wonder if they were indeed hawthorn trees!

After much searching, I finally found mention of some thornless varieties. Apparently this is what I have!

I am now getting up the courage to taste the berries!

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10 Grady July 30, 2013 at 02:09

This might be rare in Florida but I have found a wild one on my parents 5 acres in Crystal River. I am not sure what variety it is but I had to look closely at the tree to find any thorns. At first I thought it was thornless.

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11 Ed September 3, 2013 at 13:23

I was thinking of making an extrack from the haw berries.
I was told use 100 proof grain alcohol.
Do I have to pull the seeds out first?

What about using a juicer-do I ned to take the seeds out first? Seems like a lot of work. There’s about 2-3 seeds in them !

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12 Green Deane September 7, 2013 at 15:40

No you can leaves the seeds in, then later strain out all the material.

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13 VTA September 17, 2013 at 09:48

I’ve been very interested in this tree for some time and this is the best info I’ve found about it. Thanks!

Also interested in Hawthorn Maple which had me completely confused the first time I came across it (in Montreal).

If you were making your own tincture (?) from leaves, would you use only new leaves?

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14 VTA September 17, 2013 at 09:57

There are a few Hawthorns nearby (North Metro Boston). None are identical, some have thorns, some don’t. Strangely enough, this morning I walked by one in a public area, and picked a few red berries. They only have one (rather large) seed.

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15 Shon Yde November 15, 2013 at 17:17

It is so good to have this site.I was always given fresh haw to eat as a child and told to spit out the seed.The wild hawthorn here was brought to New Zealand by the British Settlers,its crataegus laevigata.I now use Hawthorn tea for my heart and airways after a major accident.I planted a small hedge of hawthorn so that I would have a ready supply of Hawthorn leaves,flowers and berries.Its such a great site for all these recipes,remedies That are fast disappearing from our so called civilisation,plants & herbs along with food is the background of our individual cultures.The hawthorn is integral to Celtic Culture,it is ruled by Venus & Mars,it is a dual purpose plant beloved of the ancient Drui (Druids).

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16 Angie January 2, 2014 at 22:03

You would need to eat a lot of these seeds to cause any side effects. The effects are similar to the cyanide found in apple seeds and other fruit seeds, which are actually used as anti-cancer treatments for some people. You would have to eat an entire cup or more of just apple seeds (crushing the whole seed) before you would have any cyanide side effects in most cases. It’s present in very small amounts. The diet of people in past centuries focused more on ‘bitters’, instead of the ‘sweets’ that many of us focus on today. :) Some bitter in your diet is good for you. The seeds contain ‘amygdalin’, which is used to produce laetrile. That has been shown to have some benefits with cancer patients. However, some sites will say it had no effects; usually those were using synthetic laetrile instead of natural meds. So, while you wouldn’t want to eat a lot of the seeds, you could eat a few without side effect. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/laetrile/patient/page1/AllPages#2 has more info, but most of it is negative and based on the synthetic version of laetrile/amygdalin. I thought I’d add it though. I personally know one person with stage 2 throat cancer who used the apricot kernels–eating them. Her cancer did disappear without other treatments. My late husband used them, too, but he had stage 4 colon cancer, and it was a long shot trying them for that since he was already stage 4. I do see that many .edu websites are recommending the hawthorn for blood pressure. I’m glad my new house has quite a few growing in the yard!

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17 Sylvia Smith January 17, 2014 at 18:00

So, I’d like to make a tincture using Hawthorn berries. All I ever see around here is Indian Hawthorn. The berries are much smaller and blue, like a blueberry. Can I use these?

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18 Henriette February 3, 2014 at 02:15

If it’s a Crataegus then yes. If it’s not a Crataegus, what is it?

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19 Sonya February 19, 2014 at 08:52

Indian hawthorn is Rhaphiolepis indica, is in the Rosaceae family, as is Crateagus ssp. The berries are edible (though not especially tasty); they are better when cooked and made into jelly, etc. Cedar waxwings and other berry-eating birds like the fruits. It has no history of use medicinally, and is generally planted as a foundation plant because it is evergreen, drought and salt tolerant, and has attractive flowers.

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20 eswari February 27, 2014 at 18:09

What I don’t understand is why you would eat the seeds. The seeds are so hard, its natural to spit them out.
I have just found out that tea made with the fresh or dry fruits with the seeds helps in completely removing phelm and superflous mucous that troubles one in the mornings. This site is fantastic. Thanks.

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21 Maheswaran March 11, 2014 at 03:41

I need this hawthron tree or product..if anyone knows pls send me mail.

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