Ne’er cast a clout ’til May is out.
So goes the old addage but it isn’t referring to the month of May as many think, it refers to the blossom of the May Tree – better known in the UK as Hawthorn. The hawthorn’s May blossom marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer.
Hawthorn is associated with many ancient lores and superstitions, but above all it is a tree of new life, love and new beginnings.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is easily recognisable; a common hedge and woodland tree with thorny branches, strongly scented white blossoms in the springtime and bright red berries in the autumn.
In early spring, the young leaves, flower buds and young flowers are all edible and can be added to green salads. The developing flower buds are particularly good. Young shoots and unopened flower buds were once known as ‘bread and cheese’, though they are much healthier and taste of neither!
In herbal medicine, hawthorn is ‘the father of the heart’ because the flowers, fruits and leaves contain antioxidant compounds that have been used over the ages to treat various heart conditions.
If you are going to forage, please follow the simple guidelines:
- Always be sure you are sure of the plant before you pick it and never eat any plant you are unsure of.
- Leave plenty behind for wildlife.
- Make sure you have permission to pick
- Only pick where plants are plentiful
The blossom can be made into a delicious floral, dry white wine or aromatic cordial, just like elderflower.
- Take 5 cups of blossom and put into a bowl
- In a pan over a low heat, dissolve 2 cups of sugar in 2 cups of water
- Bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Cool
- Pour the cooled syrup onto the flowers and return to the pan.
- Lower heat to the lowest setting, add the lemon juice & zest, let simmer for 25 minutes.
- Cool then filter through muslin (or similar) into sterilsed bottles.
- Dilute with water to drink.
The young leaves and shoots are edible too. When I was a child we called them “bread and cheese”
The berries can be used to make jellies, wines and a deliciously tangy ketchup. Do take care as, eaten raw, they may cause a mild stomach upset
• Pick 1kg of berries
• Remove the stalks, rinse the berries and drain
• Put into aheavy saucepan and cover with 1.5 pintsof water
• Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour, mashing the berries regularly throughout
• Strain the mixture over night using a jelly bag (or similar)
• Measure the juice collected and add 500g sugar per 500ml liquid
• Add the juice of 1 lemon
• Put mixture into a heavy saucepan and bringto the boil, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolve
• Rapid boil for 10 minutes untilthe jelly has reached setting point
• Pour into sterilisedjars and screw on the lids
And it is really easy to grow the trees from the berries, though it does need patience! . This video from TCV shows how to extract the seeds from the fleshy berry.
Once you have extracted the seed , it should be mixed with equal parts sand/compost mixture. For each handful of seeds add two or three handfuls of mixture. Put a layer of stones in the bottom of a pot and cover with sand. Place the seed/compost mixture on top of this and cover this with more sand.
The pot needs to be stored outside for eighteen months! Hawthorn seed is deeply dormant and needs this long before it will grow.