This week we are taking a look at our first tree in the ‘plant of the week’ blog – Crataegus monogyna, commonly known as hawthorn. Often seen in hedgerows, woodland and thickets, this plant is widespread in Britain. If you are a resident of Britain you can be fairly certain that at some point in your life you have walked past a hedge of hawthorn. This is largely due to its tough wood and thorns making it great for use within a hedge to make a barrier for gardens, school playgrounds, farmers fields, etc. The highly scented white flowers blossom in spring with much of the leafy growth taking place during the summer with small red berries, known as haws, ripening through the autumn months.
The common name haw part of the name hawthorn is thought to originate from the old English word haga meaning ‘hedge’ or ‘encompassing fence’, while the thorn part of the name refers to the thorny nature of this plant. As for the Latin name Crataegus it is believed that this originates from the Greek word krátys meaning ‘hard’ or ‘strong’, which refers to the hard wood of this plant. The origin of this name has also been associated with the word kratos, meaning ‘always been here’.
Hawthorn is incredibly easy to cultivate. While it will prefer well-drained loamy soils with good moisture retention, it will grow well in all soils apart from very poor acid soils. If you are growing the plant for its fruit then full sun will be best, but it will also do well in partial shade, just expect the flower/fruit yields to be lower. Hawthorn is a very hardy plant and can succeed in exposed positions and once established it will also cope very well with very moist soils and drought conditions.
The leaves, flowers, berries and seeds of hawthorn can be used in the kitchen. Some of the edible uses are detailed below.
Leaves – Leaf shoots can be eaten raw and have a nutty flavour, which makes them a great addition to a salad. Leaves which have fully unfurled can be dried and made into a tea.
Flowers – Can be used when making syrups and sweet desserts.
Berries – Eaten raw or cooked, however they are not considered to be very appetizing when raw. They are commonly used to make jams and preserves. Ground dried berries can be used to make bread when mixed with flour.
Seeds – Roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute.
Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Hawthorn is a highly valuable medicinal herb. It is highly used in treating heart and circulation disorders, proving especially useful in the treatment of angina. It increases flow of blood to the heart muscles and can help restore a regular heart beat. Both the flowers and the fruit are used for treating maladies of the heart, however it is important to note that prolonged use is required in order for the treatment to be effective. This herb is usually administered as a tea or tincture and when combined with Ginkgo biloba it can enhance poor memory by improving blood flow to the brain.
Hawthorn is an invaluable plant for wildlife, supporting more than 300 species of insect. The leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths including light emerald (Campaea margaritaria) andorchard ermine (Yponomeuta padella). The flowers are eaten by dormice and provide pollen and nectar for bees as well as other pollinator insects. The berries (haws) will be enjoyed by many migrating birds such as waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus), redwings (Turdus iliacus) and fieldfares (Turdis pilaris). Small mammals will also make good use of the berries. The dense, thorny foliage provides great nesting shelter for many bird species. Due to it’s tolerance of being cut back hard, hawthorn hedges are a great choice for a layered hedge.
Hawthorn is such a valuable plant to both humans and wildlife, I hope this blog post has inspired you to consider planting some in your garden or green space.