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Hawthorn and Man

Updated on August 4, 2015

Hawthorn in bloom

hawthorn in spring time
hawthorn in spring time | Source
The blooms are collectively referred to as May
The blooms are collectively referred to as May | Source

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

The hawthorn is a native tree which has long been associated and utilised by man, as hedges which are almost impenetrable, medicinal and culinary purposes, with many other uses such as the production of walking sticks. There are two species of hawthorn found in the countryside of north west England the common hawthorn Cretaegus monogyna and the Midland hawthorn Cretaegus laevigata. Sometimes the two species cross pollinate producing decorative hybrids which are employed as ornamentals in parks and gardens. The latter is usually encountered as a tree rather than a hedge or low shrub and is much more tolerant of shade, hence it is often found in woodland.

to differentiate the two  species one needs to look firstly at the flowers produced by the two species. The midland hawthorn tends to bloom a few weeks earlier than the common hawthorn. Those of an inquisitive nature may look at the flower to see that the Midland hawthorn has two or three styles unlike the common species which only produces one. When the tree is adorned with foliage it is noticeable that the leaf of the common hawthorn is deeply lobed and longer than it is broad. During autumn they may be told apart by crushing the fleshy part away from the haws and counting the seeds within. the common hawthorn has but one seed while those of the Midland hawthorn produces two or even three. The leaves of hawthorn appears early in the season as often as early as March. The twigs are fully armed with dark,stout , sharp thorns.

The flowers which bloom from May till June are collectively known as "may". The old adage " never cast a clout until may is out" does not , as many people believe , refer to the month of May but to the flowers of the hawthorn. The flowers have a heady scent and they are succeeded by the fruit {haws}. During early October hordes of migrant redwings from northern Europe gorge themselves on the fruits. But they face fierce confrontation from native birds such as the mistle thrush which guards the tree showing a great deal of courage. Indeed hawthorns depend greatly on birds to aid the dispersal of seed via their droppings. Any that fall on the floor are eagerly taken by small mammals such as the wood mouse and bank vole. 

Medicinal and Culinary Uses

The leaves have long been eaten by all age groups but in particular children in rural areas in days gone by. the leaves are at their best when in bud and just before they open. While at this stage they were added to pie fillings. The young open leaves were placed in sandwiches  and also added to salads.  When dried the foliage was once smoked as tobacco. The leaves were also utilised as a substitute for tea. which was said to dilute the blood vessels especially those near to the heart.. The flowers and haws were said to have the same beneficial affect on the circulation system. the flowers and haws were employed in wines, syrups and liqueurs. 

They are beneficial to the heart by strengthening it, however, it is not a quick "fix" for heart problems and of little use for acute heart pains. It may well be of benefit to smokers and those with ageing hearts by building up the heart's strength, but this is achieved by taking hawthorn over a long and sustained period of time. Months rather than weeks, but once the heart is strengthened it is claimed that it will remain so.

The pulped leaves and/ or haws have been used as a poultice in days gone by, which was considered excellent at drawing splinters and thorns, such as those of roses, out of the skin.

A tea { Infusion} made from the fresh haws is considered a general tonic and contains Vitamin C.

MYTHS AND LEGENDS------ Vast bunches of flowers would be gathered in archaic times to adorn maypoles, but they were also sold door to door, on May day.However, in some regions it was considered to be very unlucky to bring hawthorn indoors, for this would surely lead to the death of a family member during that year. Indeed science has revealed that one of the chemicals that is produced by the flowers  is also produced by the human corpse. Nevertheless, the flowers were made into garlands and sold in knots {bunches}. The rhyme-" here we go gathering nuts in May " is thought to have been  " here we go gathering knots in May" which was somehow lost in translation, for this is a more apt description for nuts in the wild cannot be found during this month.

In some parts, it is believed that the crown of thorns placed on Christ's head during his crucifixion was constructed from hawthorn. It was said due to this painful crown the hawthorn can be heard groaning on Good Friday.

In Pagan times the blossom of the tree was associated with fertility and many country traditions have evolved from this fact.

During the Land Enclosures that occurred in England from 1845 there were hundreds of miles of hawthorn hedgerow planted by privileged landowners. This was to keep the livestock in and people out! Hedges of hawthorn were regularly layered in order to maintain their vigour and to prolong the working life of the hedgerow. This skill is still practised today and during summer months there are annual hedge layering competitions held throughout England. These hedgerows act as " roadways", which enable small mammals to move around the countryside in relative safety.

The name hawthorn is thought to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon haeg thorn, which translates as hedge thorn.The genus name of Cretaegus comes from the Greek kratos alluding to strength and refers to the wood. The species name monogyna refers to the one style or pistil produced by the flower.

Autmn foliage. Bottom fruits


The Hawthorn Tree

Creatures such as the hawthorn shield bugs are often encountered on the foliage
Creatures such as the hawthorn shield bugs are often encountered on the foliage | Source

Birds love the fruit

The fruits are like a magnet to birds and small mammals.
The fruits are like a magnet to birds and small mammals. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Greensleeves Hubs,

      no problem and thank you. Once again good luck with the review and Best wishes to you.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Cheers D.A.L. I'll be putting the review online in the next few days. Hope it brings a few more visitors to your pages.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Greensleaves Hubs , thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment. You are very welcome to use the any photograph for your project. Best of luck .

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      6 years ago from Essex, UK

      This is a really nice article about a familiar tree steeped in history and mythology D.A.L The various aspects of its story and its association with man are well written, and illustrated with such good photos as to make identification straight forward for anyone who comes across the tree. Voted up.

      Speaking of the illustrations, I am writing a series of hubs reviewing different topic categories, and I would like to include this page in a review of the ten best wild plants and trees hubs (I'll also give a mention to a few of your other hubs) - a review which I will be publishing in the next two weeks. However the style of my reviews requires me to include a photo, and so I would like to use one of yours from this hub. I wonder would this be OK with you? Cheers. Alun.

      The following is a link to one of my reviews which would give an idea of how and why I would like to use a photo.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      PeggyW thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment, it is appreciated.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting hub about the Hawthorn tree and the myths and supposed benefits from using it for medicinal purposes. The photos were really a nice addition. Thanks!


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