Hawthorn flowers and fruit are well known in herbal medicine as heart tonics. Tough, thorny perennials, the hawthorn grows rapidly once established and is happiest in an open, sunny position where it can reach a height of 30 feet with a spread of 15-20 feet. Its dark green leaves are lobed and toothed. In late spring, it bears clusters of lovely, sweetly scented white or pink flowers followed by bright red berries (“haws”) from late summer well into autumn.
Seeds can be sown in late winter or early spring or young shrubs can be planted from autumn until early spring. If you know of hawthorns near you and want to start your own hawthorn shrub or shrubs, the scarlet berries should be picked from the beginning of October onwards. If you pick them too early, you risk the seeds being immature. Collect berries directly from the tree by gripping the branch and pulling the haws. In this way, no damage is caused to the parts of the tree that will continue to grow. It’s easy to extract a few seeds from the haws and to start them in small pots with potting soil.
Hawthorn is said to slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure by dilating the large arteries supplying blood to the heart. It has a gradual mild action and must be taken for extended periods to produce noticeable results. Hawthorn tea has been used to treat kidney conditions and insomnia. Some indigenous people consumed the haws in moderate amounts to relieve diarrhea.
Studies have supported the use of hawthorn extracts for high blood pressure, angina pectoris and arteriosclerosis. People with heart conditions should use hawthorn only with a doctor’s guidance.
In Celtic traditions, the Beltane festival, associated with fertility and passion, was once held on the day of the first blooming of the hawthorn. Now known as May Day, it is celebrated by dancing around the maypole.