Hawthorn Tree Uses
Tree Healing Therapy
Botanical names Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata / Family Rosaceae
Common hawthorn or maythorn (C. monogyna) is native to Europe, north-west Africa and western Asia, while its near-relative Midland hawthorn (G. laevigata) is native to western and central Europe. The former is typically a shrub or short -trunked tree with a dense crown and dark longitudinal fissures in the bark, giving a rugged effect on older trees; it has sharp-thorned stems and dark-green leaves tinged reddish when young. The Midland hawthorn is characterized by spreading, deeply-lobed leaves and flowers with one solo style.
Maythorn's creamy-white flowers, with their attractive red stamens, dust the hedgerows in a froth of blossom in spring; their scent has been described as a pungent and slightly musky perfume, smelling of honey with a hint of almond; its deeper tones are said to have the sweet odour of death. Hawthorn derives its name from Old English haw meaning 'hedge', simply means 'thorny hedge'.
History, mystery and spiritual healing Folklore belief stating that it is bad luck to bring hawthorn into the house may be the reason why hawthorn trees were often left as landmarks. Traditionally hawthorns were grown, cut back and layered to form dense, prickly hedgerows.
Witches allegedly grew hawthorn in their gardens for protection, and as an ingredient for flying ointment, which is believed to be a mix of herbs engendering an out-of-body-experience. The tree is also part of the fairy triad of Britain, 'oak, ash and thorn', and where all three trees grow together, it is said that one may see fairies. Celtic tree-lore informs us that it can be mortally unlucky to cut down a sacred hawthorn or 'faerie tree' except at specific times, such as when it is in bloom and at Beltane. Conversely, according to Serbian folklore, a hewn stake of hawthorn must be driven through the heart in order to slay vampires.
In ages past, both ancient Greeks and Romans viewed the hawthorn as symbolic of hope and marriage. May was the month of courtship and love-making after the winter's cold. The ancient Greeks used hawthorn wood for the marriage torch, and girls wore hawthorn crowns at weddings. The Romans placed its leaves in a newborn baby's hands for good luck. Hawthorn, born of lightning, was often grown alongside a house to protect it against that phenomenon and against damage to the house from severe storms. No evil ghosts (spirits) may enter into a house where hawthorn is present.
The hawthorn is sacred to the Celts, pagans and Christians alike. In the wilds of wind-lashed Argyll, in Scotland, there resides one of the few known 'wishing trees', studded with token coins pressed into its bark by anxious travellers to support the granting of their wishes; sacred hawthorns also guard wishing wells in Ireland.
The famous Holy Thorn is said to have to have been planted at Glastonbury, in Somerset, by Joseph of Arimathea, after he landed in England following Christ's crucifixion. It is a symbol for Christ's crown of thorns, and flowers twice a year once in late spring and once after midwinter has passed. The original tree was cut down by Puritans, but a cultivar was secretly propagated in the Glastonbury abbey grounds.
Hawthorn has always been a 'heart herb'. The flowers and fresh or dry fruits are a cardiac sedative, blood-vessel dilator and are blood-pressure-Iowering. The leaves, flowers and berries have all been used as a cardiac tonic - the berries the most effective - working synergistically to normalize the heart, either stimulating or depressing. The blossom is drunk as a 'tonic tea' for the heart and circulation. Hawthorn is used in Russian herbal medicine as an antispasmodic, cardiac, sedative and vasodilatory. The Druids used the hawthorn's properties to strengthen the body in the frailty of old age.
In herbal use, the active ingredients in the flowers are tannins, flavonoids, essential oil, acids and purine derivatives; in the fruits they are tannins, flavonoids, pigments and vitamins.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, hawthorn or shan zha is sweet, sour, warm and applied to the liver, spleen and stomach meridian. The fruit is used to reduce food stagnation, to transform blood stasis, to dissipate clots (Buerger's disease) and for hypertension. In China, dried hawthorn fruits (either whole or as flakes) are eaten as sweets, and the jelly or flakes are used to aid the digestion of meats.
In magic healing, hawthorn is added to water to clean the home, to protect and purify and to still negative vibrations. Wiping the face with a facecloth on May Day morning that had been left overnight on Hawthorn flowers to absorb the dew was still a practice in Britain into the late 1930s and beyond. These days, hawthorn leaves and flowers are used to make liquid extracts, usually with water and alcohol. The tree's edible young leaves are good in salads, and the 'haws' are used to make wine, jelly and to flavour brandy.
Hawthorn may interact with existing prescription drugs, and medicinal use of it should be professionally supervised. It is considered safe for most adults for short periods of time and side- effects are usually mild (upset stomach, headache and dizziness), but the evidence is limited.