Hawthorn is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America.

The name “hawthorn” was originally applied to the species native to northern Europe, especially the common hawthorn C. monogyna, and the unmodified name is often so used in Britain and Ireland.

The name is now also applied to the entire genus and to the related Asian genus Rhaphiolepis.

Culinary use

The “haws” or fruits of the common hawthorn, C. monogyna, are edible, but the flavour has been compared to over-ripe apples. In the United Kingdom, they are sometimes used to make a jelly or homemade wine.

The leaves are edible, and if picked in spring when still young, are tender enough to be used in salads. The young leaves and flower buds, which are also edible, are known as “bread and cheese” in rural England.

The fruits of the species Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese hawthorn) are tart, bright red, and resemble small crabapple fruits. They are used to make many kinds of Chinese snacks, including haw flakes and tanghulu.

The fruits, which are called shānzhā in Chinese, are also used to produce jams, jellies, juices, alcoholic beverages, and other drinks. In South Korea, a liquor called Sansachun is made from the fruits.

The fruits of Crataegus Mexicana are known in Mexico as tejocotes and are eaten raw, cooked, or in jam during the winter.

They are stuffed in the piñatas broken during the traditional pre-Christmas celebration known as Las Posadas. They are also cooked with other fruits to prepare a Christmas punch.

The mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, which is manufactured by several brands.

In the southern United States, fruits of three native species are collectively known as mayhaws and are made into jellies which are considered a great delicacy. The Kutenai people of northwestern North America used red and black hawthorn fruit for food.

On Manitoulin Island in Canada, some red-fruited species are called hawberries. They are common there due to the island’s alkaline soil. During the pioneer days, white settlers ate these fruits during the winter as the only remaining food supply. People born on the island are now called “haweaters“.

In Iran, the fruits of Crataegus (including Crataegus azarolus var. aronia, as well as other species) are known as zalzalak and are eaten raw as a snack, or made into a jam known by the same name.

Research

A 2008 Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis of previous studies concluded that evidence exists of “a significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes” for an extract of hawthorn used as an adjuvant in treating chronic heart failure.

A 2010 review concluded that “Crataegus preparations hold significant potential as a useful remedy in the treatment of cardiovascular disease“.

The review indicated the need for further study of the best dosages and concluded that although many different theoretical interactions between Crataegus and orthodox medications have been postulated … none have been substantiated.

Phytochemicals found in hawthorn include tannins, flavonoids, oligomeric proanthocyanidins, and phenolic acids.

Traditional medicine

Several species of hawthorn have been used in traditional medicine. The products used are often derived from C. monogyna, C. laevigata, or related Crataegus species, “collectively known as hawthorn“, not necessarily distinguishing between these species.

The dried fruits of Crataegus pinnatifida (called shān zhā in Chinese) are used in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily as a digestive aid. A closely related species, Crataegus cuneata (Japanese hawthorn, called sanzashi in Japanese) is used in a similar manner.

Other species (especially Crataegus laevigata) are used in herbal medicine where the plant is believed to strengthen cardiovascular function.

The Kutenai people of northwestern North America used black hawthorn fruit for food and red hawthorn fruit in traditional medicine.

Side effects

Overdose can cause cardiac arrhythmia and dangerously low blood pressure. Milder side effects include nausea and sedation. Patients taking digoxin should avoid taking hawthorn.

Folklore

The Scots saying “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot” conveys a warning not to shed any cloots (clothes) before the summer has fully arrived and the Mayflowers (hawthorn blossoms) are in full bloom.

The custom of employing the flowering branches for decorative purposes on 1 May is of very early origin, but since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the tree has rarely been in full bloom in England before the second week of that month.

In the Scottish Highlands, the flowers may be seen as late as the middle of June. The hawthorn has been regarded as the emblem of hope, and its branches are stated to have been carried by the ancient Greeks in wedding processions and to have been used by them to deck the altar of Hymenaios.

The supposition that the tree was the source of Jesus‘s crown of thorns doubtless gave rise around 1911 to the tradition among the French peasantry that it utters groans and cries on Good Friday, and probably also to the old popular superstition in Great Britain and Ireland that ill-luck attended the uprooting of hawthorns.

Branches of Glastonbury thorn, which flowers both in December and in spring, were formerly highly valued in England, on account of the legend that the tree was originally the staff of Joseph of Arimathea.

Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, traces and reinterprets many European legends in which the whitethorn (Hawthorn), also called the May-tree, is central.

Hawthorn trees demarcate a garden plot. According to legend, they are strongly associated with the fairies.
In Celtic lore, the hawthorn plant was used commonly for inscriptions along with yew and apple. It was once said to heal the broken heart. In Ireland, the red fruit is, or was, called the Johnny MacGorey or Magory.

Serbian and Croatian folklore notes hawthorn is particularly deadly to vampires, and stakes used for their slaying must be made from the wood of the thorn tree.

In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, sgitheach and in Irish, sceach) ‘marks the entrance to the otherworld’ and is strongly associated with the fairies.

Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom; however, during this time, it is commonly cut and decorated as a Maybush.

This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility.

Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells, they are sometimes known as rag trees, for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals. ‘When all fruit fails, welcome haws‘ was once a common expression in Ireland.

According to a medieval legend, the Glastonbury thorn, C. monogyna ‘Biflora‘, which flowers twice annually, was supposed to have miraculously grown from a walking stick planted by Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury in Somerset, England.

The original tree was destroyed in the 16th century during the English Reformation, but several cultivars have survived. Since the reign of King James I, it has been a Christmas custom to send a sprig of Glastonbury thorn flowers to the Sovereign, which is used to decorate the royal family’s dinner table.

In the Victorian era, the hawthorn represented hope in the language of flowers.

The hawthorn – species unspecified – is the state flower of Missouri. The legislation designating it as such was introduced by Sarah Lucille Turner, one of the first two women to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.