HAWTHORN BERRIES Crataegus oxyacantha
Hawthorn trees are one of those 'in between' species, that can't quite decide whether to be a bush or a tree. Old trees can grow quite tall, up to 12 m, but Hawthorn is most commonly found in hedges, where it rarely grows above 5m. Thanks to its thorny branches they make an effective natural barrier, warding off intruders while simultaneously providing a protective wildlife habitat. Some trees are said to have reached the ripe old age of 500 years, but even relatively young ones often give the impression of being ancient grandmother trees.
A heady, almost narcotic and somewhat musky scent exudes from the flowers, as anyone who has ever held a siesta underneath a Hawthorn tree will recall. By autumn the flowers have turned into bunches of red glowing, oval fruit that superficially resemble rosehips. These berries are smaller though, and their taste and texture is rather dry and floury.
Hawthorn has long been regarded a sacred tree in Britain and Ireland, where it was considered a terrible offence to cut a thorn tree down. In Britain it figures prominently in the Glastonbury Holythorn legend of Joseph of Arimathea, an uncle of Jesus Christ. When he came to Glastonbury he struck his Hawthorn staff into the ground at Wearyall Hill, whereupon it immediately started to set roots and began to flower. Joseph of Arimathea proceeded to found the first Christian Church in Glastonbury and planted a sprig of this Holy Thorn in the church grounds, where descendents of this very tree can still be seen today. His Hawthorn had the unusual habit of flowering twice a year, once in May, as all Hawthorns do, and once at Christmas, Christ's birthday. Christian lore also has it that the crown of thorns was made of Hawthorn. The Druids also held the Hawthorn sacred and associated it with the White Goddess and the month of May.
Hawthorn berries are an excellent strengthening tonic for the heart and circulatory system. It can regulate the blood pressure, whether it is too high or too low, and helps in conditions such as mild palpitations, angina pectoris, tight chest and angst resulting from it, as well as for arteriosclerosis. It improves the circulation, especially the peripheral circulation and thus is an excellent tonic that can help to bring extra oxygen to the head, improving mental and nervous functions. It may be helpful in cases of tinnitus, dizziness, blurred vision and forgetfulness. However, while Hawthorn is a safe tonic and can be used long term, especially as a strengthening remedy for the elderly, it must be stressed that serious heart problems should always be treated by a qualified medical practitioner. Hawthorn is also indicated for nervous indigestion and insufficient bowel activity and for kidneys and bladder stones.
Magically Hawthorn symbolises protection and hope. It wards off evil spirits and protects against witches. However, it is also sometimes regarded as a tree of witches, who sometimes may take its shape or rest in thorn trees to prepare themselves for the flight to the Sabbath. Hawthorn establishes a firm boundary between inner world and outer world and may be used by those who have difficulties 'drawing a line' and those who are psychically vulnerable.