Hawthorn

Plant: Hawthorn
Botanical Name: Crataegus (part of the rose family)

Synonyms, Country Names: Thornapple, Hawberry, May-Tree, Albiespyne, Whitehorn (The common name for hawthorn comes from haw, which is an old English word for "hedge." The tree's name simply means "thorny hedge.")

Symbolic: In an old English calendar (1866) the hawthorn represents the flower of May. The hawthorn is widely known as the May-tree, and is the only British plant to be named after the month in which it flowers. The Pilgrims reportedly named the Mayflower after the Hawthorn whose nickname is "Mayflower." The Celtic meaning of the hawthorn tree deals with balance and duality. The hawthorn is full of contradictions, none of which went unnoticed by the soul-minded Celts. It is a symbol of union of opposites.

Quotations: I cannot cog and say thou art this and that, like a many of these lisping Hawthorn buds, (young dandies at court)

Falstaff, Merry Wives, act iii, sc. 3

Cultivation: The hawthorn is prized among landscapers for its stunning flowers, attractive berries and exceptional longevity, some up to 400 years. Most species have long, sharp thorns ranging from one to five inches. Hawthorns are prized by home owners because they don’t get much taller than 30 feet, are easy to prune and grow in a variety of soils. The Glastonbury hawthorn even blooms twice a year. The English Hawthorn rarely grows taller than 20 feet and is used as a hedge or border. Hawthorn hedgerow makes a great security fence. As the hawthorn ages, the bark has a beauty all its own. The smooth grey bark gives way to a darker shade of brown with shallow furrows and narrow ridges. New hawthorns should be watered regularly and the soil should be well drained. Fertilize the Hawthorn in the spring with a water-soluble mixture. Hawthorns should be pruned in the spring before it sprouts new leaves.

The Useful Plant: Hawthorn leaves and berries have been known to alleviate stomach problems, high blood pressure, childhood diabetes and kidney ailments. The tree's berries can be made into sauces, jams and jellies. Hawthorn flowers are safe to eat and are often added to salads and desserts as edible decorative toppings. The flowers can also be steeped in hot water to make a soothing beverage. Tender hawthorn leaves are often used as a non-nicotine substitute for tobacco. Chewing young leaves can also help alleviate hunger pangs. The tree's leaves are also commonly used as garnish at upscale restaurants. The fine grain wood is a top choice for sculptors when designing intricate masterpieces. Because the hawthorn wood is so hard, it has been used to make tool handles and other small household items. The roots of the tree are also harvested and used to make jewelry boxes, fashion accessories and combs.

Folklore: Many believe the Crown of Thorns placed upon the head of Jesus during the Crucifixion was made from hawthorn branches although Ellacombe states that is “most improbable.” In Britain, the tree is associated with fairies. Centuries ago Hawthorn flowers were not allowed in Asian homes, as the blooms were associated with death. The staff of Joseph of Arimathea supposedly was cut from the Glastonbury thorn which flowers in December as well as in spring. It was an old custom in Suffolk, in most of the farmhouses, that any servant who could bring in a branch of hawthorn in full blossom on the 1stof May was entitled to a dish of cream for breakfast. Young girls rose at dawn to bath in dew gathered from hawthorn flowers to ensure their beauty in the coming year.

Personal: Monica Van Zale
Colorado Shakespeare Gardens
April 2014