The hedgerows are suddenly alive! Just as the blackthorn trees go from flower to leaf their cousin the hawthorn (both are rose family members) takes the cue from sun and Earth and explodes into blossom. In the west of Ireland, the hedges and the fairy trees are illuminated with the creamy white and rarer pink blossoms of Crataegeus oxyacantha, known commonly as whitethorn or hawthorn. The vanilla scent wafts across the land and our eyes take in the welcome beauty, the harbinger of the season of Bealtaine, summertime in Ireland.
Hawthorn is one of the thirteen trees of the lunar Ogham calendar and generally represents the time from mid-April to mid- May. In Irish hawthorn is known as huath and is the letter H in the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet. Hawthorn holds significance for the fire festival of Bealtaine which begins the season on 1 May. Traditionally the blossoms would be gathered for May altars and it was believed you could be whisked away to the fairy realm if you sat beneath a hawthorn on this day.
Hawthorn has an esteemed place in our folk medicine: all parts of the tree have healing properties including the leaves, flowers, stems, thorns and berries. Hawthorn nourishes the heart, physically regulates the beat and strengthens the cardiovascular response. With regular use hawthorn strengthens the heart tissue, eases angina and palpitations due to anxiety or hormonal response. Hawthorn berry tincture warms the heart and softens anger. In tea or tincture, hawthorn lowers blood pressure, brings vitality and efficiency to the circulatory system. The berries, stems and thorns are high in antioxidants.
The flower and leaf tea is incredibly delicious! Harvest a handful of vibrant blossoms with a few leaves and cover with water off the boil. Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes, strain out the herb and enjoy the comforting and sensual taste of honey and vanilla. For a decadent summertime treat, infuse a stem of hawthorn blossoms in your bottle of crisp white wine (sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio) or in fresh-squeezed lemonade. Allow to steep in either for a few hours, remove the stem/ blossoms and garnish with a sprinkle of fresh flowers over the top. Hawthorn leaves and flowers can be harvested and dried to be used all year long.