The hawthorn tree, or crataegus, is part of the rose family, covering a huge variety and species of trees and shrubs and is often known as the May tree. Their hardiness makes them ideal for woodlands and hedgerows, while the smaller type of shrubs are suitable for gardens. Either deciduous or semi-evergreen, the hawthorn produces green leaves, white or deep pink flowers and autumn fruits. Although the berries are excellent food for birds, when eaten raw they can cause slight stomach upsets in humans, unless used in conserves and for medicinal purposes.
The most common type of hawthorn tree, the monogyna, is a rounded deciduous tree with numerous thorns that grows widely in the British Isles. Suitable as a hedge, it produces white flowers followed by dark red berries. Each fruit contains a large stone in the centre and has a slightly sweet but bitter after taste. According to the country lovers’ website, the berries which are also called haws can be used in conserves or haw berry wine. They also advise that anyone suffering from a cardiac or circulatory order should seek medical advice before consuming the berries.
Another hawthorn native to Britain and Ireland, the midland species is a rounded, thorny deciduous tree with green leaves often found as a hedge or ornamental tree. Its flowers are white, pink or scarlet and they are followed by the brilliant red haws, or berries, containing two stones, which are popular with birds. According to British-trees, this flowers and fruits best in full sun. The berries which are ripe by October can be used to make jellies, wines, liqueurs and ketchups.
A variety of small thornless hawthorn tree with dramatic orange or red leaves in autumn, the cockspur thorn produces dark red berries which last into winter. Although conservation garden park suggests that the fruit is edible, it is more suitable as food for wildlife. As with many of the hawthorn berries, the fruit is best used in making wine or other culinary uses.
The Chinese hawthorn, pinnatafida, is a small tree that produces white flowers in late spring followed by bright red berries that are both sweet and sour. According to Steven Foster, the fruits have long been used in Asian and European herbal medicine. Modern experiments have shown that this fruit can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with other medical uses.