There are at least 50 cultivars of hawthorn growing in the northern hemisphere. Some are shrubs reaching barely 5 feet tall and others grow up to 30 feet high and spread their branches like an umbrella. Almost all varieties of hawthorn sprout sharp thorns, but they are not enough to dissuade either wildlife or humans from harvesting the edible and useful hawthorn berry.
Because they are a highly adaptable tree, the many types of hawthorn grow in a variety of environments. You can identify a hawthorn tree by its scaly, grey-brown bark which is likely to be crawling with insects as over 200 species of insects rely on the hawthorn, according to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers website. The tree's deeply lobed leaves start out bright green and darken with age. The white, five-petaled flowers of the hawthorn look similar to the blossom of a wild cherry and appear around May, which is where the alternative name Maythorn comes from.
The red berries of the hawthorn should be harvested starting around early October and continue as the fruit clumps ripen. Berries, or haws as they are also called, are plump and brightly coloured when at their peak of ripeness. They are easy to harvest and can be quickly plucked by the handful by simply pulling on the ripe bunch.
Hawthorn has been prescribed for a variety of heart-related ailments since the first century. Modern science supports some claims that hawthorn supplements can improve heart function and ease chest pain. It can be taken as a capsule, tincture or tea, but standardised supplements are most reliable. Hawthorn is considered safe to use in recommended dosages, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center website. Possible interactions may occur with other herbal or pharmaceutical medications, so consult a medical professional before using hawthorn for any ailment.
Though it takes several bunches of berries to produce a worthwhile batch of pulp, hawthorn is used to make jam, jelly, syrup and wine. Haws can also be eaten out of hand or be brewed into tea when fresh or dried. While all hawthorn berries are edible, not all varieties produce fruit that is considered tasty by most humans. If you are looking for a hawthorn tree that provides delicious and prolific fruit, try the Chinese variety called Big Golden Star. It produces flavourful haws the size of crab apples.
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