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Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna (common Hawthorn) / Crataegus laevigata (Midland Hawthorn)

Why do we love it?

It’s everywhere! It’s long been a favoured tree to plant in a hedgerow as it goes on to create an impenetrable fence of strong thorns, and it’s often the main tree replanted after road side construction disturbance since hardy enough to thrive with little attention.

The thorns, while long and strong, aren’t anything too awkward to deal with for the forager – compared to more vicious plants like the Bramble or Rose for instance. Still it’s a tree to treat with some caution if you were to attempt to pass through it’s thorny reaches!


How to identify:

A Hawthorn tree is fairly easy to identify with no poisonous lookalikes. Also known as the May tree, according to The Woodland Trust it is the only British plant to be named after it’s flowering month! The white blossom seen before then will belong to the Blackthorn (Sloe bush) which bears it’s flowers whilst its branches are still bare from winter, the Hawthorn on the other hand produces its leaves first from March onwards and flowers throughout May.

There are a variety of closely related and similar looking species of Hawthorn that grow throughout the world, all of which able to create hybridised variants of their own.

Hawthorn leaves are interestingly shaped, small and deeply lobed into three sections. The trunk of the tree itself is rough and grows into an erratic spread of thorny branches almost from the base unlike the more upright nature of other trees.


Medicinal benefits:

The berries have long been utilised throughout history for it’s heart strengthening properties, to reduce blood pressure, and are even said to bring balance to an erratic heart rhythm. As with most wild plants the leaves, flowers, and berries provide a variety of vitamins including the much needed vitamin C.


When to gather:

Spring – young leaves, fresh from the bud before they turn bitter with age. They have a sweet flavour, almost nutty, not too ‘green’ like most foraged leaves - makes for a nice change after a winter of frosty foraging!Freshly sprouted Hawthorn leaves in SpringFreshly sprouted Hawthorn leaves in Spring

The flowers and buds are also edible but since they’re such a valuable resource for pollinators we tend to leave them for the bees. Note: Hawthorn flowers contain the chemical trimethylamine (one of the first formed in decaying animal tissue!) resulting in an incredibly strong aroma of carrion – I can’t say I’ve wanted to taste them once that smell gets going!

Late summer/Autumn/persisting into winter – berries. Ripe when red. We’ll add a recipe when we get to that part of the season (subscribe so you don’t miss out on that!).Hawthorn berries, known as Haws appear in late Summer / early AutumnHawthorn berries, known as Haws appear in late Summer / early Autumn

 Spring Hawthorn leaves added to a mixed wild saladSpring Hawthorn leaves added to a mixed wild salad

How to eat:

Scoff the leaves as you find them, aka ‘browse’, or add to a mixed salad of other leaves and edible flowers. Pop a tub in your bag to keep your foraged find in until you’re ready to eat!


Beware – its sharp thorns! Due to its strong medicinal properties, care should also be taken for possible interactions with heart medications.


For wood carving projects it is an extremely strong hard wood often with an attractive fine grain.


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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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