Hawthorn – tree of the fae folk

(Photo: Vivien Wilson/WTML)

We are currently into the days of Hawthorn in the Ogham tree wheel (according to Yuri Leitch’s wheel, which I follow).  I’ve always have a soft spot for Hawthorn and it’s another of the trees that I feel particularly close to.  It is rumoured to be the tree of the fairies, with it’s delicate-shaped leaves, blossom in late spring and bright red berries in the autumn.

We have a few Hawthorn around the garden, the largest is in “Fairy Corner” in the Alder Grove.  Last autumn I collected some berries from her (letting her know my purpose for them) with the intent to grow some more saplings.  I read up a bit and discovered they can take up to 18 months to germinate!  (source) But also read that you can trick them a little by freezing the seeds first for a few months – letting them believe it had been a particularly harsh cold winter.  Whether they will germinate and when is yet to be seen but here is what I did:


The hawthorn was one of, if not the, most likely tree to be inhabited or protected by the Wee Folk. In Ireland most of the isolated trees, or ‘lone bushes’, in the landscape and said to be inhabited by faeries, were hawthorn trees. Such trees could not be cut damaged in any way without incurring the often fatal wrath of their supernatural guardians.

Medieval folk also asserted that the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague in London. Botanists later discovered the reason for this. The chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also formed in decaying animal tissue. In the past, when corpses were in the house for several days before burial, people would have been very familiar with the smell of death. So it is hardly surprising that hawthorn blossom was so unwelcome in the house.

In spite of the above taboo, the leaves were eaten and were commonly referred to as bread and cheese. People used the blossom and berries to make wines and jellies. Decoctions of the flowers and leaves were also used to stabilise blood pressure. The strong, close-grained wood is good for carving and people used it for making tool handles and other small household items. Probably its greatest practical use to people has been as hedging. (source)

Medicinal uses

Heart Disease

Hawthorn (Crataegus species) has been used to treat heart disease as far back as the 1st century. By the early 1800s, doctors were using it to treat circulatory disorders and respiratory illnesses. Traditionally, the berries were used to treat heart problems ranging from irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pain, hardening of the arteries, and heart failure. Today, the leaves and flowers are used medicinally. There is even research to suggest that hawthorn might be effective when used in the treatment of mild-to-moderate heart failure.

Hawthorn has been studied in people with heart failure (a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to other organs in the body). More studies are needed to understand how effective it may be. A number of studies conclude that hawthorn significantly improved heart function. Studies also suggest that the herb can enhance a person’s ability to exercise following heart failure. Participants in studies have reported that hawthorn significantly improved symptoms of the disease (such as shortness of breath and fatigue). One study found that hawthorn extract (900 mg/day) taken for 2 months was as effective as low doses of captopril (a prescription heart medication) in improving symptoms of heart failure.

A large study found that a standardized hawthorn supplement was effective in 952 people with heart failure. The study compared conventional methods of treating heart failure (with different medications) with hawthorn alone and in addition to the drugs. After 2 years, the clinical symptoms of heart failure (palpitations, breathing problems, and fatigue) decreased significantly in people taking the hawthorn supplement. People taking hawthorn also took less medication for their condition.


Animal and laboratory studies report hawthorn contains antioxidants, including oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs, also found in grapes) and quercetin. Antioxidants are substances that destroy free radicals, which are compounds in the body that damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Free radicals occur naturally in the body and grow in number as we age. Environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, smoking, some medicines, and air pollution) can also increase the number of these damaging particles. Scientists believe free radicals contribute to the aging process (such as wrinkling), as well as the development of a number of health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants in hawthorn may help stop some of the damage from free radicals, especially when it comes to heart disease.

Hawthorn is used to help protect against heart disease and help control high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both animal and human studies suggest hawthorn increases coronary artery blood flow, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure. It has also been used on the skin to treat boils and skin sores.

Chest pain (Angina)

Preliminary evidence suggests hawthorn may help combat chest pain (angina), which is caused by low blood flow to the heart. In one early study, 60 people with angina were given either 180 mg/day of hawthorn berry leaf flower extract or placebo for 3 weeks. Those who received hawthorn experienced improved blood flow to the heart and were also able to exercise for longer periods of time without suffering from chest pain. However, more studies are needed to say for sure whether hawthorn is effective.

High blood pressure

Although hawthorn has not been studied specifically in people with high blood pressure, some people think its benefits in treating heart disease may carry over to treating high blood pressure (hypertension).   In one study, hawthorn extract was found to be effective for hypertension in people with type 2 diabetes who were also taking prescribed medicines. Participants took 1,200 mg hawthorn extract daily or placebo for 16 weeks. Those taking hawthorn had lower blood pressure than those taking the placebo.


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