Hawthorn myths and lore
In herbal circles hawthorn is well known for its affinity to the circulatory system. There is so much more hiding in the history of this wonderful tree. Hawthorn was used as a boundary marker as it formed thick hedges and is a very hardy shrub. There are numerous varieties of hawthorn, it easily and happily hybridizes.
In the legend of the Christ
The hawthorn tree is said to be what Christ’s thorny crown was made from and because of that lore it was often associated with ill omens by followers of that faith. This ill-will has been acted out upon the hawthorns in at the Glastonbury Abbey numerous times. The hawthorns there are said to be from Saint Joseph’s staff.
The legend is that after Christ was crucified Joseph traveled to that spot bringing with him the Holy Grail. It is said he stuck his staff into the ground before he went to sleep and woke the next morning to find it had become a tree. Some stories continue on to say that this was a sign that Christianity would flourish in England. The trees there were cruelly cut down during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, again under the reign of Cromwell, and once again most recently in 2010. The attack on the tree in 2010 was said to be an anti-christian attack.
The druids have long revered the hawthorn giving it associations with May, Beltane, holy wells, fairies, entrances to the other world, and always with healing.
A hundred years I slept beneath a thorn
Until the tree was root and branches of my thought,
Until the whites petals blossomed in my crown.
From The Traveler by Kathleen Raine
In May, the mayor of rural villages would leave a blooming branch of hawthorn at every house to welcome in the summer. Traditional songs, sung as he went about his deliveries. While in other places it was slightly feared for its association with the fae, it was also the threshold to the underworld; a place fraught with danger for the random mortal whom pays no attention to their location and stumbles into the other world. The original maypoles made of hawthorn, seems at odds with the reverence and fear accorded this tree for its fae dwellers.
One of the tales of Merlin recounts that Vivien was his student, and was continuously pressing for more knowledge though the Merlin said she was not ready. The story goes that after much chasing (by her), much cajoling, and finally the with-holding of her favors she did convince the Merlin to reveal deeper knowledge to her. Once he revealed this knowledge Vivien used it to trap him evermore in a tree, and that tree was supposedly a hawthorn.
Thomas the Rhymer
Another tale of hawthorn involves Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland. Thomas slept beneath a hawthorn and woke to find himself elsewhere. The Queen stood before him with a rhyme about the three roads that lay before him.
“O see ye not that narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path to wickedness, Tho some call it the road to heaven.
And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.”
The tale continues on that Thomas eventually returned but with a curse, or blessing depending on how one sees it. Thomas was ever after unable to lie; to himself or others.
Hope and the Hawthorn
Though it has an often shady reputation, in some areas it has been a symbol of hope. Brides carried hawthorn to the altar in ancient Greece as it was sacred to their God of marriage. Romans saw hawthorn as sacred to their Goddess Cardea, Roman Goddess of childbirth. The Welsh believed that their Goddess Olwen left a track of milky white hawthorn petals in the night sky, later known as the Milky Way.
Hawthorn is an herb of much history and many uses. I love including Hawthorn in many of the teas I create for my family. It supports the circulatory system wonderfully and in I use it most often as a preventative.
Hawthorn jelly is a wonderful way to enjoy the medicine of this tree. Tasty and most will be quite happy to have a spoon of jelly daily and call it healthy!
About 2.5lbs Ripe Hawthorn Berries
5 +/- cups water
Granulated Sugar (see method for quantity required)
Juice of 1 lemon
Wash the hawthorn berries well and remove stalks along with any damaged berries. Transfer the berries to a pan and cover with the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour, or until the berries are soft and have absorbed most of the water. Line a strainer with a muslin cloth and pour the berries and their cooking liquid into this. Allow the liquid to drain naturally into a bowl over night (do not be squeeze the muslin or press with a spoon as this forces out impurities that will make the jelly cloudy). When the berries have finished dripping discard the fruit then measure the volume of liquid you have.
Add the liquid to a pan along with 14oz sugar for every 17 oz of liquid. Heat the mixture gently, add the lemon juice and continue heating until all the sugar has dissolved. As soon as the sugar has dissolved bring the jelly to a rapid boil and continue cooking until the jelly begins to set. Measure for the setting point by placing a plate in the fridge. Spoon a little of the jelly onto the plate and if it forms a skin when you push it with your finger or the back of a spoon, the gelling point has been reached. Allow the jelly to cool, then pour into clean, sterilized jars that have been warmed in the oven. Seal, label and store until needed.