(Crataegus sp. – Family Rosaceae)
Hawthorn, Red/Black hawthorn, Red/Black haw, Red/Black thornberry, may, whitehorn
Haw is an Old English word which can mean both the hedge and the berry. It is one of the best known thorny trees of the Rose family.
The haws and hawthorns of North America have hundreds of species in this particular genus, presenting a formidable task to the botanist. Some of these were thought to produce better fruits than the European varieties.
One author from 1634 likened their size and flavour to the English cherry. Species of the genus also grow throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.
The common hawthorn (C. oxyacantha and C. monogyna) has small, sour, red berries and is used mainly as a famine food, although, some use it for jelly. The flowers, when open, have a strong almond scent and are often eaten by children who call them “bread and cheese”. They were also a popular item in medieval cookery in England.
The species with the best berries is the azarole (C. azarolus). The fruit is usually yellow, although there are some dark red varieties. Native to southern Europe, the azarole is grown in more northerly climates as an ornamental. Like the rosehip, it can be made into jams and preserves.
They are sometimes called Naples medlar, but are not related to the true medlar.
The Chinese thornapple (C. pentagyna) is another similar fruit used since ancient times and cultivated in China. The fruits are eaten stewed, candied, in sweetmeats, and in jelly. Care must be taken in gathering these clusters of berries as the tree lives up to its name with its many thorns.
Hawthorn berries are especially good for the heart, strengthening and regulating the beat as well as overcoming congestive heart failure and chest pain.