Hawthorn berries have wonderful medicinal properties, and they taste great to boot! These beautiful crimson berries can be used to flavor all sorts of fun desserts.
Have you ever eaten a hawthorn berry? Chances are, you've walked right past a hawthorn tree in your neighborhood or local park without even realizing it's full of edible, medicinal fruits! While these berries are well know in the herbal medicine community as a potent heart medicine, they're not very well known as an edible fruit.
There are many different species of hawthorn trees that provide a variety of colors, sizes, and flavors in their berries (actually called "haws"). For the most part, they look and taste like miniature apples. However, the flavor is quite unique - somewhere between green apple, cranberry, and raspberry. The inner flesh is soft and creamy, like a ripe banana.
I find that their interesting flavor profile and vibrant red hue make them an exceptional ingredient for fall baking recipes. These small fruits are packed with health benefits and can be incorporated into gorgeous desserts as well as herbal remedies. Here, we'll explore the art of harvesting hawthorn berries and the many ways you can use this wild food to make special desserts and beverages.
Harvesting Hawthorn Berries
Hawthorn trees, often found in temperate regions across the globe, produce small berries that ripen in the fall. Harvesting these berries can be very fruitful, provided you follow these tips:
1. Identify the Hawthorn Tree
First, you need to properly identify a hawthorn tree. Hawthorn trees (Crataegus spp.) are recognizable by their distinctive lobed leaves, white or pink blossoms in the spring, and clusters of dark red berries in the late summer and fall. They’re in the rose family and are a close relative of the apple. Both their flowers and their fruits look very similar to those of apple trees. They are often found in hedgerows, woodlands, and even in urban environments (check your local park!).
2. Choose the Right Time
Wait until the berries are fully ripe, usually in late summer or early fall. You can tell they’re ready when they’ve turned a bright, vibrant red and are a little bit squishy. Their inner flesh should be creamy yellow, and darkens and turns brown when they’re past prime.
3. Gather the Berries
Gently pluck the ripe berries from the branches. You can use your fingers or a small rake, but they should pop off the branches pretty easily. Avoid picking berries that are green, overly squishy, or bug-ridden.
4. Use Caution When Harvesting
Be cautious when handling hawthorn trees, as most trees have telltale sharp thorns on their branches. Wearing gloves is advisable to protect your hands.
5. Clean and Store the Berries
After harvesting, clean the berries by removing any stems and leaves and giving them a good rinse. Pick out any berries that are underripe, overripe, or buggy. Then, store them in a cool, dry place or use them immediately.
Culinary Uses of Hawthorn Berries
Hawthorn berries offer a unique, slightly tart flavor that can be used in various creations in the kitchen. Here are some popular ways to enjoy them:
1. Hawthorn Berry Jam: Making hawthorn berry jam is a delicious way to preserve the harvest. The berries' natural pectin content makes them ideal for jam-making. Combine them with sugar and a bit of lemon juice to create a flavorful jam that can be spread between cake layers or added to frostings.
2. Hawthorn Berry Tea: You can dehydrate hawthorn berries and use them to make an antioxidant-rich herbal tea. This tea is known for its potential heart-healthy properties and is a pleasant, caffeine-free alternative to traditional teas (and it’s quite lovely, I might add).
3. Baked Goods: Incorporate hawthorn berries into muffins, scones, or pies for a unique twist on classic recipes. The berries add both flavor and a beautiful red hue to your baked goods. Try using them in place of cranberries in your favorite recipe, or simply extract the juice as described in the recipe card below!
Medicinal Benefits of Hawthorn Berries
Hawthorn berries have been used for centuries in traditional medicine for their potential health benefits. Some of the ways in which they are believed to be beneficial include:
- Heart Health: Hawthorn berries are most well-known for their potential to support heart health. They may help improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart-related conditions.
- Antioxidant Properties: These berries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
- Digestive Aid: Hawthorn berries can be used as a mild digestive aid, helping to alleviate indigestion and bloating. They contain fiber and can act as a prebiotic.
- Stress and Anxiety Relief: Some herbalists use hawthorn as a remedy to reduce stress and anxiety due to its calming properties.
Please note: While hawthorn berries offer numerous health benefits, it's important to exercise caution when using them, especially in medicinal applications. If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medication, consult with a healthcare professional before adding hawthorn berries to your diet or using them for medicinal purposes.
Ready to incorporate this wonderful berry into your desserts? A great way to make use of the berries is by extracting their juice. Use the recipe below to get started. This recipe is more of a technique than an actual recipe, so use whatever amount of berries you’re able to gather. Even if you end up with a small amount of juice, adding a few tablespoons to a frosting recipe will make for an impressive dessert that’s sure to start a conversation.
Most of all, have fun!