Hawthorn – May Day foraging and nature connection

Happy May Day Everyone!

On cue the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) in the hedgerows here is dripping and heavy with blossom and the scent of blossom seems stronger for the rain. Hawthorn, our May tree is steeped in symbolism and embedded in folk law and our Celtic history; it is the tree that traditionally flowers on May Day or the Gaelic Beltane.

Hawthorn has strong associations with the heart. According to Robin Harford in his fabulous blog, Eat Weeds, “…hawthorn has been described as “nutrition for the heart” being widely recommended in herbal medicine for heart complaints..” In folk lore it is a symbol of love and fertility and celebrated during May Day festivities with the marriage of ‘Lady Spring’ with the Green Man. This union is a symbol of man’s reliance on and union with nature (The Children’s Forest); apt I feel at this time. The May pole was traditionally made of hawthorn as was the May Queen’s crown.

As a tree it is most often found in hedgerows, woodland or scrub and can grow to the lofty height of 15m. It’s highly perfumed flowers are monoecious having both male and female parts; once pollinated develop into ‘haws’ small bright red berries. Hawthorn is a rich food plant for 300 insects, caterpillar food plant for many moths; the haws food for migrating and native bird species. (Woodland Trust)

For us humans, leaves, buds, flowers and later haws are all edible too.

With so much change afoot and re-shifting of priorities we are re-evaluating what really matters to us as individuals and how we relate to each other and Nature, May Day is an invitation to create our own festivities/write our own meanings as we cross that half way point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice; create, notice or mark personal or family traditions.

Here are some lovely Hawthorn related ideas for moving into the month of May.

As with all foraging ensure you have absolutely the right plant before tasting. Look for thorns and distinctive leaves… and now blossom!

  • Bread and cheese – the young leaves are called bread and the flowers the cheese, according to where you heard this and the oral tradition some say it applies just to the leaves but both are edible. This should be listed as a necessary childhood activity; and the carrying on of an old tradition.
  • Create a May crown. Harvest the blossom to weave into a crown made of goose-grass or a young hazel shoot. Tuck a sprig behind your ear!
  • Ribbons and rags – profer gifts to the faeries and tree spirits that inhabit the trees above and below ground or tie on ribbons to your nearest tree as an acknowledgement of gratitude.
  • Hawthorn syrup – we have been busy at home today making a cordial base from infusing flowers with a honey based syrup. See below for ‘how to do’
  • Add leaves to salads.
  • Blossom tea – remove flowers from woody stalks and infuse a generous handful for a fragrant tisane

Hawthorn Flower Syrup

We took our inspiration from the recipe in the amazing Children’s Forest book. Adjust proportions as you feel necessary.


  • a large bowl of hawthorn flowers, woody stems removed
  • 1-2 cups of honey/ sugar combo
  • saucepan
  • sieve

Mix sugar and water in pan and bring to the boil .

Remove from heat and add flowers.

Return to heat and simmer for a while until flavours infused and solution has thickened some more.

Remove from heat and strain into pre-prepped jam jars /bottles

Store in the fridge

Serve with sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon.

Note of caution, this plant may not be suitable for pregnant or breast feeding women to consume.

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