Hawthorn’s existence has long been intertwined with folklore. In Celtic mythology, hawthorns were believed to be homes to the faeries, or Wee People. To cut down a hawthorn was to invoke the wrath of the faeries. Hawthorns were also connected with the dead. People living in Medieval times believed that hawthorns smelled like the Great Plague of London. Scientists have found that the chemical trimethylamine present within the hawthorns is also found in decaying animal tissue. Oddly enough, the smell hasn’t deterred anyone from planting them. In fact, a sprig from the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury, supposedly sprouting from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, is sent to the Queen of England every Christmas. The Latin name Crataegus means “strong goats” in Greek, alluding to the practice that Greek farmers did by feeding their goats hawthorn berries. The word “hawthorn” comes from the German “Hagedorn” meaning hedge thorn, as hawthorns are often used as hedges in landscaping. The Denver Botanical Gardens received its first specimen in the herbaria on May 14, 1996. The pictured hawthorn is Crataegus Ambiguata, or Russian Hawthorn. However, it is Crataegus Monogyna that is one used for medicinal purposes.
Hawthorn’s main uses are as an antispasmodic (working against muscle spasms, especially of the heart), cardiac (promotes heart health), diuretic (something that increases the passing of urine), and vasodilator (widens blood vessels). The fruits and leaves are parts used, and both work on promoting heart health and blood circulation. Hawthorn has been known to fight heart weakness, spasms, and murmurs. It also helps in balancing blood pressure and can be a sedative on the nervous system. For this reason, it is also known as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) plant. The bark of hawthorn has astringent (drying oily skin) properties which helps in treating malaria or other fevers. The fruit is mainly used in jams, though a powdered version can be used in breadmaking. The young shoots are known for their nutty flavor and are a tasty addition to any salad.