12 December 2010 a post by Bruce Stanley

The Hawthorn Tree

Hawthorn trees are one of my favourite trees. As a forager and as someone becoming more attuned to the spirit of individual trees the Hawthorn is very special – a deeply powerful heart medicine as well as a tree integral to the psyche of the British landscape.

haws When I talk about this tree I like to ask what other names people know it as: Mayblossom, Quick, Thorn, Whitethorn, Haw, Hazels, Gazels, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies Meat, a well known one: Bread and Cheese. The flowers are known as Awes, Azzies, Aglest, Arzy-Garzies and Boojuns in different parts of the country. And the fruit, delightfully, as Pixie Pears. There are various cultivars developed for bigger more tasty fruit, it is a genus of 280. It is an incredibly useful tree for starters. You can eat the leaves in spring (that is where Bread and Cheese comes from). You can dry the leaves and the flowers for tea. We like to make Haw Ketchup from the fruit in the Autumn. The wood of the tree is very hard. The Latin name for Hawthorn is Crataegus monogyna, kratos=hard. The wood was used to make handles. And when processed into charcoal it burned so hot it would melt iron. That is partly because the tree is very slow growing. The story of its medicinal properties come from relatively recent times. In 1894 a County Clare Dr died, leaving his secret and successful heart recipe to his daughter. It was a tincture made from the dried fruits, flowers and leaves of the hawthorn. It is used today and in other, perhaps more enlightened health systems, is used as a mainstream remedy for all sorts of heart problems. What of this trees mystical properties? You have to go back to pre enclosure times; when the land was divided into fields – 200,000 of these were planted. Before those times it was a tree growing more in isolation and often as a marker between neighbouring ancient settlements, appearing on Anglo-Saxon charters. In fact, where British places are named after trees, it scores highest at 18%. The alternative name May points towards the trees associations with fertility rituals but there are some superstitions alluding to the flowers. In Wales it is Blodau Marw Mam, literally Flowers Death Mother. Don’t bring them into the house unless you want to do away with your aged P. This might stem from the fact that this canny plant doesn’t produce a sweet scent to attract bees and compete with other flowers, it produces triethylamine which is a stale decaying smell – it is pollinated by carrion insects (I find that amazing). Historically it was also the appropriated by Christianity as Christ’s crown. And in one special place, flowering twice in tune with Christ’s birth and death grows the Glastonbury thorn. Sprigs were cut for the Queen’s Christmas breakfast table. This thorn, legend has it, grew from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea. This is actually a bifloral thorn which can be found in a couple of other places too – thankfully, as there is some history of it being cut down at various times of religious change – or by an idiot. Awen. I pray that we might be able to internalise something of this trees amazing spirit; its resilience, strength and beauty. May your hearts be strengthened and made whole, may your fires burn hot and may you be sustained by creation's bounty.

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Your comments:

Just for you to know about the word order in Welsh and also that there is an alternative Welsh name for Hawthorn too.
Blodau Marw Mam would have a sense closer to Mam’s death-flowers i.e. perhaps nearer in meaning to a feeling of a Mother grieving a loss, and seeing in that loss some sort of blossoming…than of a Dread mother bringing ‘death flowers’ into contact with others.
What I see in it, as a native Welsh speaker and Celtic Christian, is a botanical expression of Mary watching her Son die…wearing a crown of true Kingship. Somehow intuiting that from this death and bloody crown of thorn will blossom up new life for us all.
Also the alternative name for hawthorn is ‘draenen wen’.
Now ‘draenen’ just means a prickle or a thorn. And ‘wen’means ‘white’ but there again Welsh loves to layer meanings in words. And ‘wen’ is an exclusively female form of the colour white and it also holds within it the connotation of holiness or bright splendour.
So..‘hawthorn’ also means ‘holy lady’s prickle’/ ‘white thorn’ / ‘holy or sacred thorn’.

#1. By Non on March 08, 2011

Just for you to know about the word order in Welsh and also that there is an alternative Welsh name for Hawthorn too.zillow

#2. By zaibha on June 04, 2018

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