The Hawthorn tree (Crataegus spp) is actually a member of the rose family. This is a diverse family which includes many of our everyday fruits such as apples, plums, cherries and strawberries. Hawthorn is also known as the May tree as it flowers this month, although it is quite late to come into flower here this year. It is thought that the old song “here we go gathering nuts in May” did not relate to nuts at all as these don’t of course grow in May, but rather to “knots” of May tree blossoms gathered for traditional May Day celebrations.
The tree is regarded as possessing magical properties in Gaelic folklore where it stands as a gate to the “otherworld”, and is strongly associated with fairies. A lot of superstitions are attached to it and my grandmother would not allow the blossoming branches to be brought into the house as she feared it would bring bad luck!
It is sometimes known as the Bread and Cheese Tree because the flavour of the flower buds combined with the young leaves tastes somewhat reminiscent of this. In Herbal medicine we use Hawthorn to regulate blood pressure and lower harmful cholesterol levels. It has been demonstrated to increase the strength of heart contractions and I like to prescribe it for the elderly and those who have mild hypertension or palpitations. You can make up a mix of the flowers and leaves and infuse in boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain and drink one to two cups per day.