We are all familiar with Hawthorn, especially in our hedgerows. As well as being fantastic for wildlife, it has many healing properties. We asked Caroline Hearn of Hedgerow Hounds and Hedgerow Horse to tell us more.


Hawthorn, Latin name Crataegus monogyna, goes by many names including Whitethorn, May Tree, Quickset, Bread and Cheese, Bride of the Hedgerow, Fairy Tree, and Hagthorn.

It’s a member of the Rosacea family. The fresh, vibrant green leaves unfurl in Spring, and in late April the tiny white, pearl-like buds will appear. This is followed in May by the most beautiful blossom which makes the hedgerows come alive. The blossom is often joined by Elder flowers shortly after to make a truly spectacular show. 

Hawthorns are hermaphrodite, meaning both female and male reproductive parts are contained within each flower. The flowers are highly scented, have five petals with an upright single stamen in the centre and are white or sometimes pink in colour. 

Midland Hawthorn

There’s another species called Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) also known as Woodland Hawthorn. The leaves are much broader, its flowers have two stamens and the berries (haws) contain two seeds compared to the single seed of C. monogyna. The blossom is far less sweet-smelling than Common Hawthorn and many find its pungent smell quite unpleasant.

Wildlife loves it

Hawthorn can support around 300 species of insects, such as moths and bees, as well as dormice and birds, offering food, pollen, shelter, and protection from predators. The berries offer vitamin C and antioxidants and will attract thrushes, redwings, fieldfares, blue tits, and yellowhammers amongst others.                                                                            

According to the Woodland Trust, Hawthorn is only just beaten into second place by the mighty Oak when it comes to being advantageous for wildlife. 

Hawthorn berries have been used in recipes for centuries and make a delicious hawthorn syrup rich in vitamin C, fruit leather and a warming tipple of Hawthorn brandy. 

Folklore and a gift for the Queen

Hawthorn is steeped in folklore, with tales of fairies inhabiting the hedges and the threat of punishment to anyone that caused it damage. The only time it was considered safe to cut any branches was for medicinal or ritual use such as May day and only after permission was asked from the mythical faerie folk!  

Probably the most famous tale is of the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. Legend tells of Joseph of Arimathea, thrusting his staff into the ground which eventually grew into a hawthorn tree. Its descendants live on in Glastonbury and unusually bloom twice a year, once in May and again in December. To this day, a Hawthorn sprig from St Johns Church is given to the Queen every Christmas. 

Herbal medicine

Herbalists use both the flowering tops and the berries as a restorative for the heart and circulation, helping to regulate the heartbeat and assist in lowering blood pressure. It can be administered by tincture, capsule or taken as a tea. 

If prescribed medication is being taken for high blood pressure or heart disease it is important to consult a qualified herbalist or medical practitioner before starting to take hawthorn as some interactions can occur. 

Phytochemicals found in the berries, flowers and leaves include tannins, flavonoids, phenolic acids, quercetin, and choline. Hawthorn leaf, flowering tops and berries are a useful tonic for the senior animal. 

Self selection – an equine favourite

Most horses love to eat new hawthorn leaves as they appear in the hedgerows around April and May time. The new shoots are soft, and the thorns are yet to harden so they make for easy picking. The berries will often be eaten along with a few blackberries in early Autumn. I have also observed sheep and goats, using fences, or fallen logs in order to reach the new growth, which is very welcome after the sparse winter months. 

Useful links

Blogs about herbal medicine

The Woodland Trust has a lovely time-lapse video of the Hawthorn changing throughout the seasons. 

Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT

Caroline is a Member of IAAT, the International Association of Animal Therapists. She is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. Caroline has a lifelong obsession with dogs, a passion for holistic healthcare and natural nutrition, and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse.

Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs.

Links for more information:

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