Celebrating May with Mayflower

Hawthorn for the Heart

The hawthorn tree is most notably known for its associations and actions on the heart. A member of the Rosaceae family (the same family as roses), hawthorns are symbols of new beginnings, hope and protection, encompassing a rich folklore alongside medicinal uses of these heart-healing plants.

Although this journal entry is generally on hawthorn, May is when we find this sacred tree in full blossom, with its strongly scented Mayflowers emerging out of a cold winter. Learn about the folklore and medicinal uses of Mayflowers and the whole of the hawthorn tree.

Mayflower Folklore

Common names: Maytree, Maythorn, Hagthorn, Moonflower, Maybush, Holy Innocents, Whitethorn, Birds Meat, Pixie Pears, Cat-Haws and Hogailes (among many other names).

Mayflower is a symbol of hope, fertility/new beginnings, and boundaries/protection. Its flowers emerge at the beginning of Spring, coming in full blossom towards the start of May, hence the name Maythflower. It is said that Christ's Crown of Thorns was made from hawthorns, there is also an association of the Virgin Mary with the month of May and Mayblossoms.

The Hawthorn tree itself is known as a gateway tree from the earthly realm to the world of Fae. This is one of the first things I read about hawthorn at the very beginning of my herbalist journey. Looking back now, I can't describe the magic of hawthorn better, it truly played a role in bringing me from 'one world to the other.'

While the hawthorn tree welcomes in love, its thorns place boundaries against predators, sheltering small birds and various wild animals (and fairies, perhaps?). This renders hawthorn a tree of protection, a safe haven for those who are vulnerable. According to Roman Mythology, Hawthorn is represented by Cardea, the Goddess of the door hinge, protecting the home and family from evil spirits. According to one legend, Cardea is interlinked with another Goddess, Carna, whose name has its roots in the latin word carna, meaning flesh and meat, as in "carnal" or "carnivore" in English. She is known as the guardian of the heart and the body's vital organs. Here, hawthorn teaches us what it means to welcome and open our hearts, while also affirming our boundaries in order to protect our energetic spaces.

In spite of the positive symbolism of hawthorn, there is a particular taboo that guides against bringing the blossoms indoors. In the Medieval period people referred the flower’s scent to that of the Black Plague. According to recent studies, it turns out that hawthorn blossoms contain a chemical trimethylamine, which is one of the first components formed in decaying animal flesh. Here we see another form of duality expressed through hawthorn's story- while being a symbol of fertility, it smells of death, and let's be honest, it doesn't taste too good, does it? Yet there is something about hawthorn that opens our hearts to receiving, along with all the shadows beneath. Ultimately, this is what plant medicine is all about. It is not always beautiful or serene, it involves confrontation, teaches us to open and heal by navigating through the shadows.

The Holy Thorn of Glastonbury

Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea fled from Palestine to Glastonbury with his 12 companions. As they made way to the top of Wearyall Hill (‘we are weary all’), he pierced his thorn staff into the ground while he rested. It then rooted into the Earth, the next day growing into what we know of the holy thorn tree of Glastonbury. The tree unusually flowers twice a year, once in Spring, around Easter, and another time in Christmas. The same time the trees flower in Palestine. 

In the 17th century, Puritan Christians wanted to rid the land of what they deemed a ‘superstitious’ tree. However the cuttings left gave way to the hawthorn hedges across the abbey grounds of Glastonbury, another story says that some locals secretly saved the cuttings and planted them over the years. This demonstrates the resilience of this tree, despite the puritans' attempt to destroy it.

Medicinal Uses

Botanical name: Crataegus spp.

Attributes: nervine, cardiotonic, cardioprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, diuretic, antispasmodic and hypotensive (Cloud et al., 2019; Dehghani et al., 2019) (Levy, 1997).

  • Hawthorn has been used as a food and medicine for centuries. Dioscorides first mentioned hawthorn for the cardiovascular system (Petrovska, 2012), it is best known for its ability to strengthen cardiac function by tonifying the heart, blood pressure and relieving circulatory imbalances (Hoffman, 2003).
  • Its antispasmodic and nervine actions make hawthorn suitable for anxiety and nervous tension.
  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hawthorn is used to promote digestion and blood circulation by tonifying the spleen (Wu, Min et al., 2020).
  • In The Complete Herbal, Culpeper prescribes the seeds to be beaten and drank in wine for the treatment of dropsy and stone.
  • A poultice of the pulped fruits and leaves has strong drawing properties, which can be used for treating splinters and thorns poked into the skin (Levy, 1997).

Recipes To Explore

1. Collect leaves and flowers, dry and store for future use in the form of tea or for your medicinal preparations.

2. Brew an infusion of your favourite heart healing herbs, a combination I really love is rose, hawthorn and motherwort. It is protective, nourishing and comforting for when you're feeling low and in need of a good hug in a mug.

3. Tincture (See below for recipe)

4. Mayflower vinegar: infuse mayflowers in organic apple cider vinegar and honey, alongside additional herbs to make an oxymel.

5. Top salads with hawthorn flowers, fruits and leaves.

Safety Precautions

Hawthorns are generally considered safe for use.

There are no known contraindications for pregnancy (Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone., 2000), however always consult a professional health practitioner for advice.

We'd love to hear from you

What is your connection with the hawthorn tree? How did you first get to know hawthorn? Do you have any traditional uses of this plant? Feel free to share in the comments!




Linda Griffin

Thank you for sharing the information I have a very dear aunt that is turning 88 this year this month in May and she loves my flowers. I would love to be able to know where to get some and where to get a tree to plant in her yard.

Luchele Mendes

Lovely post! Do you know if that Hawthorn tree’s cuttings preserved after the Christian Puritan inquest – still flowers on Christmas Day today? Xx

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