I'm a little bit late writing about the Celtic Tree Month of Hawthorn as this past week our little family has been struck down by the flu. This has been quite hard on us, as the winter months seem to have dragged along, exhausting us both physically and emotionally and we are more than ready for the return of blue skies, warm days, and the end of seasonal bugs!
I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here in the UK Spring seems to be taking its sweet time to arrive, with just the odd warm and sunny day here and there followed by a return of cold, wet, and windy days! It was my birthday at the end of April and usually it's a safe bet that the weather will have turned by the time my birthday arrives - not so this year and it seems to have thrown me quite significantly.
So it seems quite exciting, to me at least, that we are moving into yet another Celtic Tree Month as that signals the passing of time and the fact that the seasons do change, even when it feels like we've been stuck in one for a little bit longer than we're used to. So, without further ado, what does this month bring us?
As I say, I'm a few days late in posting this, as the month of Hawthorn begins on May 13th and lasts right through until June 9th, by which stage I really do hope we'll be well and truly on our way to the blue skies of summer.
Whenever I think of the Hawthorn I am reminded of long, gentle walks in nature, spotting the blossoms on the trees and along the hedgerows. It seems that once you learn to recognise Hawthorn you will find that you see it everywhere - it is such a classic sight in the British Countryside.
As mentioned above, Hawthorn grows prolifically along hedgerows. This is unsurprising when you take into account that it is a fast-growing tree with a long life-span (up to 400 years in the right conditions) that can be cut and encouraged to form an impenetrable barrier along boundaries. Indeed, between 1750 and 1850 it is estimated that around 200,000 miles of hedges were planted in Britain, the majority of which were Hawthorn.
The wood itself is hard, tough, and fine-grained making it ideal for cabinet making and veneers.
The leaves and flowers of the Hawthorn can be picked and eaten straight from the tree, a practise which has given them the name of "bread and cheese". They can make a great addition to a salad or be dried to create a herbal tea.
The berries are bright red and known as "haws". When gathered in the Autumn before the leaves fall, they can be dried and kept for use whenever needed or made into wine. They can also be used to make "Haw Brandy", a delicious alternative to Sloe Gin.
Hawthorn is a respected herbal remedy for heart disorders, which has been found to have a positive effect on both the heart and circulation within a very short period of time. It has traditionally been used to counteract fainting caused by low blood pressure and as a daily tonic for the elderly.
Folklore and Legend
There are so many stories and traditions associated with the Hawthorn it is hard to know where to begin. Most are connected in some way to the abundant flowers that blossom in May, intrinsically linking it with the Spring festivals of Beltane and May Day. In fact the Maythorn used to blossom around May 1st until the calendar changes in 1752 which means that it now tends to bloom later in the month of May.
The white blossoms were seen as a symbol of purity and have played a part in Spring celebrations, fertility rites and marriages for millennia. Pagan Spring rites that re-enacted the coming together of the God and Goddess were replaced over time by more Christian May Day celebrations, but the Hawthorn continued to have a place in these celebrations.
One of my favourite folklore connections is that between the Hawthorn and the White Goddess. There is a legend that the Welsh Goddess, Olwen, once walked the empty universe leaving a trail of which Hawthorn petals behind her which became the Milky Way - isn't that a beautiful image?
I cannot write about all these legends without also mentioning the famous Glastonbury Thorn. The story behind this is that Joseph of Arimathea travelled to Britain from Jerusalem shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus and that where he placed his staff on the ground a holy thorn grew. The (written) stories of this appear sometime around the 16th Century and seem to continue the theme of the Hawthorn and purity in a more Christian context.
Glastonbury is one of my absolute favourite places to visit, because the energy there is so incredible. It is a hive of activity for people from all walks of life and many different faiths, and I love the interplay of it all - no matter what path you tread, there is something in Glastonbury for you! One of the things I have also noticed is that there are many thorn trees dotted all around Glastonbury, a clear sign that it is still seen as a very special tree, no matter what your connection to it is.
Finally, I mustn't forget to mention that as Hawthorns tended to mark boundaries, the trees were often considered to act as gateways to Sacred Spaces (such as meeting places of the Druids) as well as entrances to magical worlds such as the land of the Faeries. It was said that if you sat beneath a Hawthorn on Beltane Eve or any time between then and Midsummer, you risked enchantment.
Where and How to Find Hawthorn
As mention above you can find Hawthorn all over the place, especially in hedgerows and woodlands. The bark is a greyish-brown, usually fissured and knotty and the twigs are covered in thorns (hence the name!) The leaves are relatively small with toothed lobes and the blossoms are white and occasionally pink, and they grow in clusters.
For more information about the Hawthorn, where to find it and how to spot it, check out the Woodland Trust.
Want to know more?
To find out more about the folklore and legends connected to Willow, check out The Goddess Tree.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links have been used in this post in order to help fund the development and growth of Spirit Kid Network.