Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is eleventh in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…
Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.
Botanical Name: Crataegus monogyna (and other species of Crataegus)
Common Names: thornapple, May tree, whitethorn, hawberry, mayhaw, fairy thorn, quickthorn, Bread and Cheese Tree
History: Native to temperate areas around the world, hawthorn is part of the Rosaceae (Rose) family (you can see the resemblance in the berries, which are similar looking to rosehips). Folklore about Hawthorn abounds, and these are only a few examples: In Ancient Greece, branches decorated altars of Hymenaios (God of marriage), and were carried during wedding processions. It is believed that Jesus’ crown of thorns was made of hawthorn (in parts of France it was claimed that the plant would groan and cry on Good Friday). The Celts thought it could heal a broken heart. Before the calendar was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian system, hawthorn bloomed on 1 May, and May Day/Beltane celebrations included gathering the flowering branches (the only time it was allowed). In Great Britain and Ireland it was believed that uprooting or cutting down a hawthorn brought bad luck (with some attributing the failure of the DeLorean Motor Company to their cutting down a hawthorn in order to build a factory). Hawthorns have strong associations with fairies, and lone trees were thought to be especially powerful and most beloved of the fair folk.
Vampires: Starting in Serbia and spreading throughout the Balkan region, it was believed that only stakes made of hawthorn or ash could kill a vampire. In Bosnia, people would wear hawthorn twigs to funerals, dropping them as they left the cemetery; if the deceased rose as a vampire, they would have to stop to pick up the twigs, allowing the living to return home safely. The thorns were also placed in a recently deceased person’s clothing to “pin” them to the coffin and keep them from rising.
Language of Flowers Meaning: Hope
Cultivation: There’s a hawthorn for almost any hardiness zone, from Zones 4 to 11 according to the USDA, and as far north as Zone 1 (just below the tundra) in Canada. Hawthorn will grow in full sun or part shade. They’ll tolerate most types of soil, although they prefer rich, well-drained soil. They’re also drought tolerant. Growing hawthorn from seed is difficult and time-consuming– it’s easier to transplant a sucker or seedling. It’s possible to graft one type of hawthorn onto the seedling of another type. You can also use hawthorn as rootstock to graft other plants, mainly medlar and pear. Flowers generally bloom from May to June. Hawthorn is used as a hedge plant and as ornamentals– just be mindful of the thorns. Once established, hawthorns need little attention, other than fertilizer in spring, and some water during prolonged dry periods. It is also resistant to road salt and air pollution, making it ideal for urban areas.
Medicinal: The flowers, leaves, and berries of Crataegus laevigata and other species have been used since the first century CE to treat heart disease. Science is starting to back up hawthorn’s use for treating a variety of cardiovascular issues, although more studies need to be done to confirm results and determine things like dosage. The dried fruits of Chinese (C. pinnatifida, shān zhā in Chinese) and Japanese (C. cuneata, called sanzashi in Japanese) hawthorn species are used in traditional medicine as a digestive aid.
Caution: Taking too much hawthorn can cause cardiac arrhythmia and low blood pressure. Some people may also experience headache, a racing heart, and nausea. Do not use if you are taking digoxin. It’s best to be safe and avoid hawthorn if pregnant or breast feeding.
Culinary: The “haws” (berries) can be used to make jam, jelly, sauces, or wine (although since they’re an important winter food for wildlife, you might prefer to leave them on the plants. The young spring leaves and flower buds can also be eaten cooked or raw. In Mexico, the fruit of a local hawthorn species is made into candy called rielitos.
Wildlife: Hawthorn is a source of food and shelter (especially in winter) for birds and mammals, as well as an important source of nectar for insects. It also provides food for the larvae of many butterflies and moths.
Bonsai: Many species of hawthorn can be used for bonsai, including common hawthorn (C. monogyna), Japanese hawthorn (C. cuneata), thornless hawthorn (C. nitida), and ornamental varieties like Crataegus lavigata ‘Paul’s scarlet’.
Other Uses: First Nations people of Western Canada used the thorns as fish hooks and for minor surgeries.
Mara’s Uses: Although Mara would likely use hawthorn in tonics for her clients, its traditional use against vampires might leave her a little reluctant.
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Aspasía S. Bissas