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In awe of the Hipperty-Haw: The many benefits of the Hawthorn tree (including a recipe for Hawthorn Ketchup)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Image of a hawthorn tree

I write this in the very merry month of May, a most apt time to celebrate the beautiful Hawthorn, aka May Tree, as the delicate but plentiful pale-pink blossoms burst forth around now.

It’s always a welcome sight, seeing those first green leaves peek out in Spring and takes me back to primary school where I spent many a lunchtime looking for ladybirds in the Hawthorn hedge around the playground.

Most of us will be familiar with the humble Hawthorn, whether it’s comfortably knitted into the hedgerows or standing proud in the open countryside, twisted, gnarled and beautifully sculpted by the prevailing winds.

So easy and quick-growing too, it is also known as Quickthorn, and was the choice plant for the massive hedge-planting scheme during the enclosures period in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Being so embedded and familiar to locals, it led to a brilliant collection of around 28 other regional nicknames including,

  • Haga-thorn (Haga = hedge)

  • Aglet-tree

  • Azzy-tree

  • Hag-bush

  • Hag-tree

  • Haw-bush

  • Heg-peg bush

  • Holy innocents

  • Mahaw

  • Moon-flower

  • Peggal-bush

  • Scrog(-bush)

  • Whitethorn

  • Thornapple

  • Pixie Pears

  • Sometimes it’s even just referred to as “May.”

  • and my favourite, the Hipperty-Haw Tree as they used to say in Shropshire.

Wildlife Value

Image of Hawthorn flowers

The Hawthorn has a well-deserved place in many a Nature Garden, supporting at least 300 different species of insect. It is a fantastic leaf source for the herbivores in our gardens, including caterpillars of moths such as the Hawthorn, Light Emerald, Orchard Ermine, Lackey, Vapourer, Lappet, Rhomboid Tortrix and Small Eggar.

Hawthorn’s ability to support so many caterpillars means that there is abundant food for birds such as Blue Tits, who need to source around 1000 caterpillars a day for a nest of chicks. No caterpillars, no chicks. Everything is connected.

And the dense, thorny structure of Hawthorn makes it a popular nesting site for many birds, such as blackbirds, thrushes, and bullfinches, providing excellent protection from predators.

When the flowers appear in May, they bustle with visitors including hoverflies and other flies, tiny beetles, honeybees and solitary bees. Analysis from the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme showed a total of 952 insects counted on Hawthorn, during 133 FIT Counts (flower insect timed counts), so mighty is the May Tree.

The flowers are also good food for Dormice, who will be especially happy if there is some Honeysuckle growing through the hedge or tree, as they like to eat those sweet, nectar-rich flowers too.

Once pollinated, the flowers develop into delicious, nutritious fruits (haws) which are so good for migrating birds like Redwings, Fieldfares and Thrushes, keeping them well-fed and in tip-top condition. The haws are also an important food source for many small mammals, including wood mice and dormice.

How to grow

Hawthorns are really unfussy and hardy, so grow well in most gardens.  They like moist, well-draining soil and flower and fruit best in full sun.

An incredible edible

The Hawthorn is a very giving tree. It’s fresh, bright leaves are supple and tasty in the Spring, and make a great addition to salads and sandwiches. Known to many as ‘bread and cheese’ these leaves, along with many other wild plants such as mallow, sorrel and silverweed, also known by the same name, made for tasty foraging (although none tasted like bread and cheese!).

Then, there are the crimson-red fruits or haws, going by such names as bird’s cherries, bird’s meat, eggle-berry and wind-bibber. These haws are bursting with all sorts of beneficial chemicals. Scientific studies have shown that hawthorn leaves and fruits have huge potential for human nutrition and medicine, showing beneficial effects in preventing cardiovascular disease and boosting heart health. They’re also good for insomnia, seasonal mood swings and nervous system disorders.

Packed with antioxidants, Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C as well as 17 amino acids, hawthorn fruits are well worth harvesting (just remember to leave some for the wild visitors!).

Hawthorn Berry Ketchup recipe

This tasty ketchup is a lovely, tangy alternative that is easy to make at home.  Try it on burgers, with nut roasts or in stews. Delicious!


·       500g of hawthorn berry

·       300ml of cider vinegar

·       300ml of water

·       170g of sugar

·       1/2 tsp salt

·       ½ tsp ground ginger

·       ½ tsp nutmeg

·       Pinch ground wood avens root (or cloves)

·       Pinch ground allspice

·       Pinch pepper


1.       Harvest ripe berries around October - November time.

2.       Separate the haws from the stalks (bit fiddly!) and rinse in cold water.

3.       Add to a large pan with the water and the vinegar (a stainless-steel pan is better for acidic food) and bring to the boil.

4.       Simmer for around 30 minutes, by which time the skins should start to burst.

5.       Remove from the heat and pour through a sieve to separate the stones and bits of tough skin and push the fruit pulp through the sieve with a wooden spoon to help get as much pulp from the fruits. 

6.       Put the liquid into a clean pan with the sugar, seasoning and spices and cook gently, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.

7.       Once dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the liquid thickens.

8.       Pour carefully into sterilised bottles.  Store for a month or two before using to allow the flavours to develop. Once opened, keep your hawthorn ketchup in the fridge and use within 6 months.


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