The world was cold, quiet, and beautiful this morning until the birds started their joyous salutations on my walk with Scooch. She is heavily pregnant now, this most loving of house squatters, so our stroll was at a much slower pace than usual.
After spending some time appreciating the beauty of the hawthorn, then some coffee back at the house, I felt moved to write a haiku:
The dawn bleeds new light
Hawthorn our breezy heart balm
This lifeforce ablaze.
There is an abundance of hawthorn flowers in the hedgerows right now. How is is that this small hardwood tree holds such a special place in Irish folklore? Here I will offer you a few brief reasons.
The hawthorn is a protective plant that farmers use in fences because the prickly thorns are helpful for keeping livestock in a field.
Long before we had agriculture in our world sloths, deer, and other animals were nibbling hawthorn berries. That is why the tree evolved and developed thorns to protect itself.
Tough and tender
I love how hawthorn flowers are so delicate, yet they come from a hardy mother that can thrive in bare mountain soil as well as damp, limey conditions. [i] It might be small but the sceach* is also very strong, and it can live for over 400 years. Hawthorn has an abundance of foliage which makes it can offer a lovely space for birds to build their nests in safety.
Spirit world and superstition
Fairies in Ireland (aka’the little folk’) are descendants of the Tuatha de Dannan, an ancient race of supernatural deities. It is believed that they live around, and protect, the hawthorn. Many people won’t dare to chop one of the trees down for this reason, even if land is being cleared to create a road or a dwelling.
Hawthorns are also beloved as rag trees, which is a similar concept to prayer flags of the East. At holy wells the sacred ritual of tying a piece of ribbon or string to the hawthorn, or leaving an offering, is an attempt to ease worries and to seek healing.
The stench of death!
There is taboo around bringing hawthorn flowers into the house in England. In Medieval times people in the UK found the smell of hawthorn blossom to be similar to the smell of the Great Plague in London!
Later, botanists discovered the reason. A chemical called trimethylamine, found in the hawthorn blossom, also forms in decaying animal tissue. Corpses used to be left in a house for several days before burial, so people would have been very familiar with the smell of death.^ It is not surprising that hawthorn blossom was so unwelcome in the house!
Clinical trials and the experiences of professionally qualified medical herbalists indicate that hawthorn causes very little side effects and shows potential for use in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, especially in the early stages.[i] Thorn medicine is used for emotional balance and restoration.
The impact that it hawthorn has on us physically is fascinating. It slows down the heart and yet make each beat stronger, which is why it is used for lowering blood pressure. Hawthorn also boosts bloodflow.
Care needs to be taken, as taking plant medicine at random can be dangerous. Experienced, qualified herbalists are listed on the Irish institute of medical herbalists website and similar organisations in other countries.
That’s all from me for now. Feel free to leave a comment below or to share this post.
[i] Tassel et al (2010), ‘Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease’, Pharmacognosy Review.
[ii] Rick M Carr/Witcherman (2014) https://oghamdivination.wordpress.com/
*’Sceach‘ pronounced ‘skee-ak’ the Irish word for hawthorn.
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