Hawthorn: Tree of the Heart by Jo Dunbar

Observe these trees – they are all quite rugged in appearance, with both thorns and beautiful delicate flowers, and they are able to withstand harsh environments.

The ancient fire ceremony of Beltane is one of the most joyous Celtic festivals of the year.  This is the fertility festival, celebrating the union of the God and Goddess.  At this time of the year, the flowers are showing off their colours, flirting with the bees who fertilise them and bring the abundance of honey and fruit to the land.  The Earth is drunk on love, and love brings new life.

Within the hedgerows, Hawthorn dominates the merry month of May, and when we look at the stories and medical uses, we see that this tree is clearly a tree of the heart and love.

The Celtic celebration of Beltane falls around the 1st of May, as does the blossoming of hawthorn – hence its name “May”. Beltane is a celebration of the fertility of the land and in older days, involved a fertility rite where the “bride” was festooned in May blossom. On the morning of Beltane eve, the young people of the village would go ‘a-Maying’ to gather bowers of creamy-pink May blossom with which to adorn the May Queen. Couples would sneak off behind the hedges, and a new crop of villagers were conceived that day – they were known as Merry-begots. 

So we see hawthorn associated with the physical sharing of love.

As a medical herbalist, I use hawthorn to reduce blood pressure because it dilates the coronary vessels.  By delivering extra nutrients to the cardiac muscle, Hawthorn supports the old and tired heart, giving it the necessary strength to continue its work for the last few years of life.  Hawthorn berries and leaves are rich bioflavonoids, which strengthen and protect the cardiac blood vessel walls themselves, thus protecting against blood clots and stroke. 

Here we see Hawthorn as a tree of the physical heart. 

Traditionally, medical herbalists tend to use the berries and leaves for the physical heart, and the flowers and leaves for the emotional heart. Many are the times when a kindly mother has asked me if I have anything for her heartbroken daughter who has just experienced her first break-up with a boy. I usually make a bottle of herbs with hawthorn flowers, rose petals and vervain (vervain, we say, is as comforting as a mothers hug).

Now the Hawthorn tree is associated with the emotional heart and love.

Hawthorn also represents the spiritual heart, and is strongly associated with Glastonbury Abbey and the Christian faith. Jesus brought the message of unconditional love, forgiveness and inclusiveness into our world.  He had a wealthy uncle called Joseph of Arimathea who made his money by trading tin from Cornwall, and it is said that he knew Glastonbury well.  The legend goes on to say that after the crucifixion, Joseph and a small group fled to Britain where they disembarked on the island of Glastonbury (the sea level was higher 2000 years ago). The exhausted group walked up Wearyall Hill and as Joseph struck his staff into the soil, it miraculously sprouted leaves, growing into the tree which became known as The Holy Thorn.  A scion of which is now a very old tree, protected within the walls of Glastonbury Abbey.  I have checked, and it does flower both in May and December, as the Mediterranean Crataegus species do, and I am told that a sprig of the blossom is sent to the Queen’s table each Christmas.

Legend says that Jesus himself came to England with his uncle several times between the ages of 12 and 30 where it has been suggested that he learned from the British Druids.  Whilst in Glastonbury he built a tiny wattle church, dedicating it to his mother and so, after Rome, Britain is known as the holiest land in Christendom.  The Glastonbury Abbey stands on the site of that first church, and William Blake’s much loved hymn, “Jerusalem” honours that legend.

‘And did those feet in ancient time,

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?’

We can work with the spirit of this tree to manifest a beautiful world by following our hearts passion.  We live within a metaphorical cauldron of possibilities, and we can use our thoughts to select which of those possibilities we wish to manifest.  But it is the passion of our hearts that fuels the drive to make it happen. 

If we align our holistic organism to that of the Hawthorn tree, we can imagine that our branches (the upper three chakras), like leaves capturing the sunshine, are able to capture inspirations and ideas.  Our lower 3 chakras are centres of emotion, creativity and our foundations.  These are our roots which seek the nourishment and groundedness to turn possibilities into realities.

The three upper and lower chakras meet in the middle, at the heart chakra – the trunk of the tree, which conducts the water and nutrients to every leaf and rootlet of the tree.  The heart represents our desire to create.  It is the love and passion of our heart which drives us to walk our own unique path and to create and manifest something beautiful for the world. 

Observe these trees – they are all quite rugged in appearance, with both thorns and beautiful delicate flowers, and they are able to withstand harsh environments. Like real love, which is not all petals and perfume – the tree endures. Hawthorn is a beautiful tree of the heart and love.


Jo has been practising as a medical herbalist since 1999. It was through the growing and collecting of herbs that she developed her relationship with hedgerow plants. This love of nature led her also to follow the Druidic path, which deepened her relationship with the cycles of nature and the magic of the natural world.  She is the winner of the Local Legend 2016 spiritual writing competition. 

This article expands on sections of Jo’s book Spirit of the Hedgerow. Available for purchase through Cygnus Books.

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