Hawthorns are one of the last fruits hanging on trees late into the fall. They mature just barely in time for the first frosts up here in Vermont, and hawthorn berries are one of the last summer fruits to can up before winter snows. Though ‘haws’ grow on trees like apples, they’re actually much more closely related to roses. A homemade hawthorn jelly tastes similar to rose hip jelly, but it has the added benefit of being potent medicine for heart health.
Hawthorn trees are widely planted for their fragrant summer blossoms and showy fall fruits, but they’re also a native wild edible. These are wild foraged hawthorn berries from a tree I found at the edge of our woods. I had originally intended to make a tincture or syrup with them, but that requires significant planning.
A hawthorn tincture is generally made with leaves, flowers, and fruits. The leaves and flowers are harvested in the early spring and steeped in alcohol. The fruits are then harvested late in the fall and cooked into a syrup with honey and water. The strained hawthorn/honey syrup is then preserved with the strained hawthorn flower tincture. That gives you the benefits of the whole plant in a long lasting medicine. Next spring I’ll know better, but for now, these beauties are going right into hawthorn jelly.
As I said, Hawthorn trees are in the rose family, and it’s better to think of these tiny fruits, known as haws, as “hawthorn hips” rather than fruits. Each one contains large seeds wrapped in a fibrous fruit like coating. Haws are acidic and tart, but quite pleasant if you add enough sugar and make them into a cordial, liqueur, syrup or jelly. A syrup made from the fruit is sold as a herbal supplement for heart irregularity and high blood pressure.
Syrup or jelly, the medicinal uses are the same. All you’re doing is changing the mode of delivery. Hawthorn is used for lowering blood pressure, stabilizing irregular heartbeats and strengthening the heart. It’s also used in combination with relaxing herbs to treat stress and anxiety because it dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
Perhaps it’s my constitution or the fact that I love to eat tart fruits like cranberries raw, but I actually really like the taste of fresh hawthorns. My toddler seems to have inherited my taste, and he just wouldn’t stop stealing the Hawthorns to eat every time I turned my back. While I was focusing the camera on the finished hawthorn jelly, he snuck in again to grab yet another hawthorn berry. He’s my tiny foraging buddy, and he helped me harvest these in the first place, so he’s entitled to his share.
Beyond the pure medicinal impacts, hawthorn is prescribed by herbalists for emotional issues related to the heart as well, like grief and heartbreak. I kind of like the idea of drowning my sorrows in a buttery scone topped with hawthorn jelly. Medicinal or not, it seems a bit better than a tub of Ben and Jerries.
Start by putting the hawthorn berries in a pot with just a small amount of water. The berries themselves have a surprising amount of essential oil on their surfaces. Don’t be alarmed if the water looks a tad bit oily at the start. That’s normal, a bit like the natural citrus oils on the outside of a lemon peel. Turn on the heat and allow the haws to simmer until they’ve completely disintegrated. Help them along a bit with a potato masher, and add water as necessary to keep them from burning.
Once the hawthorns have more or less completely disintegrated after about 30 to 40 minutes of simmering and mashing, strain the whole mixture through a jelly strainer. In the past, I’ve always hacked something together with cheesecloth to make a jelly bag, but I finally bit the bullet and bought a jelly strainer and it’s so much easier. Best $10 I’ve spent on canning supplies yet. I make a lot of jams and jellies, and it would have been really convenient for the batch of elderberry jelly I just put up. Beyond jellies, I could have really used it when I was making blackcurrant mead too, boy was that a mess when the cheesecloth slipped and everything came tumbling down…
Most jelly recipes tell you to strain the mixture overnight, but I didn’t find that necessary with hawthorn jelly. After about 10 minutes the pulp was completely drained of juice (and color) and the bright hawthorn juice was waiting in the bowl below to be thickened with sugar on the stove.
At this point, measure the juice. It takes about 1.5 pounds of hawthorn berries to make 1 half pint of hawthorn jelly. That amount of berries should yield roughly 2 cups of juice. For every 2 cups of juice, add 2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Hawthorns have pectin in them naturally, so there’s no need to add any extra.
Put the sweetened hawthorn juice back onto the stove and bring the mixture to a boil again. Boil it hard for about 10 minutes until the mixture reaches thickens and begins to gel. Seasoned canners know what this looks like, but you can test the texture by dropping a tiny bit on a plate that’s been frozen in the freezer. If it gels quickly to the texture you want, then it’s ready.
Pour the hawthorn jelly into canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes or store in the refrigerator for immediate use.
Hawthorn jelly is a tasty way to take your medicine and easy to make at home. All you need is hawthorn berries, sugar and lemon juice. No added pectin required.
- 1.5 to 2 lbs hawthorn berries
- 2-3 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
Simmer the Hawthorns in water for roughly 30 minutes until they've completely disintegrated. Mash them with a potato masher to help the process.
Strain the mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth and measure the juice. For every 2 cups of juice, add 2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. It takes roughly 1.5 to 2 pounds of haws to yield 2 cups of juice.
Return the strained hawthorn juice, sugar and lemon juice to the stove and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes until it reaches gel stage.
Pour the jelly into prepared canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes, or store in the refrigerator for immediate use.
This recipe will work multiplied up to 4x per batch. That means you can make a single batch with as much as 8 pounds of hawthorns. Any more than that and it's safer to make multiple batches. It can be hard to get a jelly to gel properly if the batch size is too large.