“May, queen of blossoms, and fulfilling flowers,
With what pretty music
Shall we charm the hours? Wilt thou have pipe and reed,
Blown in the open mead?
Or to the lute give heed, in the green bowers.”
— Lord Edward Thurlow
May is the time of year the fields and the forests are ablaze with the glistening snow-white blossoms of the hawthorn – so it’s no wonder that for hundreds of years the collecting of its blooms was known as ‘going a-maying”. Lords and ladies, as well as the common folk, all gathered its branches to adorn their halls and homes.
In Celtic lore the hawthorn is called the “Queen of the May” and it’s blooming marks the time when the fairies would come forth from the glens and hilltops in grand procession headed by the Fairy Queen. Folkore warns that if you sit beneath a hawthorn tree on May Eve, you will hear the sound of the Fairy Queen horse’s bells as she rides by. If you hide your face, she will pass you but if you look at her, she may choose to take you away with her – forever.
Solitary hawthorns growing near wells or at path’s crossroads were known as fairy trysting places – so one had to be very careful – touching its branches could also whisk one away to the realm of the Fay. But despite the risks, these tree’s could offer a powerful magic to those brave or foolhardy enough to ask for blessings from the fairy folk.
Since ancient time across the British Isles, candles were lit at dusk on May Day and ribbons tied to its branches to ask for luck and blessings. Even today you’ll find “wishing trees” covered in colorful strips of fabric (red or pink for love, blue for protection, green for wealth and violet for spiritual insight) asking for the fulfillment of prayers or wishes.
Long a herbal remedy for all things connected to the heart, hawthorn blossoms have been shown in countless medical studies to protect against heart disease, rejuvenate damaged arterial cells, increase coronary blood flow, improve circulation and lower blood pressure.
The young spring leaves of the hawthorn are also medicinal, as well as being tender and gentle in flavor. They can be added to salads, or cooked as greens. In Germany, the leaves are dried and made into a tea. In England, the buds are used to make a suet pudding. A pie crust is rolled out long and thin, then dotted with the buds and thin strips of bacon before being rolled up, sealed and steamed for an hour or two.
But best of all the blossoms can made into a sweet, delicately flavored cordial syrup to be mixed with bubbly water for a refreshing spring drink. With a light, almost baby powder-like aroma and soft vanilla undertones, its taste reflects the ethereal quality of its blooms. And it makes a fine traditional toast to May Day and the Fairy Queen!
How To Make An Enchanting Hawthorn Cordial:
- Take 5 cups of flowers (snip off the green stems) and put them in bowl.
- Dissolve 2 cups of sugar in 2 cups of water over a low heat and then increase the heat and boil for three minutes.
- Pour this over the flowers, give it a good stir and then return to the saucepan.
- Bring back to the boil and then take off the heat and add the juice of a large lemon or lime.
- Let your concoction cool and then pour it through a sieve or cheesecloth into a sterilized bottle.
- This will keep couple of weeks in the fridge. Dilute it with water, soda water — or booze!