Sunday, January 5, 2014

All About Hawthorne: with Hawthorne Berry Chutney recipe

Properties of hawthorne

Hawthorne berries are gentle enough to be considered food, but they are also a very wonderful herbal medicine. Hawthorne is most famous for its toning properties on the heart. It contains large amounts of flavonoids (anti-oxidants), which are really great for anyone. The magazine I have open in my lap right now (Mother Earth News' "Guide to Healing Herbs") cites a study from the University of Chicago that says Hawthorne "significantly reduces blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels." It has performed well in many medical trials, which gives some people peace of mind.

Hawthorn leaf, flowers and berries are commonly prescribed for a variety of heart complaints. There's all sorts of ways to take it, including extracts if you prefer that sort of thing. If you suffer from a serious heart condition, or are taking heart medications, make sure to research and ask your doctor before you get on the hawthorn bandwagon.

As with most plants, the different parts of the hawthorn tree have different actions and different strengths. A more powerful medicine is made from the flowers and emerging spring leaves, which is great for people with actual heart conditions, or who are at serious risk. However, the berries are for everyone anytime, and can act as a wonderful preventative for heart disease, and allergies. Some different ways I prepare hawthorn berries are: as a fruit leather, in a cordial (a sweet alcoholic apertif), as a jam or chutney, and as a syrup.

Finding and harvesting hawthorne berries:

For some who have never harvested plants from the wild, finding and harvesting hawthorn berries may sound totally daunting and ridiculous. However, they are ubiquitous in temperate regions all over the world, and pretty darn easy to identify.

The fall berries are red, and the tree is thorny. The flowers have 5 white to pink petals. The berries have an indent on the bottom surrounded by a five pointed star, which are remnants of the flower. One final identifying characterisitc of the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), is that each berry will have just one seed. The common hawthorn is the one usually found growing in fields, parks or hedgerows. The picture below is common hawthorn, which is sadly considered "invasive".

The ideal time to harvest the berries is from October to mid-December. Berries should be dark red and juicy. When harvested later in the winter, the berries can develop a black film on the outside. This does not mean they are inedible, only that they need to be washed and scrubbed thoroughly. Always check the inside of the berries for bugs and rot by pulling a few apart with your fingers before harvesting. The flesh should ideally be white-orangish, and soft. This usually occurs when the weather turns cold, or after the first frost. I often harvest from local parks, such as Magnuson Park in Seattle, which is absolutely teeming with hawthorn berries in October and November. I usually harvest as many berries as I can stand to, and freeze what I don't use.

If you're someone who'd rather just buy the darn thing than try to find it out in the wild--you're in luck. You can order them from a lot of places. Mountain Rose Herbs and Pacific Botanicals are my two favorite sources. The berries will be dried, and require a little further processing to make jams and fruit leather.

Hawthorn berry chutney:

A chutney is like a jam, but made with vinegar instead of water. You can add salt as well. Chutneys are usually made with fruits, such as mango, cranberry, apple, apricot, or plum. My favorite chutney right now is this hawthorne berry chutney. I have made this recipe twice now, and it's quite foolproof. I eat it on sandwiches to give it a wonderfully flavorful flair, and with roasted chicken. We had some with our turkey on thanksgiving, too. The awesome thing about chutney in general is that it's easy to make, and it lasts in the fridge for a long time. Some people even recommend aging it for a month in the fridge before eating it to improve the flavor.

4 cups fresh hawthorn berries
1 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar (though I haven't tried it yet, I'm sure honey would work just fine)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander

Wash the hawthorne berries, and remove large stems. Some stems are fine, because you will later strain the mixture.

In a saucepan, add the berries, the vinegar and the salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer for one hour, covered. Stir it a few times to avoid burning on the bottom (though I've forgotten it for an hour and never had this happen.) Allow it to cool enough so it doesn't burn you.

Now, you must remove the seeds. This can be difficult depending on what equipment you have.

Option one: With a food mill. In parts, strain the mixture through a food mill. Use either the finest or second finest holes.

Option two: with a blender and a sieve. In two parts, blend the mixture in a blender. If using a vitamix, blend it only a little on low power. You don't want to blend the seeds, as that's what you're trying to remove. In a few batches, put the mixture in a sieve with a bowl beneath. Use the bottom of a sturdy glass to press the mixture through the sieve. This might be an arduous process. Seeds will remain in the sieve- discard these.

Finally, put the seedless mixture back in the pot (I usually give it a quick rinse with hot water). Add all the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for a few minutes. Put it in a jar and store in the refrigerator. The recipe should make 2-3 cups.

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