Language is for Plant Lovers
Language is for Plant Lovers

Episode 7 · 7 months ago

Let's not hem + haw over it: the Hawthorn tree


In this episode, we are going to explore the tree commonly referred to as Hawthorn, otherwise known as its Latin botanical genus, Crataegus. Do you need to be courageus to be in love with the Crataegus? We'll explore that question and more in this episode.

***Please consult your doctor before ingesting plants medicinally, and ensure that you have proper identification of all plants before foraging*** - eco-conscious art by Ren - website + newsletter signup - support this podcast - join me on Twitter

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • Physical characteristics of Hawthorn
  • The fascinating folklore etymology of the word hawthorn
  • The etymology of Crataegus and how it connects us to the etymology of words like "democracy"
  • The reasons why this tree is connected to the fairy realm
  • Why you should cut down this tree
  • How this pretty tree smells like death  

References sourced when creating this episode:

Information on Black Hawthorn 

Information on Hawthorn in Ireland 

General Hawthorn information 

Bread + Cheese 

Scientific study of the medicinal properties of Hawthorn 

Another study on hawthorn 

Hem and Haw etymology 

More on hem and haw 

Haw/hedge/hag etymology 

Ancient Greek meaning of kratos 

More on kratos 

The story of Harbison's Hawthorn 


Etymology of hymen 

More etymology of hymen Even more 

Hawthorn folklore 1 

Hawthorn folklore 2 

Hawthorn folklore 3 


More on Ogham 

Hawthorn tree and the Delorean factory x

Hello and welcome to languages or plant lovers, a multilayered podcast that explores the meaning of plant names in various languages. I'm Ren Elizabeth, and informal environmentalist, abudding herbalist and artist and a language NERD. My goal here is to encourage you to develop a relationship with plants through history and linguistics. In this episode we are going to explore the plants, or, more specifically, the tree commonly referred to as Hawthorne, otherwise known as its botanical name, crtagus. Do you have to be courageous to be in love with a crtagus? Let's not haven hat over it. Stay tuned to learn more. Cretagous. To clarify, that is spelled cr a tae Gus. This is the plants botanical genus name. In today's episode well be exploring some of these specific species of this genus, but there's a lot of lore about Hawthorne's in general, so I figured we would look at the general genus and then we'll have some highlights for more specific hawthorn species. As a refresher, a botanical name is made up of two words, typically in Latin or latinized Greek, where the first name is the genus and the last is the species. There are actually well over two hundred plants that have crtagus as their first scientific name, making the hawthorns quite a large Genera. Some really excited to do this episode because not only is the etymology really exciting of Hawthorns, but I am lucky enough to have some black hawthorns in my yard and I'm really delighted by the way that they flower and the color of the Haus or the palms, which are the fruit of the tree. The scientific name for this species of black Hawthorns that is in my yard is Crtagus Douglas I. I have a story to tell you about out them a little later on in the podcast, but first allow me to describe them. To critagus Douglas I, like many other Hawthorns, have serrated leaves. They can be lobed lightly. They resemble the leaves of the Rose Plant, since they are in the same family. In my research it seems like in the United Kingdom the leaves of the Hawthorns are more deeply lobed, and by lobed I mean that the leaves curve in and out like an oak leaf. In May, the critagus Douglass I is filled with pinkish white flowers, and then the fruit comes on in late summer. This particular Hawthorne has a deep egg plant Purple Fruit, which is technically called a palm, Pom e, like pomegranate, from the Latin word for apple, since apples, roses and Hawthorne's are all related. However, it is more...

...common for Hawthorne's to have Red Palms, similar to the color of a vibrant red apple. The palms can also be a deep yellow color. Hawthorne's, while they are trees, can also appear to be more shrub like, and they make popular hedgerows and boundaries because the stems of their branches are covered in one to two inch long thorns, which can be quite an adventure to get through, if you're courageous enough to walk through a row of critagus. That is. HAWTHORNS can also be more like trees and grow up to fifty feet tall. The leaves, flowers and fruit of the Hawthorn tree are all worked with in traditional herbal medicine. As a reminder, though, I'm not a doctor and even more so I'm not your doctor. Please consult a medical professional before working with plants medicinally and remember that proper identification is crucial when harvesting. Traditionally, Hawthorn lays and flowers can be made into a tea or tincture, and the palms can be made into jams, tinctures and fused and honey, confused and apple cider, vinegar or even wine. One thing to note with the palms is that the seeds within them are quite large and you don't want to eat the seeds. Similar to apple seeds, Hawthorne Seeds Contain Arsenic so it's essential to strain out these seeds before you can your jam or do anything else with the Hawthorn Palms. Delightfully young leaves are called bread and cheese in the United Kingdom and eaten as a snack. It's thought that this name comes from children playing and pretending that various wild edible plants were bread and cheese. For hawthorn leaves the name seems to have stuck. In herbal tradition, the Hawthorn plant is worked with for the heart, both the physical heart and the emotional heart, for example, when feeling anxious hearted or brokenhearted. The berries hold antioxidants and are antiseptic and anti inflammatory, which makes them popular in skincare and Topical First Aid. Hawthorne has been a part of Chinese traditional medicine since at least six hundred seas, and it was also a popular tonic in medieval Europe. In the indigenous tribes of North America, the bark and sap were also utilized as well. Energetically. They'll find this tree worked with for those who need stronger boundaries. You can see how a tree with one to two inch thorns that is typically planted at property borders. But know a lot about helping with boundaries. Sometimes with herbal medicine it can be difficult to find a variety of studies done on the properties of a plant. However, we are pretty lucky with Hawthorne, as it has shown in studies to support heart health, improve circulation and lower blood pressure. The leaves and flowers have flavonoids and... cyanidems, which are what the studies point at as the components that provide this effect, and you can check out the links in the showdows, where I have a list of all of my sources for this podcast, including some of those studies, the various names and atomology. Cheese of hawthorn being a tree with such a strong presence and folklore in various parts of the world, this tree has a lot of names. In addition to Hawthorn, it is also called Mayflower, yes, like the boat, may tree, may thorn, Thorn, apple, Quick Thorn and, more terrifyingly, one name is mother Dye. As you'll see, for plants so many traditional and edible uses. It also has a lot of lore of bad lap. So the presence of the word May in a lot of the names of Hawthorn is because historically in English speaking parts of the world it blooms in May and sometimes it does bloom a little bit laidter on, depending on where the location of the tree is in the word thorn and a lot of the names is because of obviously, the thorns. Perhaps my favorite name for the tree is fairy tree, due to a big presence of the tree in the folklore surrounding fairies, especially on May Day, also known as Beltane, and the pagan wheel of the year. As for the Etymology of this tree, let's start with the Latin and then will also explore the English word Hawthorne as well. So the genus critagous comes from the Greek word Kretos, meaning strength, and Acus, which means sharp. This can be seen as strong and sharp, the strong referencing the strength of the wood, as it was often made into building materials, and the Sharp, obviously the thorns. As usual, I have some interesting Greek mythology connections to share with you. But the word Kreatos, homer referred to Hermes or Mercury, as Creatos as an epithetas being strong, a strong messenger. Additionally, in Greek Myth Creatos is the divine essence of strength. The word Creatos has traveled over to the English language in our words democracy and theocracy, with the SUFFIX crossy meaning power. So democracy is the power of the people, or Demos. Theocracy is the power of theology or religion. Okay, so now we get into the English enomology, which is perhaps for me the most exciting. So Hawthorn, the thorn part, it's obvious. We've established this is a plant with pointy thorns as its distinguishing feature, so it makes sense for that to be in the name. Ha H aw, however, or however, is where it gets interesting. There are two paths...

...that lead us to the enomology of this word and they both hold true. So on one hand we have haw, which an old English means hedge. This is equivalent to another word in old English, Haga, which means hedge or fence. In Proto Indo European. This sound stems from a word meaning to catch or to seize, and also a wicker work fence. And if you think about something catching, we can think about catching of fish. But also if you walk by a thorned plant, when there that's a Hawthorn or a rose or blackberry you you can become caught in the brambles, it can catch onto your clothes and then you almost become stuck or seized by the plant. So I have a have a hypothesis about hat and fence that it probably isn't. Is it actually a connection, but I really want it to be. So I'm just going to share it with you and if anybody listening those of this as an actual connection etymologically, please let me know. So if you're on the fence about something, are you also honey and ha? So around the S in English Ha as a verb started to mean to hesitate in speech. My research shows that the HEM and hemming and hying comes from the sound of a throat clearing like Ahm and ha was either imitating hotty British or a similar throat clearing sound. But it's kind of a big coincidence that hm is the edge of clothing and ha is the edge of a property. Where are you have the word for fence and ore, and we think about being on the fence as hesitating. If you're in this in between space, between the boundaries, in between the borders of one property to another, your akin to being in between thinking and speaking, when you're hesitating and speech or hesitating in action, between deliberating what you should do and actually taking that action. So there's no evidence that I've been able to find that hemming and hawing and being on the fence and the word haw being a kin to the fence and that phrase. Everyone is saying that hat comes from imitating the haughty British or a similar throat clearing sound to Ahem, but it's one of those coinstances that I can't not mention. So probably not really a connection, but I don't know, you might be okay right. So that was one path was about the fences. With how the second path comes fround the old English hag tests, H AEGTES, which gives us another old English word that we still have..., had meaning a which or a sorceress from the old English hag tests. Hag Test is made up of hag and T S, which signifies that the person in reference is a woman. But over time this word was more commonly spoken to refer to women, and so as time went on, the tes was dropped because it wasn't needed for clarity. And I would imagine that when I said the word Hag the picture that came up in your mind was of a woman, and you can get into the patriarchical origins of this, but maybe that's for another episode. So, which was a person who lived in the outskirts on the edge of the village by the hedges, and it's theorized that both meanings. So the tree being connected to whiches and the tree being connected to hedges being connected, and also probably a connection between the term hedge whiches, as I was researching whiches and hedge whiches and the hause and all of these, all of these delightful old English words. If you say hedge, which is really fast, it sounds like hex and apparently they are etymologically related, really makes me getting into words combined to me go one singular modern meetings. So I'm really digging the linguistics of Hawthorn. Let's get into the endangered plant highlights. Today's endangered plant is the harbison's Hawthorn and endangered species native to Tennessee. It was thought to exist in just a singular tree in a park in Nashville until recently, when a small population of this species was found after a six and a half year ecological site survey. Harbison's Hawthorn is unique and that it's thorns are around three inches long and extremely pointing. If you check the show notes for a link of all of my sources, you can read the article there that tells a little bit more about the story of how this grove of Hawthorn trees of Harveston's Hawthorn was found and the conservation efforts that are present in the state of Tennessee to protect this true, the folklore of Hawthorn says, we've mentioned, there is a lot of connection between this tree and the month of May. This tree was a big part of May Day or Beltane celebrations, which would take place on May first, so much so that sometimes the tree was referred to as simply May. I learned that this may first connection of the flowers being in bloom happened before the changeover to the Gregorian calendar, which delayed everything by little over a week. So since then the tree hasn't been in bloom in the United Kingdom until midmonth or in some parts even into June. However, here in my yard I was so...

...happy to see the first flower that has a little bit more sun open up up on May first and then, even more interestingly, the fruit that my tree started to be right on August first, which is lamas in the pagan wheel of the year, the First Harvest Festival. I really love when plants are named after their either flowering activity or blooming activity in the specific days. Another plant that does this is Saint John's wort. It is said to bloom on St John's Day, which is near the summer solstice, and my Saint John's wort also I found one singular bloom open on St John's Day in my yard. And Yeah, there's something extra magical about seeing those connections in real life between the names the traditional blooming days. And Yeah, it's delightful. So the Hawthorn tree plays an important role in made a festivities, not only because of the blooms and the pretty decorations that these blooms make, but also because this tree was seen as a portal to the fairy rounds, and it's on May Day when the fairies come back to the forest. The time of the flower bloom is short, but there is lare saying that it is extremely unlucky to cut down the tree during any other time in the tree cycle. This was especially true if the tree was alone and away from others of the same species. If a tree was a lone thorn, it was thought to be planted there by lightning, and there are many cases, most of them in the United Kingdom, of roads being diverted around lone hawthorn trees, sewer lines being diverted, and there's even a theory that the delurean car manufacturers downfall was due to them cutting down a Hawthorn tree to build a new building on their company's property. So, yeah, don't cut down these trees. It's important. It seems, seems seem very unlucky. Also unlucky. A another connection between this tree and bad luck. You don't want to bring a branch with blossoms on it inside as it will bring death. According to lure, the interesting thing here is that there is a chemical in the fravorance of the flowers that is also present in dead bodies. So there's a similarity in scent because they have they share chemical component, and when you bring that smell into a house, you could see how that would be bad luck and thus the name mother die of this tree. One of the theories around the bad luck of this plant is that branches of Hawthorne made the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Jesus when he was crucified, but there are other theories as to which plants that actually was. But you could see how that would enhance the bad book of this plant. It's a fairy tree, it's connected to the crucifixion, it smells like depth. It's complicated, but it's also so nourishing.

Oh, Hawthorne's enjoy a lot of water, so they are often found on stream banks, sweat pastures and near wells. This connection adds to the lore of Hawthorne's, as certain dwells were considered sacred and thus the tree near its would be sacred as well. In my research for this episode, I learned of an old Irish language called Ogam. I hope that I'm pronouncing that correctly. This was a written language that often was seen on boundaries, where it would be the language utilize to write the names of the owner of the land. Each letter of the language was connected to a tree and thus had further symbolism. This reminded me a little bit of Nordic Ruins, being both letters and symbols of greater meaning. So the letter connected to the Hawthorn tree as a symbol means horror and fear, and this is the sixth letter of the tree alphabet. But alternatively, in ancient Greece, the Hawthorn is the symbol of hope. Branches of this tree were carried in weddings. They are also traditionally cut as offerings for the god of weddings, Hymenos. You can probably hear the word hymen in this God's name and connection there is also interesting two paths, one word story. So hyman comes from the Proto Indo, European word meeting, to so together or to join, and you are joined in marriage, and thus the name of the God hymnios. The hymen is a membrane that covers the vaginal opening or brings it together, joins it together, and it seems unclear, but it's hypothesize that this is another case of folk etymology where the two words have a coincidential, similar meaning and can be came related through that energy of being joined together, if you like folk etymology. My last episode looked at the folk anymology of the deadly nightshade plant, so you may be interested in tuning into that one if you haven't yet. So the next time you are lucky enough to come across the beauty of a Hawthorn tree, take care, don't cut it down, don't get seized by the thorns or bring the flowers inside. I guess you'd have to be a little courageous to do one of those things with the cretageous plants. And and that note and these podcast. Until next time they are heart be happy and protected.

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