Hawthorn Berries: Gin, brandy or tincture?

Hawthorn berries

October/November, after the first frost, is also the time to pick hawthorn berries. Hawthorn is relatively unused as a hedgerow berry being mainly used for hawthorn gin or hawthorn brandy. It can also be used to make a jam or jelly. Hawthorn gin is much nicer than sloe gin. It is not as sweet and syrupy, in fact it tastes more like a fortified wine such as dry sherry, than it does a liqueur. It is worth maturing. Hawthorn gin made now will be perfect next Christmas. If you don’t think you can wait that long, then make double the quantity – some to be drunk young this year, and some to mature for the next. Make lots anyway as it is very moreish!

How to make Hawthorn Gin

Sort, top and tail the berries. This is quite time consuming and not the end of the world if you don’t – however it will result in sediment that is hard to strain out later and will impair the clarity of your gin. Pack the berries into a preserving jar, sprinkling a little sugar between layers. Once you have reached the top of the jar (leaving a little space to allow for shaking), fill with cheap gin (supermarket own brand will do). Seal and put in a cupboard. Every few days or so give the jar a shake.

After 4 weeks the berries will have lost their colour and the gin turned a shade of rosé. (If you leave it longer before straining, the flavour will intensify. However, you are more likely to get a sludgy sediment occurring. If you have bright plump berries you could leave the gin to macerate for several months, but if the berries are hard and discoloured a month is sufficient.) Once strained, filter off into bottles and mature for a further three months at least. Enjoy in moderation!

How to make Hawthorn Brandy

Follow the process above but substitute brown sugar for white sugar, and brandy for gin.

hawthorn-fullscreen

The health benefits of hawthorn

Hawthorn also has a history as a herb used by herbalists to treat high blood pressure. It is also beneficial to the heart as it has vasorelaxant properties and is very high in bioflavonoids – also good for your heart. This is well-supported by research. (If your blood pressure is already high and you are on medication you shouldn’t just stop taking it. But, in conjunction with a consultation with a medical herbalist, you may be able lessen your dependence on drugs.) The best way of taking hawthorn berry is as a tincture. A tincture is basically the herb (in this case the hawthorn berry) macerated (soaked) in alcohol to form a tincture. So basically hawthorn gin is a form of tincture. And a small nip taken regularly, as in old country days, may help to keep the heart and circulation healthy. A tea made with the leaves or berries is also a healthy way to keep your blood pressure low, especially if combined with lime flowers and leaves.

25 Comments

  1. They say hawthorn is good to help against high blood pressure, but what if you have low blood pressure, would taking this be harmful.

    • It can be confusing because sometimes you’re told that a herb both raises and lowers blood pressure. That’s because in herbal medicine herbs are often used to regulate (i.e. normalise) blood pressure. Hawthorn is one of these along with; Hyssop, Garlic, Parsley, Yarrow, Passionflower, Chamomile, Tomatoes, Scullcap, Wood Betony, Evening Primrose, Chervil, Ginger, Ginseng. Herbs like Liquorice, Rosemary, Motherwort are often used to treat low blood pressure. There are quite a few other herbs reputed to raise blood pressure but with mixed proof including; Aniseed, St. Johns wort, Capsicum, Ginger, Ginseng, Parsley, Bitter orange, Vervain, Black tea, Chasteberry (Agnus castus), Gentian, Bayberry, Coltsfoot. Ones to be wary of along with anything containing caffeine are; Ephedra, Pau d’Arco, Yohimbe, Cola alkaloids, Broom alkaloids, Calamus amines, Guarana, Blue cohosh.

      • Very interesting. Why care to be taken with pau d’arco? I use it for incidents of thrush in the mouth and throat for which it’s very effective. However, it’s better to know of any contra-indications.

        • Pau d’arco is great for many things however it contains an iridoid and a glycoside that inhibit nitric oxide (NO) production. Nitric oxide (for example in beetroot) lowers blood pressure by making your blood vessels expand, so lowering blood pressure. Inhibiting nitric oxide prevents blood pressure from lowering.

    • Have orange juice and eat steamed spinach,or lentil soup red meat. Or quarter cup stout.

  2. Also..i enjoyed reading the scottish forestry commissions pdf brochure.a brilliant day for gathering berries.

  3. This is great – I make lots of foraged fruit liqueurs and had been wondering if haws would have enough flavour. Mainly seen mentioned mixed with other fruit in fruit leather before. So definitely going to try this.

  4. Emma Webster

    Does it matter if the hawthorns are squidgy or burst when you use them? Should they be firm and not split?

  5. Jacqui Thomson

    I harvest mine in quantity and then pop them straight into the freezer. This way, they are already frosted, which helps them soften. Have just took mine off the berries after near on 2 months and added some dark brown sugar to taste. I find not too sweet is best, but the vodka, haws and dark brown sugar give a rich rum flavour – very nice as a warmer in the winter. Have to get some more vodka now, as I’ve at least 2 more brews of berries left!

    • Sounds lovely. It’s been a great year for haws this year. Made quite a few bottles and they’re already shaping up to be as good as any vintage port!

  6. Steve Coles

    I think your comments on high blood pressure are very interesting and informative. I’ve also heard lots of stories a out Hawthorne Berries lowering high blood pressure so I’ve bought three trees do I can harvest them on tap as to say. I would like to get as much goodness/health benefits out of Hawthorne Berries for my very high blood pressure. I’ve heard Hawthorne Berry Wine is very good as well. Does anyone have any recepies please or evrn herbs good for high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
    Thank you
    Steve
    The Yorkshire Man

    • It’s not just stories, there’s plenty of clinical studies and published papers about hawthorn lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart muscle. The leaves and flowers, or the berries can be used. They’re often taken with lime (Tilea europaea) flowers and leaves. Either take them as a tea (1 tsp dried to one cup hot water) or 4ml tincture 3 times a day. For high cholesterol try garlic or red rice yeast like Lowerol but the basics apply – change diet to 50% vegetables and exercise. If in doubt, see a medical herbalist. I’ve written much more about health at http://www.napiers.net

  7. Steve Coles

    Monica your so informed and versed. When other’s say haws are we talking berries. Where would I get Tilea from and red rice yeast.
    I do a fair bit of walking and I’m learning to forage ad well so I can make wine Jam’s etc as well as learning what is good for my high blood pressure and cholesterol.

    Any ideas please for anything foraged to make wines ,liqueurs etc

    Steve Coles

  8. Hi, thanks for this great info on hawthorn, I’ve made a batch this year and tried a small sample (to see if the taste is to my liking,,, yeah well you know). And anyway it’s exquisite even as a fresh tincture, the flavor is smooth and subtle but delicious and I can understand how this might mature into something comparable to high end drinks such as port or brandy or rum. It’s incredibly delicious. I’m off hedgerowing later to grab more. This needs industrial scale manufacture. What an amazing taste!

  9. Dewi Morgan

    I made this a few years go and drank it perhaps when it was too young, and believe that haws are best left for the birds.
    Determined not to miss out on such an abundant free resource I made another batch last autumn, following the advice to leave it a year to mature and will try it at Christmas.
    Do I repeat the process this year and keep a rolling programme of haw liqueurs going or put my vodka and gin to better use? Are rosehips a viable alternative?

    • I make haw gin every year without fail. Pick the haws when the skins are still bright red for the best taste. Allowing it time to mature is helpful but not always necessary. Once a bottle is opened though it should be drunk quite soon as oxygen can make it go cloudy.

    • I’ve wondered about dried berries. Theoretically it should work (it does for medicinal tinctures) but I haven’t ever needed to try. Let me know how you get on and what it tastes like.

What do you think?