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.
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.