The Tuesday tree: hawthorn blossom
Last week I noticed that our little hawthorn is blossoming at last. White hawthorn blossom can be spotted easily along the roadsides at this time of year, where it is common as part of mixed hedgerows. Around the castle, though, we don’t have much, just one young tree planted by the tractor shed.
So characteristic of the season of Beltane are they that these beautiful and abundant blossoms are known by the month in which they bloom. Hawthorn is the May tree; this is May blossom. When I was a teenager at a girls’ school, we’d all (giggling a bit) follow the ancient tradition of trying to bathe our faces in dew from the blossoms on May morning, so as to become miraculously fair of face. More often than not, however, the hawthorn was still in tight bud, which may explain why I never did become a supermodel.
The blossoms themselves, on the other hand, are incredibly pretty. They look just how blossom should look, somehow. Yet they are weighed down with dark superstition. Hawthorn blossom gives out the same smell as decaying bodies, and used to be strongly associated with death. There was a taboo against bringing hawthorn into a house for fear of bringing death into the house along with it. The tree also has unchancy associations with fairies: an old Scottish legend, for example, tells how Thomas the Rhymer, the 13th Century seer of the Borders, unwittingly spent seven years underground after meeting the Queen of the Fairies beside a hawthorn tree. There are swathes of legends surrounding the hawthorn, in fact. This is a brief post today, but if you are interested I’d strongly urge you to have a look at the Trees for Life entry about hawthorn, where you will find lots of intriguing information, including the associations with Glastonbury and the disciples of Christ. Elsewhere, I have even read a theory that the Crown of Thorns was made from hawthorn.
Notwithstanding all these dark associations, hawthorn is also a useful and generous little tree. Its leaves can be eaten, its blossom used for medicinal infusions, its blood-red berries cooked in jellies, its wood used for carving and the plant as a whole used for hedging. At the wise blog Whispering Earth, Lucinda the herbalist has lots more to tell you about this most common and uncommon tree.