Last Updated on January 3, 2023
Looking for a super-healthy tea to add to your herbal tea rotation? Hawthorn berry tea is rich in antioxidants and prized for its ability to support cardiac health. Here’s what to know about how to make tasty hawthorn berry tea.
WHAT IS HAWTHORN BERRY TEA?
Hawthorn berry tea is an antioxidant-rich beverage that can be made with just hawthorn berries and water, or with other herbs added for flavor and additional benefits. Combining your favorite herbs in DIY herbal tea blends is a fun and tasty way to stay hydrated and nourish your body with a wide array of beneficial plant compounds.
Hawthorn berry tea can be made with fresh or dried hawthorn berries. You can steep berries is boiling water or simmer them on the stove to extract more of the beneficial compounds.
If you prefer a bagged tea that you can simply steep in boiling water, there are some options online, like this tea from Alvita or this one from Traditional Medicinals, that combines hawthorn with hibiscus. (Hibiscus has many benefits of its own.)
But you’ll save quite a bit making hawthorn tea from dried berries over bags. If it seems like a bit of extra work, plan to make enough for a few days and store your tea in the refrigerator.
WHY DRINK HAWTHORN BERRY TEA?
Like so many other berries, hawthorn berries are rich in antioxidants, which help lessen inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Reducing inflammation helps promote health in a number of ways, but hawthorn is generally used for supporting cardiac health.
An herb traditionally used by herbalists to support cardiovascular health, modern research has explored hawthorn’s effectiveness for addressing heart-related issues. Studies show that hawthorn can help lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Other research has explored its effects on cholesterol, brain health, metabolism, and cancer.
The Chinese hawthorn berry (or Chinese Hawberry, Crataegus Pinnatifida) is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support digestion.
Hawthorn is considered a tonic herb, something meant to be taken daily over a long period of time to support health, rather than like a drug that works quickly to address an acute condition. Think of hawthorn as one of many sources of antioxidants in a healthy diet featuring a wide range of plants.
Of course, you should consult a physician before treating cardiovascular issues yourself, and be aware that it can interact with medications commonly prescribed for cardiac issues.
One of my favorite herbalists, Rosalee de la Forêt, notes that hawthorn is also considered a relaxing nervine and can help address type 2 diabetes.
WHAT DOES HAWTHORN BERRY TEA TASTE LIKE?
Hawthorn berry tea has a pleasantly tangy flavor that will vary depending on how you make it and on the species of hawthorn used. The ripeness of the fruit may also affect the flavor.
The tea’s flavor is more pronounced the more concentrated you brew it, that is with more berries per cup of water. Allowing the tea to steep for several hours also enhances the flavor.
The one-pound bag of dried hawthorn berries I bought suggested one teaspoon of berries per cup of water, which the instructions said to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
The tea didn’t have much taste made this way, and likely left lots of the beneficial compounds behind in the berries rather than releasing them into the liquid. Even simmered on the stove at that ratio makes a lightly pink and hardly-flavored hawthorn berry tea.
I recommend using more berries per cup of water, and if you’re not up for simmering them, then allow them to steep for several hours before consuming for a far more flavorful and likely more beneficial tea.
MAKE HAWTHORN TEA FROM DRIED HAWTHORN BERRIES OR FRESH FORAGED BERRIES?
Whether or not you like to forage medicinal plants and herbal tea ingredients, you can enjoy the benefits of hawthorn berries in your tea easily by using purchased dried berries.
Truth be told, making as much hawthorn tea as you might want to drink through the year entirely from foraged hawthorn berries would be A LOT of work. Plus with all the variety in hawthorn trees, you wouldn’t know exactly what you’re getting. While it’s likely many hawthorn berries contain the compounds that herbalists prize, only a few species of hawthorn have been thoroughly studied.
Also, if you’re foraging in a residential area, you’ll likely only find thornless hawthorns (cockspur hawthorn or Crataegus crus-galli) rather than the thorny varieties that are more typically used medicinally. They are, however, regarded as edible and likely contain some beneficial compounds as well. My experiments brewing them fresh, however, yielded a not very palatable, somewhat bitter tea. They might work better for a hawthorn vinegar.
No hawthorn trees growing near you? Hawthorn berries are a very affordable tea ingredient to purchase online.
You can also find Chinese hawthorn berry slices on Amazon. This larger variety of hawthorn berry comes with the seeds mostly removed, making them usable as a dried fruit that can be added to oatmeal or smoothies as well as simmered into hawthorn berry tea. Some slices still have seeds attached, so take care when preparing them if you plan to eat them.
Chinese hawthorn berries make a tangier, more strongly-flavored tea than the smaller berries.
You can also get medicinally useful hawthorn leaf and flower to use to make other versions of hawthorn tea on their own or mixed with hawthorn berries. (A separate post on hawthorn leaf and flower is in the works for the next foraging season.)
It’s worth knowing that the hawthorn’s leaf and flower are considered exceptionally valuable medicinally, so you can add them to your hawthorn berry tea for extra benefits, whether you harvest them yourself in spring or buy them dried.
FORAGING HAWTHORN BERRIES FOR TEA OR OTHER USES
As the growing season winds down, foragers find themselves with fewer and fewer options. But don’t let the change of seasons curb your enthusiasm — fall has some seriously great things to forage! Top among them are hawthorn berries.
Hawthorn’s name points to one helpful identifying feature that makes it easy to spot: Ginormous (and dangerous) thorns.
Use caution when foraging hawthorn berries, as the Peterson Field Guide includes this warning: “Eye scratches from thorns can cause blindness.” Yikes!
However, if you spot something that looks like a hawthorn in a public landscape, you may be confused by the lack of thorns. No one wants those terrifying thorns where frequent passersby can wound themselves, so typically you’ll find thornless cultivars in public places. ‘Crusader’ is a commonly-available cultivar with an easy-to-recognize horizontal branching habit.
In Making Plant Medicine, Rico Cech notes that “species in the Crataegus genus readily cross.” He explains that only the wild hawthorns C. monogyna (American hawthorn) and C. oxyacantha (European hawthorn) are considered official and the hybridized forms haven’t been sufficiently studied to recommend their use medicinally. He says that berries containing two seeds or fewer are likely the wild (official) hawthorns, while those with more are probably hybrids.
Native Americans, however, used many species of hawthorn for food and medicine. Rosalee de la Forêt notes that C. laevigata has also been studied. Herbalist Maria Noel Groves writes that “almost all species can be used interchangeably.”
It’s probably not worth worrying much about the exact species you have. No one seems to agree on how many different species exist, with some sources claiming 200 and others 1000. The authors of the authoritative Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs label hawthorn a “very complex plant group,” with somewhere between 100 and 1000 species in North America alone.
In his wonderful foraging guide, Steve Brill recounts a story about a botanist with expertise in hawthorn species. He was shown two leaves and asked if they came from the same species. He proclaimed them different species, when in fact they’d come from different sides of the same tree!
Foraging pioneer Euell Gibbons noted, “The American hawthorns belong to a very confusing genus. There are hundreds of species, many varieties in each species, and an unlimited number of natural hybrids.”
He proclaimed them “almost impossible to classify in a meaningful way. To those of us who are mainly interested in the edibility of the fruit there is only one way: taste every one you pass and remember where the good ones grow. None are poisonous, but some are hard, some sour, some bitter, some astringent and some all four — but a few are quite delicious.”
The common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) typically has distinctive leaves with prominent lobes resembling those pictured above. Thornless hawthorns you’re more likely to find growing in public landscapes, however, have leaves not terribly different from crabapples, which to add to the confusion, may also grow with a horizontal habit. No worries, though, crabapples are edible as well, though they’re not used medicinally like hawthorn berries.
If you’re wondering which you’ve got, the best way to check is to try to cut open the fruit. Crabapples will cut readily, while hawthorn berry seeds may break your knife!
The hawthorn berries you collect, even if they aren’t from the few studied species, nonetheless are a source of wild food and helpful polyphenols we can get from wild fruits, leaves, and flowers.
Cech recommends harvesting flowers and leaves in the early flowering stage and berries after the first frost. He notes you can eat the berries fresh, “probably the mildest way to take the herb.” Other sources suggest harvesting before the first frost. Hawthorn berries may be red, yellow, or even a dark purple-black.
For making tea, we typically use dried hawthorn berries, though you could try making tea from fresh berries as well.
-> ALWAYS make certain you’re correctly identifying the plant you want to forage. Consult a good foraging guide or go with a local foraging expert when you’re foraging for the first time. Here are my top recommendations for the best foraging books to add to your home library.
You might also consider taking a class like the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which can help you master plant identification and wildcrafting practices.
Once you’ve positively identified a hawthorn tree, you can pick the berries, which are considered best to harvest after enduring frost. If you want to preserve them for later use, you can dehydrate them in a dehydrator or an oven set to a low temperature.
Like their cousins the apple, hawthorn berries will store fresh in the refrigerator for quite some time.
HOW TO MAKE HAWTHORN BERRY TEA
Whether you’re using foraged or purchased hawthorn berries for tea, know that you don’t eat the hard seed inside. Like the seeds of hawthorn’s relatives, apples, hawthorn seeds contain amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside that converts to cyanide when crushed. Almonds and other foods we eat without adverse effects contain them, too.
While ingesting a few hawthorn berry seeds would not likely cause much harm, we leave the seeds intact and don’t intentionally consume them.
Now, it’s important to note that the word ‘tea’ is used in a lot of different ways. Tea can be made by steeping small parts of a plant (typically leaves or flowers) in hot or cold water for a short or long period of time. When we’re dealing with berries, as is the case with elderberries (for instance in this elderberry tea) we generally simmer them on the stove to make what’s technically called a decoction.
However, in the case of hawthorn berries, steeping rather than simmering is the standard practice, though simmering will make a slightly stronger-tasting tea. Made either way, it’s very mild tasting, bordering on flavorless if not steeped long enough. If you enjoy bolder flavors, experiment with adding other herbs, such as hibiscus or elderflower.
Whether you simmer or steep, allowing the berries to brew longer will yield a more deeply-colored and flavorful tea, and likely will extract more of the beneficial compounds. Note that tea steeped a shorter time will be a pale orange rather than the deep red color in some of the photos above,
Hawthorn berry tea is more often made from dry berries than fresh, though you can make a tea from fresh hawthorn berries as well. The berries I sourced from nearby trees did not produce a very tasty tea when simmered fresh.
RECOMMENDED GEAR FOR HAWTHORN BERRY TEA
While you don’t need anything more than hawthorn berries, water, and a pot to make tea, some of these tools could prove helpful.
A quality water filter: Most municipal water supplies contain scores of unregulated chemicals you don’t want in your healthy cup of tea! Here’s what to know about choosing an effective water filter. (Most common filters leave the majority of chemicals in your water.)
- 2 tablespoons dried hawthorn berries
- 2 cups freshly-boiled filtered water
Method 1: Steep
- Place dried hawthorn berries in a teapot or French press.
- Cover with boiled water and allow to steep, preferably for several hours or overnight.
- Strain and enjoy.
Method 2: Simmer
- Place berries and water in a saucepan.
- Bring water just to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Allow to cool and continue steeping, preferably for several hours.
- Strain and enjoy.
You can make a more concentrated decoction by increasing the amount of herb used. If it's too strong, dilute with hot water before drinking.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 4Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 10mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 0g
Nutritional information was auto-generated based on serving size, number of servings, and typical information for the ingredients listed. To obtain the most accurate representation of the nutritional information in a given recipe, please calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients and amounts used, using your preferred nutrition calculator. Under no circumstances shall this website or author be responsible for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on the given nutritional information. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate and complete.
Ever tried hawthorn berry tea? What’s your favorite way to make it?
Other late-season plants to forage for tea and other uses:
- Mulberry leaf tea
- Ginkgo biloba tea
- Edible crab apples
- Birch tea
- Hackberry fruit
- Pine needle tea and pine syrup
- Spruce tea
Save this hawthorn berry tea recipe for later!
Hawthorn berry tea recipe photo credits for cover and pin: fotograferman
Disclaimer: I’m a health & foraging enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.