Hawthorn Berry Ketchup

Today we went for a walk in the fresh New Year air. You don't imagine there's much to forage in early January, but there really is. We live in the South East of England, and many of the trees and hedgerows were still covered in Hawthorn Berries. Whilst some of the berries are looking a bit old and tired now (and wouldn't you be), many were bright, firm and perfect for picking. So we made a batch of Hawthorn Berry Ketchup.

The Hawthorn Tree

The hawthorn tree is one of my absolute favourites. Its scientific name is crataegus monogyna and Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are safe to eat and drink. 

Hawthorn is often found in hedgerows in the UK, which is how it got its common name 'Haw' (derived from the old English Haeg which means hedge). Which is why sometimes you will see Hawthorn Ketchup referred to as Haw Ketchup. 

The hawthorn tree is in full flower in May, sometimes earlier. They are such pretty flowers, often tinged with pink. I enjoy fresh hawthorn flowers in teas up the allotment in the Spring/early Summer.

Fresh Hawthorn Flower Tea

Hawthorn Flower Tea

Simply pop the kettle on, then pick a couple of mint leaves, hawthorn flowers and add a couple of fresh nettle tops (for there are always nettles somewhere at the allotment !). When the kettle has boiled, let the water cool to slightly less than boiling before pouring the water directly over the mint, hawthorn flowers and nettle tops in the cup. Absolutely delicious.

I don't bother straining it. Just as I get to the bottom of the mug, I throw the last little bit plus the leaves and flowers on the compost heap. Hard to imagine those days will be here soon as I look out on a cool, damp January morning... but they will. 

Hawthorn leaves and flowers can be added to salads. The flowers add beauty and a few leaves (picked young) can be nice when mixed with other leaves. The older leaves tend to go chewy and woody. It is generally recommended to pick Hawthorn flowers early in the season, and the berries late when they have had time to ripen fully.

What does Hawthorn Ketchup taste like?

Hawthorn berries arrive much later in the year, and then it's time to make Ketchup. If you've never eaten this ketchup before, it has an unusual, sweet and sour-like taste. It is fairly runny, so you can bottle it as an alternative to putting it in a jar. Bright and cheery, it's lovely with sausages, drizzled on a sandwich or as an accompaniment to cheese. We try to make sure we have some at Christmas to go with cold Christmas meats on Boxing Day.

What do Hawthorn Berries look like?

Hawthorn Berries for Haw Ketchup

Hawthorn berries are round and bright red/crimson. They tend to go a darker shade of red as they ripen and the season goes on. We are still picking them in the South of England in January (just), and have been since September. Though this is quite late, you typically would expect them to have finished by now so we feel very lucky to have picked another half bagful this week.

When ripe they feel soft to the touch and when you squeeze them in your palm the red skin breaks to show the seed inside and the creamy flesh. Whilst you are unlikely to be skipping through the hedgerow picking and eating them as you would blackberries, raw Hawthorn berries have a not-unpleasant apple-like taste.

Incidentally, Hawthorn berries tend to hang around at the same time of year as rosehips. Rosehips are easy to differentiate from Hawthorn berries as they are more oval in shape. If you stumble across them and are not in a position to make ketchup straight away, simply pop the berries in the freezer until you're ready to use them. 

As always, you should get the landowner's permission before foraging. And, of course, only collect and eat berries that you are 100% sure you have identified correctly.  If in any doubt as to what you're picking... don't pick them.

Hawthorn Ketchup Recipe

Makes 250-300ml


500g Hawthorn Berries

300ml cider vinegar

300ml water

170g white granulated sugar

half teaspoon salt

A grind of black pepper


1. Sterilise the bottle or jar you plan to use.

2. Remove the stalks from the berries, either by pulling them off or, if easier, cut them off with scissors. 

3. Wash the berries in cold water.

4. Put the berries in a large pan with the vinegar and water. 

5. Simmer for about 30 minutes. The skins will split, and the bright red will start to darken.

Hawthorn Ketchup Recipe

6. Remove pan from the heat, and pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins.

7. Wash out the pan and return the liquid to it. 

8. Add the sugar and heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar is dissolved.

9. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. 

10. Add the salt and pepper.

11. Pour the ketchup into the sterilised bottle or jar and seal.

12. Use your haw ketchup within 12 months.

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