Appalachian Ways: Making Hawthorn Remedies

Here at Dancing Sun Cabins, we believe in love.  And what better way to celebrate love than to talk about hawthorn trees.  Hawthorn remedies heal the heart.  They are known to heal grief and sadness and loss.  They are known to heal the heart of it’s physical and emotional ailments.

Hawthorn heart

We are so fortunate to have so many hawthorn trees in our forest.  They are planted near old homesteads and places of community which makes me believe that people have been utilizing their healing properties for generations in these hills.

The journey begins......

As with so many good things, this process begins with a journey into the woods.  Walking to the hawthorn patch in autumn has become a ritual for my heart and it blesses me in so many ways.

I usually invite a close friend to come along. It is a bit of a hike, so we come prepared with our baskets and backpacks filled with snacks for the journey. We hike with gratitude in our hearts for the beauty of the forest in fall. The colors and movement of the leaves inspire us. Stories, dreams, and inspirations fly from our lips and swirl around us like the leaves in the gentle breeze.

Gathering hawthorns
Photo by Wendy Stancil

There are many varieties of hawthorns and they grow all over the world in many different environments.  The ones we like to harvest have huge red berries.

These ancient hawthorn trees grow way up high and look like huge huts for the wildlife.  They make a thick shelter for the mamas to bed down with their babies. Their limbs protect the interior space with long sharp spikes that grow every inch or so along the branches. It is a reminder that we must stop and, with respect, ask to enter.  Then, we must find the door. We circle the spiked limbs until we find an opening where the animals have been coming in.   It is like walking into someone’s home and one must enter with respect.

The berries cover the ground like a magical gift from the tree.


The limbs offer protection, not only for the berries but for deer, elk and other critters who find safety in her branches.

Elk near us

Hawthorn remedies are all about soothing the digestion and nourishing the heart.   I love to make something that herbalists call oxymel.  This is a way of preserving the medicinal qualities of the berries in vinegar and honey.  This is kind of a foolproof method as it really doesn’t require much but a crockpot, some high-quality organic apple cider vinegar with the “mother” in it, some good honey and some clean jars.  The acidity of the vinegar preserves it well for the year.  Oxymel is a 1:1 combination with honey which preserves the product even further and makes it a delicious way to make drinks.  I like to mix it with spritzer water.  It is delicious and then I get my apple cider vinegar dose for the day in addition to the benefits from the berries.

Fresh washed hawthorns


To make this wonderful concoction, I wash the berries by soaking them and stirring them in the sink.  I even add a little vinegar to the water just to help clean them.
This is the recipe I received from EagleSong Evans Gardener. For more recipes and herbal ideas from this talented herbalist, click here.

4 lbs of Hawthorn berries

4 lbs of Apple Cider Vinegar

4 lbs of Honey

I strain the berries and add them as follows to the crockpot.  I put  4 lbs of berries into 4 lbs (8 cups) of organic apple cider vinegar with the mother and cook on low for about 12 hours.  As soon as they turn plump and brown, I  mash them up and cook them a little longer.   Hawthorn berries have big seeds in them so it is important to mash them and get all the pulp in contact with the vinegar.

I then strain them with this old fashioned strainer that allows me to further mash them.  If I want a clearer vinegar, I would further strain the solution through cheesecloth, but I don’t mind the fiber in my vinegar.

Then, I mix the vinegar with the honey in a blender.   You don’t ever want to heat the honey as it ruins many of its wonderful healing properties when you heat it up.  Instead, mix one quart of honey with one quart of hawthorn berry vinegar and mix it up in your blender.  This will make your Oxymel. It will be foamy and yummy.

Then just add a tablespoon to your favorite spritzer water for a delightful autumn drink.   I also like to add it to ginger ale.

I hope you enjoy your hawthorn trees wherever you may be.  Getting to know this wonderful tree has brought much joy into my life.



Spring IS coming

Spring is coming.  That is what I tell myself as I watch the snow fall and cover the ground.  It is beautiful and even this late in winter, I get so excited  when it snows. This is a beautiful light, fluffy snow.  It transforms our world and brings a sweet silence to the forest as everything sort of hunkers down to stay warm.  Tom and I are no exception.  We hunker down by the wood stove and enjoy the fire.  I work on a weaving project that I started last week with found objects.

We were walking in the woods not long ago and forest “gifted” me an antler.   I was so amazed.  I have walked miles upon miles through the woods, but never found one even though they are shed every year by the many deer that live here.   I think this is because the other little critters find them very tasty, so they get snatched up pretty fast.  I felt quite honored to find this one and wanted to do something special with it.

My friend, Delaney Smith of Eyeland Studio in Marshall, NC  invited a guest teacher, Taylor Barnes to teach a class on making looms with found objects.  This sounded perfect so I signed up.  What a great thing to do on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon! Both of these teachers are excellent and I highly recommend their classes.

Up here in the mountains, we have a lot of what I call folk schools.   These are places where we can go and learn traditional ways and new ways of creating with nature.  I love learning to use things from nature.  In this project I used sassafras saplings, grapevine bark, wool, yucca fibers, crystals and hemp to weave with the deer antler.

Yesterday, the sun came out.  When this happened, the snow began to melt and the birds at my bird feeder went crazy.  The whole forest seemed to sing in exultation!  Spring is on the way!

Tom and I went hiking.   We chose a new trail and we had ford a few creeks. Now Tom just bounces over these crossings but for me it meant taking my boots off each time.   By the time we got to the 4th stream, I decided  to just go barefoot for awhile.   Even though it was cold, there was something quite wonderful about walking in the forest with no shoes on in late winter.  Our forest floor is covered with the many different kinds of leaves that grow here and they make a soft landing for the bare sole.   The sun warmed the leaves and this warmed my feet in between the icy creeks.  There was something magical about this time, a slipping off of winter if you will.

I want to leave you with this video from last year as it gives me the ultimate hope of Spring.  This happened last year in the little garden behind our house that we lovingly call GrandMary’s garden as it was created outside my mom’s window when she was alive.  She loved to watch the birds and the flowers come alive this time of year.  So this video is in her memory.  It speaks to the love of motherhood and the promise of Spring.  Enjoy!

Love Changes Everything


Heart fence at Labyrinth

We feel so grateful to live here in the  Pisgah National Forest.   A dear friend told me that I would never really understand this place until I stayed here for a full year, watching the subtle changes in the forest everyday.  This time of year really proves that statement true.

As I watch the bulbs begin to push up through the partially frozen earth, as if they are groundhogs, just poking their heads up to see what it’s like above ground, I think, “Yes, it is Spring”.   And then comes a big, beautiful snow storm that covers the daffodils with fluffy crystals of white.  The whole place turns into a magical snow globe that beckons the song birds from the forest to my feeders.  I watch as the yellow finches flock to the bags of thistles hanging from the trees outside my kitchen window.   It will all melt soon, no doubt, and the daffodils will make a full recovery.  Spring will reappear and, as  Mr. Emerson exclaimed, the earth will laugh in flowers once again.

Meanwhile, we shall enjoy the beauty that nature displays everyday.  We  cherish this opportunity and are so grateful for this forest.  We work hard to  be good stewards of this place.

One of our biggest challenges arrives this time every year as we fulfill our commitment to keeping the water clean and pure up here.  We are at the top of the public watershed and it is important to us all.  So, every year we must clip and cut all of the brush that grows beneath our power lines so that the electric company will not spray large amounts of herbicide that decimates the natural flora and fauna and and leaches into our native springs.  This is about 1/2 mile of power line easement.  This is a lot of clipping and cutting!

This year, as I was sharpening the blades on our loppers and Tom was sharpening the blade on the chainsaw, I had an idea.  I needed to  “flip the switch” on this attitude of mine.  So, I came up with a way to make it fun.  I decided to start weaving a fence with all the saplings that we cut.  Not only would it provide a great use for the materials, but it would provide a much needed barrier to keep our chickens out of the new garden space at our house.

I started researching ways to build a fence and discovered an old technique called wattling.  It turns out this is a practice that has been around for centuries.   It is a great way to use up all this wood we are cutting.  And, because it is now an art project, it became FUN!  Yes, fun!

Now, I am excited to head out with my loppers to see what I can find to weave into my fence. There are different colored saplings that grow here.  Some are red, bright green and even purple.   And, we have an endless supply of grapevines that grow in the forest and kill the trees.  This gives us the ability to begin to sculpt with vines.  Tom came out of the forest with  a 75 ft grape vine!  Wow!  I had a lot of material to work with for days.  And the trees seem to say, “ahhhhhhhh”  when you release them from all of that constriction.  It’s quite rewarding.

So,the weaving has turned to hearts, as so many things do up here.    I invite my friends to come and join me.  I am envisioning hearts made by all my friends.  Even the birds joined in and wove a heart shaped nest into this old wreath hanging on our shed.  And the hearts are growing as you can see in the photos.   But the chickens?

Well, they are laughing, of course.DSC chicken


Heart fence at our house

Shed heart made by birds
Even the bird joined in and built a heart shaped nest in this wreath.
This is the little heart shaped bird’s nest snuggled into the old wreath on the shed.
Romantic Heart Rock at our Waterfall just a short hike from your cabin door

Mountain Spirits

Blue Ridge Mountain Spirits


From the little book, Attitudes of Gratitude, by M J Ryan.

"I've learned over time that it helps to take the long view, to choose to see our lives from a spiritual perspective. I know we are here to "grow our souls," to heal our wounds - or at least bless our woundedness - and become more loving, kind, fearless, and hopeful. The longer I live, the more I recognize that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is the key to living from an open heart, that is living in a spirit of joyful expectation."
MJ Ryan

We are so thankful to live here and to be able to share this mountain with others.

Today, as I reflect on the sparkling snow outside, I am mystified by the beauty of life.  

Gratitude is a powerful force that can shift any situation.  In my work as a nurse, I encountered many people who had great challenges.  The ones who healed the fastest were the ones who were able to find the "gifts" in their situation.  As hard as it is to imagine, even in our darkest times, there is a gift there somewhere.  Focusing on gratitude shifts the vibration of it all.

When we walk in these hills we often find hearts in nature.  Tom and I have a tradition that we kiss every time we encounter a heart.  This is a reminder to stop and remember our love.  It helps us to focus on what is important.