Scientific name: Crataegus douglasii
Plant family: Rosaceae
Physical description: The black hawthorn is a deciduous shrub. Most notably, the shrub has reddish twigs armed with 1-inch long thorns. It can reach a height of up to 30 feet. The black hawthorn has dark green, ovate leaves. These 1-3 inch leaves are sometimes lobed but always have serrated margins. In the fall, its clustered fruit ripens from red to a shiny, dark purple color. These berries are edible. In the spring, small white flowers appear in clusters. The flowers emit an odor often described as fishy.
Range and Habitat: The black hawthorn grows between southern Alaska and central California and as far east as Michigan. It prefers moist soils.
Historical and Contemporary Uses: The berries can be eaten right off the tree and are used in jellies and pies. Native Americans in Montana mixed the fruit with choke cherries, pressed them into cakes, and dried them for winter use. The Thompson and Okanagan peoples of British Columbia used the thorns for piercing ears and to pop skin ulcers. The Kwakiutl people of British Columbia chewed the leaves into a poultice, which they applied to swellings. The Okanagan-Colville people infused the shoots and gave it to children to treat diarrhea. They also used those infusions to wash a baby’s mouth for sores. The wordCrataegus comes from the Greek word kratos, meaning strength. The black hawthorn bears this name because of its strong wood. The Lillooet and Gitksan people of British Columbia made fishhooks from the thorns. The Cowichan people, also of British Columbia, burned the leaves and bark and mixed the ashes with grease to make black face paint used in winter dances.