Description: Shrubs or small trees, mostly growing 5-15m tall with small red fruit clusters that look like very small apples, and (usually) thorny branches. With bright green leaves showing serrated edges.
Season: Early spring with the berries being around until the onset of winter
Fruit: The fruit contains one large stone in the middle and can be eaten raw. They are soft and squishy and bright when ripe (although variant species can be a mixture of colours from yellow to black) with a tart, slightly acidic taste vaguely resembling miniature crab apples.
Leaves: The young and tender bright green leaves make a tasty addition to spring salads. Older leaves tend to be tough and bitter.
Location: Hawthorn can be found all over the North and South Islands, more commonly in un-manicured areas of the backcountry and not usually over 900m.
Why eat them? Though unproven, some people say the haw berry aids a restful night’s sleep. They are high in tannins, flavanoids and vitamin B2 and they have been used for centuries by the Chinese in natural medicine.
Unusual tip: Haw berries can be added to a bottle of brandy along with sugar to make a lovely winter tipple. Freeze the berries to crack the skin and soak them in your brandy with a little sugar for three months.
– Ben Francis