One of my first lessons in wild edibles as a kid. Years later and I have thankfully befriended at at least a few random red berries and confidently enjoyed their fruit.
Hawthorn grows abundantly in Europe, Asian and North America. There are many varieties found just in the Pacific NW region that I call home, and I use most interchangeably. This rose family, shrubby tree often has lobed leaves, serious thorns and flowers that range from deep pink to white.
The leaves and flowers, picked in the spring, make a delicious tea. Come fall is when the fruit ripens. The bright red berries have a very subtle apple flavor, and the variety pictured here has one large center seed inside the fruit. Like many common foods, I think Hawthorn is best enjoyed mixed in with other ingredients and cooked; jams, pies, in apple sauce, tea and more! Unless it’s a survival situation, it can’t hurt to get creative!
BENEFITS OF HAWTHORN
Besides being a fun wild or urban foraged food, Hawthorn is high in antioxidants and may support a healthy cardiovascular system. Like most brightly colored fruit, Hawthorn contains flavonoids and antioxidants which help to fight off free radicals and ease overall inflammation.
Hawthorns affinity for the heart and circulatory system is pretty extraordinary. From known (see citations below) and unknown mechanisms, this herb may benefit and balance high blood pressure, blood sugar and is often used in a long term preventative and/or strengthening herb for the heart and vascular system.
In additional to the anatomical heart, the metaphorical heart can also be deeply nourished by this herb. Hawthorn is subtly relaxing, and has been a gentle herbal ally during grieving and heartbreak. For those experiencing a “heavy” or “tender” heart, try taking Hawthorn (leaf/flower/berry) tea, tincture or syrup daily for at least a week and see if that doesn’t help uplift, relax and brighten your mood a bit. Highly sensitive individuals may be able to feel an affect with smaller doses or even simply sitting with the tree.
HAWTHORN BERRY SYRUP
One of my favorite ways to enjoy Hawthorn is to make it into a syrup that I can use on pancakes and to sweeten tea with.
Water, Hawthorn Berries, Sugar, Honey or Maple Syrup, a pot and a measuring cup
Step 1. *Responsibly gather or purchase your Hawthorn Berries
Step 2. Place your fresh or dried berries into a pot of boiling water. For fresh berries use 1 cup of water per 1 cup of berries, and for dried berries use 2 cups of water per cup of berries
Step 3. Simmer the water and berries uncovered for 10 minutes. Gently crush the berries with a fork in the pot as they soften
Step 4. Let this cool slightly and finish crushing the berries in the pot
Step 5. Strain this mix through cheese cloth or a metal strainer. Use a spoon to help get out as much of the pulp as you can
Step 6. To this warm berry liquid, add equal parts sugar, honey or maple syrup and stir. Voila!
Pour into a clean jar, label with the date and refrigerate.
This Hawthorn Syrup should last about three weeks. Add to your favorite foods and beverages and enjoy!
*Responsible foraging means that you learn to accurately identify the plant, the correct plant parts, in the correct season, and use ethical wild crafting practices. If you are in the Portland, OR area we do offer Herb Walks and if not then there may be other herbal and wilderness hands on educational classes in your area!
Written by Herbalist and Foodie, Tania Oceana | Updated 1/5/21
It’s a new, fresh year and about time to kick our sweet toothed habit. I know, I really do love all kinds of chocolately, whipped, sprinkled and gooey baked good, treats and super sugary coffee drinks. And I am not turning my back on them yet.
Treats, in moderation, as treats and not everyday nourishment, are as natural as the seasons. But we have to be upfront about the excessive and refined sugar lurking in pretty much all packaged and prepared foods.
Before introducing Stevia, and clearing up how it is NOT an artificial sweetener, I want to first assure you of a few comforting truths;
Your tastes can change. With time, you can increase or decrease your “sweet spot” for saltiness and sweetness. Yes the first couple weeks will be the hardest but there will come a time when you think “Eww, this is way to sweet!” to something that you used to love that sweet.
Progress not perfection. Take a lesson from the old tortoise that beat the hare because they were slow and steady. Say it with me, we are done with whirl wind romances when it comes to our health. Fads can go to hell and patience shall be embraced.
Incorporate one new habit at a time. You have the whole year. If you only cemented one new habit per month, you will be 12 healthier habits stronger by the end of this year. Sugar is addictive, certain foods are comforting meal habits can affect social bonding. Instead of cutting all sweet food out cold turkey, try to reduce and adjust. You don’t like donuts THAT much but usually take one from your coworker when they share every day? Say no thank you a couple of times next week. But you do love your homemade vanilla latte made with your fun new cream frother? Keep it, but change out your sugar-laden creamer with a sugar free option and add stevia.
OK so what is Stevia and why you should use it.
Stevia, or Stevia rebaudiana, is a green little plant in the Sunflower family (AKA the Aster family). Contrary to popular belief, it is not a white powder. But we’ll get there in a minute.
Stevia is a super sweet tasting herb, and the leaves are the part used. It is a perennial that is native to parts of Brazil and Paraguay. It’s used by locals to sweeten their energizing Yerba Mate tea, as well as in creating other sweet treats. It can be grown almost anywhere with a greenhouse and some love.
Stevia contains no calories, carbohydrates and it’s active compounds are steviol glycoside. The lack of carbohydrates and other blood-sugar spiking compounds like glucose have brought Stevia into interest in terms of its possible positive effect on cavities, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases. (See the references at the bottom for some scientific studies on Stevia.)
Are all Stevia products created equal?
Stevia the plant is one thing, and “stevia” sweetners another. There are many artificial sweeteners that seem like they are Stevia, but are mostly a base of maltodextrin or another base or artificial sweetener, that has a tiny bit of Stevia in the mix. One reason is that Stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, that cutting it with something else helps the serving size to remain the same (Ex. substitute 1 tsp of sugar with 1 tsp of “stevia” powder). So be careful and read the label, because there are health and digestive concerns for many of the artificial sweeteners used today. The common form are powder and tincture (a liquid extract usually of a combination of water, alcohol and/or glycerin.)
OK, so how does it taste?
Some people report a slight bitter aftertaste from some products, but others do not and just taste a generic sweetness. So try experimenting with doses and products to see what works best for you. You can even substitute half of your sugar (in that morning joe, for example) for Stevia to dip your toes in before jumping in the deep end. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell a difference but take your time anyways, because why not?
A hotly debated topic; can Stevia help people start and stick to intermittent diet or a Ketogenic diet?
Both diets include times that exclude carbs/sugar, but many people still drink beverages such as tea and coffee. For some, that bit of warm, Stevia sweetened beverage can be the make or break in their dietary goals. Since it doesn’t contain sugar or carbs, many feel comfortable adding it in. For the dietary purist, simply the taste of sweetness brings up fears of stimulating a metabolic process that they are trying to avoid. And again, the science on this subject is still new, so there’s not one conclusive answer yet. So take it with a grain of salt!
The bottom line is that the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit by eating fewer calories than your body burns for energy.
There are many ways to accomplish this, and targeting added sugars and replacing them with stevia is an easy and tasty fix.
Research has shown that subjects given stevia-containing foods or beverages consumed fewer calories throughout the day. (2,3)
The Truth About Added Sugars
It seems like everything we read talks about avoiding carbs and sugar.
In the U.S., the average intake of added sugars reaches up to 270 calories or more than 13 percent of calories per day based on an average 2000 calorie diet.
Not surprisingly, the largest source of added sugars in the typical diet is beverages, including soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, and flavored waters. They account for almost half (47%) of all added sugars consumed by the U.S. population.
The other major source of added sugars is snacks and sweets.(1) Most people don’t realize how much sugar they consume from other sources like marinades, sauces, salad dressings, yogurt, crackers and other items that don’t “seem sweet.”
The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories or about 50 grams per day based on 2000 calories.
If your body needs fewer calories based on size, age, and activity level, the gram limits are even lower.
To take it a step further, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 24g grams per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams per day (9 teaspoons) for men.
It’s obviously an area of concern in our standard American diet as the term “added sugars” appeared 138 times in the dietary guidelines report!
Knowing Your Limit for Added Sugars
Simply put, consumption of added sugars can make it difficult for people desiring to lose weight to meet their nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits.
Whenever anyone restricts total calories, everything eaten needs to contain more nutrients to make sure you get what you need for proper fueling while limiting total calories.
One of the simplest strategies is to limit added sugars.
Why? Because they are more often found in foods that do not provide quality vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that we look for to help prevent lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancers.
That’s where products like stevia fit in.
Can Stevia Help with Weight Loss?
Since stevia is a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener with a taste 50-350 times sweeter than sugar, a little goes a long way. By substituting stevia for sugar in your daily routine, there are many ways to cut total calories and sugar grams.
Using stevia to sweeten your coffee or tea (hot or iced), saves 16 calories per teaspoon over sugar. A few cups per day with a few teaspoons each can really add up quickly. Each stevia packet is formulated to equal the sweetness of 2 teaspoons of sugar. Take some with you to your favorite coffeehouse or restaurant and add your own.
Instead of eating pre-sweetened Greek yogurt with up to 20 grams of sugar, start with the plain variety and add your own stevia, vanilla extract, cinnamon and fruit.
Swap stevia for sugar, honey or maple syrup in your oatmeal, homemade salad dressings, baked goods and other recipes that call for sugar. Even subbing in ½ the amount in a recipe can make a big difference.
Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, Coulon S, Cefalu WT, Geiselman P, Williamson DA. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite 2010;55:37–43.
Tey SL, Salleh NB, Henry J, Forde CG. Effects of aspartame-, monk fruit-, stevia- and sucrose-sweetened beverages on postprandial glucose, insulin and energy intake. Int J Obes (Lond) 2017;41:450–7. “