Gather around for a mug of uplifting, magical hawthorn mulled apple cider to mend our metaphorical hearts during times of great sorrow and grief.
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They say that the proverbial veil is thinnest at this time of year. The trees are shedding their glorious foliage, and the remaining sun casts long shadows on the leaf littered ground. It is a time of letting go. It is a time of great cooling. It is a time when we must recognize the nature of things, and in doing so we must regard death.
It is but the cycle of life.
A series of great tragedies and natural disasters, as well as recent passing of a friend, pressed upon me the solemn nature of seasonality and the importance of gathering as an act of healing. I write about plant benefits in the physical sense quite often. But what of the metaphorical heart? I am very grateful to work with Mountain Rose Herbs to bring you a message of healing and hope, even when our days and hearts may be dark and full of sorrow.
Shedding Leaves of Fall
Whether or not you observe any remnants of “old ways” and ancient spiritual traditions, fall bears the unmistakable countenance of death and loss in its waning light. Frosts cast a ghostly pallor upon the landscape. The trees shed their leaves. Grasses go dormant. Even the berries and fruits borne on branches and vines eventually darken and drop. It is a time in which the botanical world seeks the comfort of the earth and descends into a great slumber. A metaphor for mortality if there ever was one.
Fall is also a time of collecting and provisioning. Perhaps modern society is so far removed from the very acts of harvest and hunt that our beings long for a sense of self-sufficiency and fulfillment. Technology, convenience, and commerce thusly render those instincts obsolete. Maybe that is why I observe frantic behaviors – irritable mothers at the playground (in the mirror), distracted fathers, people driving too fast, people hoarding too many things. Our base instincts are being ignored. It is foreign and strange, though we have never really known any different.
Hawthorn for Mending What is Broken
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) has a long history of its association with the physical heart. But so far beyond that is the fable and folklore of hawthorn which tells me so much about this special, if not sacred, tree and her flowers, leaves, and berries – even her thorns. There are hundreds of magic-rich yarns spun on the mythical and revered hawthorn – a few that resonate deeply and profoundly in me.
Hawthorn, also known as whitethorn, is associated with the ancient Roman Cardea, goddess of the hinge, overseer and protector of doorways and thresholds. Fall is like Mother Nature’s great hinge, the doorway between a season of abundance (summer) and a season of starkness (winter). Cardea’s chosen plant ally was the blessed hawthorn. Boughs of hawthorn were hung over the lintel and over a baby’s cradle to offer protection to the dwellers inside. Etymologically speaking, Cardea comes from the word cardo – meaning “hinge” but more broadly it represents the axis on which an object revolves. What is the heart, but an axis on which our lives revolve? Perhaps we should learn from the Cardea legend and protect our metaphorical axis, our hearts, with hawthorn…
Hawthorn lore often hints at a magical sleep. It is said that one sleeping under a hawthorn or with one of its branches would fall into a magical slumber, during which they would not age and would see no harm. Here I see winter, grief, and sorrow as the great sleep –hawthorn offering our metaphorical hearts its abiding protection during our times of darkness.
On Gathering to Heal
We gather. It is human nature. We gather food and supplies to feed and protect. We gather together to celebrate and mourn. Gathering, it all its shapes and forms, is part of being human.
But we don’t gather now. Not really. Not anymore. We share spaces, but we don’t always gather in a meaningful way. At the very least we are rarely fully engaged in the moment. Social media is scrolled, locations are checked into, selfies are taken. Our connection to each other is as tenuous as ever. Family holidays are turning into a free meal and a photo opp – and not much else.
And then life happens – life-changing events, deaths of loved ones, natural disasters. And it takes our breaths away. In those times, we do gather. We gather to comfort and rebuild. We gather to share stories, hugs, and warmth. We gather to memorialize a loss, or to rebuild somebody’s home, or perhaps to celebrate some joyous event like a wedding or a baby. These gatherings are immensely healing. But, all too often, they are isolated events.
If I can encourage but one thing, it is to gather with intention. Preferably for no reason at all. Put down your phones, check out of social media and engage. Hug tightly, smile broadly, tell people that you love them and you are lucky to have them in your life. Share a meal or a beverage; do so slowly, savoring each bite or sip. Savor each other.
And then, before you part ways, get your next gathering on the calendar.
With acknowledgment of the fleeting aspects of nature, mythical virtues of hawthorn, and the importance of gathering – let us now turn our collective attention to a beloved seasonal drink – mulled apple cider. I will take my cue from the seasonal bounty of hawthorn berries and traditional chai spices to elevate this cider to something that attempts to capture the magic I have so described. Fall offers a harvest of the scarlet hawthorn berries, but dried hawthorn berries are perfect for this recipe too. Cinnamon chips, green cardamom pods, cloves, allspice, black peppercorns offer soul warming spiciness to the mulled cider. This mulled cider also benefits from a bright note of citrus – achieve easily with fresh or dried orange zest. Added to unfiltered, preferably organic, apple cider, the scent alone is enough to soothe one’s fragile being, but the partaking of the hawthorn mulled cider is when the mending really happens. Just before serving I like to dose each mug of cider with a dropper full of hawthorn extract to further capture the magic of the graceful hawthorn.
Serve your cider to your guests and loved ones. Contemplate loss and light, and how to move gracefully through the darkness. Together. Healing each other with love and affection. Sharing the comforts of food and drink. To mourn, to uplift, to celebrate. Because the season of nature, and of life, will always shift. May hawthorn be your protector during your darkness, while the hinge silently swings and lightness fill your life once more.
Hawthorn Mulled Apple Cider Recipe
Hawthorn Mulled Apple Cider
- 1 gallon organic, unfiltered apple cider
- 1/4 cup cinnamon chips
- 2 cups fresh or dried hawthorn berries
- 2 tablespoons cardamom pods lightly crushed
- 2 tablespoons allspice berries
- 2 tablespoons dried orange peel or the peel of one large orange
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon black pepper coarsely ground
- 1-2 droppers full hawthorn extract or tincture per serving (optional)
- Place al ingredients (except for hawthorn tincture) in a large stockpot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until the cider is very fragrant. Remove from heat.
- Strain cider through a fine-mesh sieve into a slow cooker/crockpot. Set slow cooker to its lowest heat setting. To serve ladle into mugs, adding hawthorn tincture at the time of serving.