The Heartbeat of A Southern Jelly
By Amy Jenkins
I have loved mayhaw jelly for as long as I can remember. If you are southern it is bound to be your favorite jelly to spread on a homemade biscuit. My father’s family in rural southeast Louisiana always made it when I was growing up and I have an uncle who still makes a batch every year. I don’t eat mayhaw jelly these days because of the sugar, sadly, but I do keep it as a dried herb in my herbal cabinet due to all of its healing properties.
Mayhaw is a southern swampy tree with bright red berries that fruit in may. It is part of the hawthorne genus, Crataegus spp., and is known as Crataegus opaca . The tree can grow to thirty feet tall and grows well in wetland or upland habitats.
Mayhaw berries are high in potassium, calcium, Vitamin C and Beta Carotene. Hawthorne berries have been associated with healing of the heart and other health benefits and have been confirmed in the literature. In addition, the Louisiana Mayhaw Association has been working with Louisiana State University (LSU) to determine health benefits. The following excerpt is from their website, www.mayhaw.org.
“Mayhaws are a good source of antioxidants,” said Dr. Charlie Graham, an associate professor of horticulture with the LSU AgCenter. “Antioxidants in fruit play a role in preventing diseases caused as a result of oxidative stress.” Oxidative stress, which releases free oxygen radicals in the body, has been implicated in a number of disorders including cardiovascular malfunction, cataracts, cancers, rheumatism and many other autoimmune diseases. Consumers want to know the health benefits of different fruit, and Graham said additional research is needed to determine the stability of the antioxidants in processed fruit products.
Mayhaw was recently designated as the Louisiana state tree which makes me love my sweet Louisiana even more. Unfortunately habitat destruction has limited access to the wild organic berries for many southeasterners (source: http://www.mayhaw.org/LMA_What_is_the_Mayhaw.html ). Another major issue is that as orchards replace the wild mayhaw, growers are only educated on how to grow mayhaw orchards with heavy pesticides. While I find it amazing that southeastern growers are joining together to promote and grow our beloved mayhaw berry, I find myself torn. I want to support southeastern growers however I really feel that my southeasterner farmers exhibit such little interest and knowledge regarding organic and sustainable farming methods. It is really strange how much people love the land here, I mean really love the land and habitat, yet disregard the need for organic and sustainable farming practices. In my region we are well known for things like Cancer Alley, poor health and poor education so I feel like better education on environmental and public health issues are necessary to find better solutions.
An internet search did reveal two small family run farms way over in Florida that have some organic mayhaw which, considering the distance, did little to help restore hope for the region. At the end of the day, I don’t understand why I view pesticides as poisons that affect people, animals and plants but my fellow southern farmers accept this is non-harmful for us and the rest of the environment. I take this hard. I take it to heart and need to sip some more mayhaw tea.
This is our land, our food, our bodies and future. Please support organic and sustainable mayhaw growing practices.
P-Town Heart Beat Tea blend:
2 part Mayhaw
2 part mint
1 part Dandelion Root
Cover herbs and roots in boiling water and steep for 10-15 minutes. Remover herbs and roots and serve hot with local honey.
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