Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Scent of Hawthorn: May Day, Witches and The Plague!

Today I spent my precious lunch break idling in Manchester’s Whitworth park, with my face turned up the greet the sun, dropping only to take a bite of my sandwich and a slurp of a violently blue slush drink (a new and welcomed arrival to ‘sugary crap you can buy in the school canteen’).

Another welcomed arrival was the splendid whiff of Hawthorn Blossom surrounding me. The heavy stormy atmosphere seemed to trap and amplify it’s power rendering me somewhat bewitched. 

 The familiar sight of Hawthorn in the Spring, by artist - Kate Allen Tryon

Historically, the Hawthorn tree was bound in folklore. Amongst many curious ideas, it was deemed to be the residence of a fairy that could whisk you away to the ‘otherworld’ if you sat underneath it on the 1st of May (you have been warned). It was also worshipped as a symbol of fertility, perhaps because of it’s early blooms that foretold of the fertile summer ahead. Most worryingly, one of it’s many ancient names is ‘Hagthorne’ which stemmed from the belief that haggardly witches turned themselves into Hawthorn trees on Beltane night (a Gaelic festival which happens to be tomorrow). Despite it’s beguiling scent, I’d avoid getting too close to it over the next few days.

Cute but dangerous

I adore the scent of Hawthorn. In particular, it’s oddness. It smells beautiful with it’s sensations of opulent tonka bean/coumarin sweetness blended with a real ‘British countryside’ floral aroma. It’s not the gentile blooms of Grasse, but a much more feral and filthy flower, which it would have to be given that it’s primary pollinating buddy is the beastly Carrion Fly (more frequently found on rotting meat and cow pats).

Many folk are repulsed by the scent, perceiving it to be the ‘stench of death’ with it’s tendency to replicate bodily decomposition. Indeed it was likened in times past to the pungent smell of the plague. I’m not entirely sure I agree but I do detect a petite aspect of horror movie screening alongside it’s historical romance.

Last spring, I wrote about two of my favourite white florals and made reference to the countryside Hawthorn of my childhood. I also made some rather odd references to other scented phenomena that is worth a peruse if you enjoy the dafter side to Odiferess. Click here to read it.

If you are an ardent fan of hedgerow notes, I’d recommend giving these a sniff:

Ann Gerard – Perle de Mousse

Dior – Diorissimo

MDCI – Rose de Siwa

Diptyque – Eau de Lierre (Ivy)

Mark Buxton – Emotional Rescue

The Vagabond Prince - Enchanted Forest (click here for my review)

Dior – Fahrenheit (yes I know, but it contains not just Hawthorn but also Lily of The Valley, Chamomile and Honeysuckle)

I wish you a frolick filled May Day. To get you in the mood, I give you, the maypole dance from the cult film The Wicker Man.


  1. Perle de Mousse - wonderful stuff! There's hawthorn in Chanel Beige, though you would never know it. And another hedgerow scent that springs to mind is AG Eau de Camille, now discontinued I think, also a MH one I actually used to own but whose name escapes me!

    1. Hi Vanessa. It's an odd note, it seems to pop up a lot in things I smell that floor me with their brilliance. Beige is gorgeous isn't it? Oddly, I stuck my nose in some on the canal bank on Saturday and was gifted the full 'plague' experience for the first time! I'm also being very much drawn to lilac at the moment, my perfume collection is going to look like an English heritage tribute if I'm not careful. I rather fell for Caron's Muguet de Bonheur recently and having smelt every Lily of The Valley scent possible in Manchester, I realise, it's the lilac in it that I love. I wore Mitsouko yesterday and smelt the lilac stronger than anything else as my nose was in tune to it.