Monday, January 26, 2009

Wortcunning: European Rowan {Sorbus aucuparia}

Photo by AND12

Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree,
Thoul't aye be dear to me,
Entwin'd thou art wi' mony ties,
O' hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring,
Thy flowr's the simmer's pride
There was nae sic a bonnie tree,
In all the country side.
Oh rowan tree.

How fair wert thou in simmer time,
Wi' all thy clusters white.
Now rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright
On thy fair stem were mony names
Which now nae mair I see.
But there engraven on my heart,
Forgot they ne'er can be.
Oh rowan tree.

We sat aneath thy spreading shade,
The bairnies round thee ran
They pu'd thy bonnie berries red
And necklaces they strang.
My mither, oh, I see her still,
She smil'd our sports to see,
Wi' little Jeannie on her lap,
Wi' Jamie at her knee.
Oh rowan tree.

Oh, there arose my father's pray'r
In holy evening's calm,
How sweet was then my mither's voiceIn the martyr's psalm
Now a' are gane! we met nae mair
Aneathe the rowan tree,
But hallowed thoughts around thee twine
O' hame and infancy,
Oh rowan tree.

Oh Rowan Tree, written by Lady Caroline Nairn, 1822.

I love all trees, but the Rowan is the one I feel that I resonate with most. This is probably largely in part of its beneficial properties that compliment my own spiritual workings and is a tree of my Ancestors; it is also the tree that is thought to rule over the time of year that I was born.

There are a few different species of Rowan, and for this post I am focusing on the European variety (Sorbus aucuparia).

Other Names: Mountain Ash, Luis, Wicken-Tree, Quiken Tree, Witch Wood, Rawn-Tree, Rudha-an.

Description: The European Rowan is a deciduous tree, and as its name suggests is native to most of Europe. However, it doesn't do so well in the far south, where it is pretty much only found in the cooler, high altitudes of mountains.

Although often called Mountain Ash, it is not an actual Ash, but is a member of the Maloideae family, with relatives such as Pear, Apple, and Hawthorn.

It is a rather small tree growing generally to about 9 to 14 metres in height. It has beautiful pinnate leaves that resemble that of the Ash, white hermaphroditic flowers, and bears red berries from which it gets its nick Rudha-an ('red one' in Gaelic).

Warnings: As with all herbs, one should make sure to be thoroughly informed before ingesting them, and is best to do so under the guidance of a qualified healer.

It is reputed that if one ingests too many raw Rowan berries, it can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, as well as diarrhea.

Cultivating: The European Rowan's natural habitat ranges from mountainous terrain, to open fields, and mixed woodlands. It flourishes in cold climates, and will not do so well in hot climates.

Saplings or seeds can be readily bought at nurseries and online. Plant in the spring once there is no more threat of frost. It grows well in just about any type of soil, from clay, loam or sandy. It can also be grown in acidic or alkaline soil, but make sure to keep soil moist.

Place Rowan seeds or saplings in full sun to partial shade, away from other trees. It is known to not like crowded conditions, but apparently grows nicely with Scotch Pine.

The flowers blossom usually in May, which are pollinated by insects. Berries are in their full glory in late summer.

From the book Flora von Deutscheland, 1885

Medicinal/Remedial Properties and Lore: Anitscorbutic, aperient, astringent, demulcent, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, haemostatic, laxative, vulnerary.

In Dragons and Dragon Lore by Ernest Ingersoll (1928), he claimed that 'The rowan (our mountain ash) stood among the ancient Celts as 'the tree of life' because wondrous medicinal virtues were believed to reside in its red berries'.

According to Brother Aloysius in Comfort for the Sick, Rowan sap was once used for vomiting and heavy bleeding.

Mrs M Grieve recommended 'a decoction of the bark is given for diarrhoea and used as a vaginal injection in leucorrhoea', and ripe berries for an 'astringent gargle for sore throats and inflamed tonsils'. She also noted of the ripe berries, 'For their anti-scorbutic properties, they have been used in scurvy. The astringent infusion is used as a remedy in haemorrhoids and strangury.'

On Heilkräuter-Seitin (a popular herbalist German website, which is translated into English), they list a whole slew of different medicinal uses for the Rowan, including for liver and gull problems; stomach complaints, constipation, and diarrhea; bronchitis and pneumonia, and that it is an all round good immune system builder.

Magical Properties and Lore: The Rowan tree has a rich history of folklore surrounding its magical properties.

It is reported that it was a sacred tree of the Druids, and that they would use the wood in fires of celebration and used the berries to dye their robes.

In the Ogham it is called Luis, and the symbol looks like this:

In the Celtic Tree Calender (probably just a creation of Robert Graves) Luis rules over the time period of January 21 to February 17. Because Imbolc falls within this time, many Pagans believe that the Rowan tree is sacred to the Irish Goddess Brigid.

Brigid and (apparently) the Rowan are both connected to creativity, especially poetry. In my experience Brigid loves an offering of poetry, so if you are facing some 'writers block' before making such as offering, try some Rowan gin (a link to the recipe can be found below in 'Other Uses') ;)

Rowan is also often associated with the Moon, the Irish Gods Dagda and Lugh, and the Norse God Thor.

In Survival in Belief Among the Celts by George Henderson (1911), he says, 'In Wales it was considered lucky to have a mountain ash growing near your premises. The berries brought into the house were followed by prosperity and success.'

Glennie Kindred in an old White Dragon article says, 'Its name is linked with the Norse word "runa", meaning "a charm", and the the Sanskrit "runa", meaning " a magician. Rune staves, sticks on which the runes were inscribed, were made of Rowan wood' and recommends Rowan wood for any type of tool for divination, such as a Ogham set, or for invocation and communication with the divine (Gods, Faeries, Ancestors, et. al.).

Another way to use Rowan for the purpose of divination is to use the dried berries, ground up in an incense. A local folk tradition is to throw Rowan berries in a fire to divine one's future spouse.

Perhaps one of its most potent uses is for protection, especially from Faeries with ill intent, 'evil' spirits, and from being blasted by a Witch.

In Wales sometimes women would wear the berries tucked into their bodices or girdles (Survival in Belief Among the Celts by George Henderson), and other people throughout Scotland and Ireland have been known to wear Rowan wood amulets or Rowan berry necklaces for protection against Witchcraft and the evil eye.

Other methods mentioned in Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered by Norman Lockyear (1906) are Rowan branches being placed in barns on the 2nd of May to protect livestock in Northern England and in the Scottish Highlands. As well, milkmaids and herders would carry branches or switches made of Rowan to protect livestock. In the Isle of Man on Bealtaine people would wear Rowan flowers in their hats and place them on around the house (especially at the tops of their doors) as 'preservatives against all malignant influences', and in Wales on May Eve farmers would place Rowan wood in their fields to protect their crops.

Robert Means Lawrence in The Magic of the Horse-Shoe With Other Folk-Lore Notes (1898) says, 'for the protection of cattle from the incursions of witches, not even the horse-shoe may assume to usurp the rowan's prestige. Branches of this favorite tree, when hung over the stalls of cows or wreathed about their horns, are potent to avert the evil glances or contact, whether of witches or malicious fairies. And their efficacy is enhanced if the farmer is careful to repeat at regular intervals the following fervent petition:--
From Witches and Wizards, and long-tailed Buzzards, and creeping things that run in hedge-bottoms, good Lord, deliver us!'

And finally, the following methods are from The Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland by Walter Gregor (1881):

'On bonfire night (1st May, O.S.) small pieces of rowan-tree and woodbine were placed over the byre doors inside the house. Sometimes it was a single rod of rowan, covered with notches. There is the well-known rhyme:--

The rawn-tree in the widd-bin
Hand the witches on cum in.

Another and even more effectual method was to tie to each animal's tail by a scarlet thread a small cross made of the wood of the rowan-tree; hence the rhymes:--

Rawn-tree in red-threed
Pits the witches t’ their speed.


Rawn-tree in red-threed
Gars the witches tyne their speed.'

Photo by Mnemo

Other Uses: Rowan berries are well-loved by a number of birds including Waxwings, Blackbirds, and Finches.

Rowan berries can also be enjoyed by humans, and are rich in vitamin C! Follow the links for some recipes!

Rowan Berry jam

Rowan Berry Sauce

Rowan gin

Rowan Schnapps

Rowan Berry Wine

Rowan Vodka




perma_culture said...

Rowan jelly, yummy! Thank you for the amazing, informative post Laurel. =^)

cammie said...

I think every Celt loves the red one. We planted a few around our property about 6 or 7 years back for protection and also to attract the shining ones. I also like to make charms with the branches~with flowers or berries~for my mates who are need in of a little protection. Thanx for sharing this great journal entry.


Anonymous said...

i see these trees all over the place and never knew that you can eat thier berries. thank you for the recipes.

nefaeria said...

Thanks for your comments folks!

Cammie: Thank you for your added bit of lore!