I’ve been back in the UK since the beginning of the month and have quite a lot to add to the blog that I now have the time to begin. In the course of visiting some members of my scattered family I have travelled from North Wales to Bristol via Leicester and back again and had a mix of weather – a typical British summer really and for me, much easier to cope with than the intense heat that Spain is experiencing now.
Since arriving, my first impressions have been of how beautiful and abundant the summer flowers are this year, both in gardens and in the wild and was surprised by how early some trees and plants are producing ripe fruit, particularly Rowan trees in both Leicester and Bristol that were laden with berries and, also in Bristol, lots of ripe blackberries. I’ve already got quite a lot to share, but I thought I’d get going with a bit about the Rowan Tree.
Rowan– Sorbus aucuparia L.edulis
Gaelic name: Caorthann
Family : Rosaceae
The Rowan tree has been one of my favourite trees since I was very young, having all the qualities I could wish for from a tree; in a garden it looks good all year round, it doesn’t get too big, keeps a good shape, has attractive green ash-type leaves that take on lovely autumn colours and creamy blossoms, but it comes into its own in the late summer -early autumn when it is laden with bright orange-red berries that birds love. It also has some fascinating mythology attached to it, and had at least one song written about it, what more could you possibly want?
The name “rowan” is derived from the Old Norse name for the tree, raun. Today the Rowan may also commonly be known as Mountain Ash, although it is not related to the ash family, but through the ages it has been known by a myriad of other names. The following is a list from wikipedia: Delight of the eye (Luisliu), Mountain ash, Quickbane, Quickbeam, Quicken (tree), Quickenbeam, Ran tree, Roan tree, Roden-quicken, Roden-quicken-royan, Round wood, Round tree, Royne tree, Rune tree, Sorb apple, Thor’s helper, Whispering tree, Whitty, Wicken-tree, Wiggin, Wiggy, Wiky, Witch wood, Witchbane, Witchen, Witchen Wittern tree. Many of these can be easily linked to the mythology and folklore surrounding the tree. In Gaelic, it is caorann, or Rudha-an (red one, pronounced similarly to English “rowan”)
Rowans are mostly small deciduous trees 10–20 m tall, though a few are shrubs. The leaves are arranged alternately, and are pinnate, with (7-)11-35 leaflets; a terminal leaflet is always present. The flowers are borne in dense corymbs; each flower is creamy white, and 5–10 mm across with five petals. The fruit is a small pome 4–8 mm diameter, bright orange or red in most species.(Due to their small size the fruits are often referred to as berries, but a berry is a simple fruit produced from a single ovary, whereas a pome is an accessory fruit.)
Food for birds & insects
The fruit are soft and juicy, which makes them a very good food for birds, particularly waxwings and thrushes, which then distribute the seeds in their droppings. Whilst in Leicester I was delighted to spot a pair of Bullfinch visit a neighbouring tree to enjoy the bountiful crop of fruits there, returning several times during each of the days I was there. (The quality of the photographs is not great, sorry, but I was taking them through a bedroom window!)
Blackbirds were also feeding avidly and very frequently, but the only other bird I saw taking an interest was a young Chaffinch.
Rowan is also used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species.
Food & medicinal uses
Traditionally the berries from the Rowan were processed for jams, pies, and bittersweet wines. It was also made into a tea to treat urinary tract problems, haemorhoids and diarrhea. The fresh juice of the berries is a mild laxative, and helps to soothe inflammed mucous membranes as a gargle. Containing high concentrations of Vitamin C, the berries were also ingested to cure scurvy – a Vitamin C deficiency disease. Even today, one of the sugars in the fruit is sometimes given intravenously to reduce pressure in an eyeball with glaucoma.
Caution : Do not eat raw berries!
Caution, however, must be taken when using the berries. They are reported to contain a cancer-causing compound, parasorbic acid. The poisonous elements are neutralized by cooking the berries though.
Mythology, magic & folklore
The European rowan (S. aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and protection against malevolent beings. In Celtic mythology the rowan is called the Traveller’s Tree because it prevents those on a journey from getting lost.
Rowan was used in all protection spells particularly from fire, or lightning. In Ireland it was hung in the house to prevent fire charming, hung around the necks of hounds to increase their speed, and used to keep the dead from rising. It also had the power to protect people and animals from evil spirits. The IrishDruids held it in particular esteem, for its physical healing as well as its magical properties.
The density of the rowan wood made it very usable for walking sticks and magician’s staves. Druid staffs have traditionally been made out of rowan wood, and its branches were often used in dowsing rods and magic wands. Rowan was carried on sea-going vessels to avoid storms, kept in houses to guard against lightning, and even planted on graves to keep the deceased from haunting. It was also used to protect one from witches.
A Poem about the Rowan Tree:
Beneath the green and berry red
They flutter about
Making a melody with each wing strum
Magical lil’ creatures
Beauties of the forest
Fairies they are called by some
Protecting and guarding against the darkness
Bringing well being to babe’s milk
Sweet Rowan tree
Grace my land and grow
Ward off evil spirits
And remind me of my heritage of long ago
Dance with me in moonlight May
And I shall honor you
With my nurturing hands
And the remembrance of the one who holds my smile
And here’s the song, with music so you can sing along…..
Scottish Folk Song: Rowan Tree
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 voice in 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.