David Watson Hood, visual artist.
The image for rowan
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Rowan: Sorbus aucuparia L. synonym Pyrus aucuparia – (L) Ehrh. Rowan, Mountain Ash, Caorann, Caorunn, Coille (wood enchantress/wood-ash), Craobh chaoran (berry tree), Luis (drink), Mountain ash, Quicken, Roddin, Roddin-tree, Uinseag, Wiggan, Whitty, Wiky (and various other diminutives starting with W).

rowan berriesIn Celtic belief the Rowan ranks high amongst sacred plants, a staple food of the gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Like many favoured fruits and nuts: apples, peaches, almonds etc. the seeds probably contain hydrogen cyanide, in small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer but it causes respiratory failure and death in excess. It may be tempting to see a significance in the fact that so many Eurasian sacred 'foods of the gods' or 'foods of immortality' contain cyanide but a short reflection shows that if the gods were to try and avoid it they would not have much left to choose from for their five a day.

There were once taboos in the Highlands against the use of any parts of the tree apart from the berries, except for ritual purposes. For example a threshing tool made of rowan wood and called a buaitean was used on grain meant for rituals and celebrations it was also sometimes used for churn staff, distaff, the pin of the plough etc. Copulating beneath a Rowan was recommended for those finding it difficult to conceive.

The Rowan is so long revered as one of the four protective talismans from witches, bogles and the evil eye that every country house is likely to have one near the front door. In particular it was used to protect cattle and dairy products. Used along with ivy and honeysuckle as a magical milk protector (hoops of the stems placed under pails etc. to prevent the milk from being stolen by witches, malign spirits or the shidhe (faerie folk).).

"Roddin Tree and rede threde,
Hag stane an lammer bead,
Mak the witches tine thire speed."

A hag stane is usually a naturally holed flint or a stone holed by a piddock (a stone boring marine mollusc), lammer is amber.

Non-medical Uses of rowan

To eat the Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is very acid and large quantities of the raw fruit can cause stomach upsets. It can be used to make the delicious Rowan Jelly, far and away the best condiment for venison (add apples for pectin), the fruit can also be dried and used as a flour mixed with cereals (best remove seeds, see below on cyanogenic glycosides). The berries can be made into or added to a variety of alcoholic drinks, and different peoples each seem to have had their favourites. As well as the popular wine still made in the Highlands, the Scots made a strong spirit from the berries, the Welsh brewed an ale, the Irish used them to flavour Mead, and even a cider can be made from them. The leaves and flowers are used as a tea substitute. Young leaves are said to be a famine food but they also contain a cyanogenic glycoside so you should be very hungry before even thinking of eating them. An oil is obtained from the seed. A cosmetic face-mask is made from the fruits and is used to combat wrinkled skin. A black dye is obtained from the young branches. All parts of the plant contain tannin and can be used as a black dye. Trees are very wind resistant and can be used in shelterbelt plantings. Wood - hard, fine grained, compact and elastic. It is highly recommended by wood turners and is also used to make hoops for barrels, cogs and furniture

Medicinal uses of rowan
Antiscorbutic, Aperient, Astringent, Diuretic, Laxative.
Definitons of medical actions

The bark is astringent, it is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and as a vaginal injection for leucorrhoea etc. The fruit is antiscorbutic and astringent. It is normally used as a jam or an infusion to treat diarrhoea and haemorrhoids. An infusion can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and as a wash to treat haemorrhoids and excessive vaginal discharge. The seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides which, in reaction with water, produce the extremely toxic prussic acid. In small quantities this acts as a stimulant to the respiratory system but in larger doses can cause respiratory failure and death. It is therefore best to remove the seeds when using the fruit medicinally or as a food. Both the flowers and the fruit are aperient, mildly diuretic, laxative and emmenagogue. An infusion is used in the treatment of painful menstruation, constipation and kidney disorders.


The Really WILD Food Guide, www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/index.htm
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,

Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.

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