In early autumn everywhere you look on the moors and in country gardens rowan trees, otherwise known as mountain ash, are simply dripping with berries. In fact there is often a positive glut of these bright red fruits so that the birds can happily gorge themselves. Sometimes however too many berries are often a sign of an impending bad winter.

Country folk love rowans, reminding them of mountains and other wild and windy places. Perhaps also it is because they equate these lovely trees with mystery and strange beliefs; many can recall the rowan being referred to as ‘the witch’s tree’. The rowan is known as the tree of divination, protection, and good luck. It was considered by the Celts to be the “Tree of Life,” and magic fires were made from it. The rowan is a good tree to engage against psychic attack, for whoever uses it is supposedly taken care of by fairy folk!

In times past the rowan was seen as having powers of protection against enchantment, unwanted influences and evil spirits. Country folk would drive their sheep through hoops of rowan branches and tie sprigs of rowan over doorways and cattle sheds to keep people and animals from harm there was also was a belief that bewitched horses and other animals were controlled with rowan whips. Many churchyards were planted with rowan trees to watch over and protect the spirits of loved ones.

Steeped in history and strange ritual practices, there were great rowan thickets planted at oracular sites throughout Europe; many were situated in the neighbourhood of the ancient stone circles. Druids built special platforms made from interwoven Rowan twigs known as the Wattles of Knowledge which were used as a ritual bed to induce a trance to seek hidden knowledge.

It is considered luckier to find rowan twigs than to cut them from the branches but if you do cut them you should apparently leave something of yourself behind such as a lock of hair or a fingernail. You can also, as has been practised for centuries, plant a rowan tree near your house to ward off evil and any passing witches!

The rowan yields a black dye that the Druids used for dyeing their ceremonial black robes for special lunar ceremonies. The ancient Druids of Ireland also lit fires of rowan wood before battles and incantations were spoken over the flames to summon spirits to take part in the fight and to combat evil forces.

The berries are quite useful medicinally since the juice from the berries is mildly laxative and also makes a good gargle for sore throats and hoarseness. If made into jam, the fruit becomes astringent, which is good for mild diarrhoea. The fruit can also be boiled, strained and made into wine or gently boiled to make a vitamin C drink which was previously used for scurvy, the Welsh used it to make a special ale using Rowan berries.

This shapely and beautiful tree is ideal for most gardens as it doesn’t take up much room and its sparse feathery foliage allows grass to grow beneath it. In the spring it is a mass of white flowers but it is in the autumn when the leaves turn red and orange that it really comes into its own; for it is then that it covered in a mass of scarlet berries that act as a draw to all sorts of garden and farmland birds.