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Mountain Ash








A somewhat common, and handsomely conspicuous tree in many
parts of England, especially about high lands, is the Rowan, or
Mountain Ash. In May and June it attracts attention by its bright
green feathery foliage set off by cream-coloured bloom, whilst in
September it bears a brilliant fruitage of berries, richly orange in
colour at first, but presently of a clear ripe vermilion. Popularly
this abundant fruit is supposed to be poisonous, but such is far from
being the case. A most excellent and wholesome jelly may be
prepared therefrom, which is slightly tonic by its salutary bitterness,
and is an admirable antiseptic accompaniment to certain roast meats,
such as venison and mutton. To make this jelly, boil the berries in
water (cold at first) in an enamelled preserving pan; when the fruit
has become sufficiently soft, run the contents of the pan through a
flannel bag without pressure; tie the bag between two chairs, with a
basin below, and let the juice strain leisurely through so as to come
out clear. Then to each pint of the juice add a pound of sugar, and
boil this from ten to twenty minutes; pour off into warm dry jars,
and cover them securely when cool. After the juice has dripped off
the fruit a pleasant refreshing drink may be made for children by
pouring a kettleful of boiling water through the flannel bag. Some
persons mix with the fruit an equal quantity of green apples when
making the jelly. Birds, especially field fares, eat the berries with
avidity; and a botanical designation of the tree is aucuparia, as
signifying fruit used by the auceps, or bird catcher, with which to
bait his snares.

There is, says an old writer, in every berry the exhilaration of
wine, and the satisfying of old mead; and whosoever shall eat three
berries of them, if he has [351] completed a hundred years, he will
return to the age of thirty years.

At the same time it must be noted that the leaves of the Mountain
Ash are of a poisonous quality, and contain prussic acid like those
of the laurel. But, as already shown, the berries, when ripe, may be
eaten freely without fear. Chemically they contain tartaric acid when
unripe, and both malic and citric acids when ripe. They also furnish
sorbin, and parasorbic acid. The unripe fruit and the bark are
extremely astringent, being useful in decoction, or infusion, to
check diarrhoea; and externally in poultices or lotions, to constringe
such relaxed parts as the throat, and lower bowel.

The title Rowan tree has affixed itself to the Mountain Ash, as
derived from the Norse, Runa (a charm), because it is supposed to
have the power of averting the evil eye.

Rowan tree and red thread
Hold the witches a' in dread.

Ruma was really a magician, or whisperer, from ru, to murmur,
and in olden times runes, or mystical secrets, were carved
exclusively on the Mountain Ash tree in Scandinavia and the British
Isles.

Crosses made of the twigs, and tied with red thread were sewn by
Highlandmen into their clothes. Dame Sludge fastened a piece of
the wood into Flibbertigibbet's collar as a protection against
Wayland Smith's sorceries.--(Kenilworth). Other folk-names of the
tree are Quicken tree, Quick Beam, Wiggen, and Witcher.

The Mountain Ash is botanically a connecting link between the dog
rose of our hedges and the apple tree of our orchards. Its flowers
exactly resemble apple blossoms, and its thickly-clustered red
berries are only small crabs dwarfed by the love of the tree for
mountain [352] heights and bleak windy situations. In the harsh cold
regions of the north it is only a stunted shrub with leaves split up
into many small leaflets, so as to suffer less by any breadth of
resistance to the sharp driving blasts of icy winds.

Confusion has been often made between this tree and the Service
tree (Sorbus, or Pyrus domestica), which is quite distinct, being
more correctly called Servise tree, from Cerevisia, fermented
beer. Formerly this Servise, or Checker-tree, was employed for
making an intoxicating drink. Virgil says:--

Et pocula lae
Fermento atque acidis imitantur vitea sorbis.

With acid juices from the Service Ash,
And humming ale, they make their Lemon Squash.

The fruit of the Service tree (or Witten Pear-tree) resembles a small
pear, and is considered in France very useful for dysentery because
of its tannin; but this Pyrus domestica is a rare tree in England.
Sometimes mistaken for it is the wild Service tree (the Pyrus
torminalis), much more common in our south country hedges. Its
fruit is threaded on long strings, and carried in procession at village
feasts in Northamptonshire, but is worthless. Evelyn says, Ale and
beer brewed from the berries, when ripe, of the true Service tree is
an incomparable drink.





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Previous: Mistletoe



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