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 suppose
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


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.