The Rowan is found in a wide range of habitats including open woodland, scrub-land, rocky mountain outcrops, river banks and on acid soils. Because its seeds are often bird-sown, rowans are also common around the ruins of ancient settlements and stone circles. And in the event that such droppings land in a fork or hole on a larger tree, such as an oak, where old leaves have accumulated, they may result in a rowan growing as an epiphyte on the larger tree. Such a rowan is called a flying rowan and was thought to be especially potent against witches and their magic.
Such beliefs may give rise to the tree's many names in mythology and folklore, including quickbane, roan, rune tree, sorb apple, Thor's helper, whispering tree and witchbane, and to uses including being carried on vessels to avoid storms or kept in houses to guard against lightning or even being planted on graves to keep the deceased from haunting. While the density of its wood makes it suitable for walking sticks, druid staffs have traditionally been made from rowan wood and its branches have been used as dowsing rods.
And probably because the Rowan, in its different phases during the year, evokes memories of country days and gentler times, it has found a place in literature, poetry and traditional music such as here in the words of this old Scottish song:
There was nae sic a bonnie tree, in all the country side ...
How fair wert thou in simmer time, wi' all thy clusters white.
Now rich and gay thy autumn dress, wi' berries red and bright.
The Rowan has both medicinal and edible uses: infusions can be made from either its flowers or its fruit and taken for a number of ailments including rheumatic pain and as an aid in the treatment of kidney disorders; contrary to common belief the fruits are not poisonous. They are however rather bitter but this does not prevent them being used to make wine, syrups, soup and jam.
It is this latter use that has engaged me this week and in the next part of this two-part piece, I will describe the process of creating Rowanberry Jelly ... from tree to plate.