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Explore the Magic of Ash Tree Medicine and Mythology

 

Ash Tree Medicine and Mythology

By the Seed SistAs

The majestic, mystical, mythical Ash Tree.

Ash is having a hard time. It represents a challenging disconnect from nature that sees us humans mismanaging our tree kin, and then lamenting at the results.  The story of Ash tells us of an ancient connection to a tree that is now under serious threat in UK woodlands.  This is a little of the tale of Ash, and how we can reconnect with ash tree medicine and mythology.

Mythology of Ash

Yggdrasill (pronounced ig-dra-sil) is a giant Ash, the world tree of Norse mythology.  Yggdrasil supports the whole nine worlds of Norse mythology.  Ash is seen as the great unifier that brought these realms together – realms of humans, gods, realms of chaos and magic amongst others, all nestled in the branches of the great Ash tree.

This may be dismissed as mythology, but shows the reverence the Ash was held with.  And we still do hold the mighty Ash in great esteem.  There are majestic Ash trees that grow mightily tall, taking on that warrior energy that has become associated with the Ash tree.  There are many associations to being brave and courageous attached to Ash mythology.  Odin, for example, hung from the Ash for nine days and nine nights, and gained knowledge of other worlds, the runic symbols and the ability to interpret them.

Ash keys were said to have been taken by Vikings before going into battle to fortify and strengthen.  We tasted the ash keys, and they had a touch of caustic flavour.  They are best boiled and then pickled which removes the harmful compounds we tasted.

In Gaelic, the ash is called uinnseann (pronounced ooshin) or uindsend in old Irish.  Of the five guardian trees of Ireland, three were ash. The guardian trees sheltered each of the five Irish provinces. Celtic folklore names the provincial Guardian Trees of Ireland as: Eó Mugna (Oak tree), Bile Tortan (Ash tree), Eó Ruis (Yew tree), Craeb Daithí (Ash tree), Craeb Uisnig (Ash tree).

Ash trees have also been linked to protection of the purity of springs, and there is a grand Ash tree growing in the spring of Cern Abbas, a protective force.

In England, the ash is one of the most common trees that is given as place names. Noted by our kids called Ash, or as we drive through country lanes and villages, Ash Lane, Ash Hill etc.

When you see a majestic Ash growing straight and tall yet with a flexible quality, you know you are in the presence of a special tree.  There is a majestic beauty about the Ash.

Mountain Ash Vs Ash

Ash is not taxonomically related to Mountain Ash, the Rowan tree. Ash, common or European as in Latin, is called Fraxinus excelsior.  Ash is in the plant family of Fraxinaceae (the Ash family).  Mountain Ash, or Rowan, is in the Rosaseae family (Rose family).   Mountain ash is most likely named this because of the similarities of the leaves to the untrained eye.  Mountain ash does tend to be found, as named, high in the mountains often thriving alone.  Other leaves that can be mistaken for Ash are those of the Elderberry tree.

The tell-tale sign of the Ash is the easily recognisable black buds that look like they are made of hard coal.  It’s difficult to imagine the new life that will burst forth from these buds when they are in this hard black bud state.

What is Chalara (die-back)?

We have a young Ash tree growing in our hedge.  As we watched half of the Ash sapling start to brown and die back, our hearts sank.  Not just for that tree, but for all the Ash trees in our area.  Ash has been a part of our human history since we became human no doubt.  Ash is one of the most useful, elegant, versatile woods out there, as well as being a stunning tree with straight growing limbs of strong, shock absorbent, smooth wood.  Steeped in ancient history, revered by many cultures, Ash is part of the tapestry of our existence and deserves some reverence and care in our opinions.

The disease that is causing the Ash die-back, also known as Chalara, is actually a fungus.  It takes many spores for an ash tree to become overwhelmed and affected by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, so large areas of Ash growing close together are more at risk.  The weekend tree is often then taken over by a secondary host such as Honey Fungus which can then lead to the demise of the tree.  

There may be a wider lesson to learn here.

The spores and/or the effects of the spores became most notable in 2012 when large numbers of ash were being imported for forestry plantation reasons.  There is a lot to be said for locally managing populations of trees, and their off-spring to ensure resilience of the species brought in or planted, more attuned to local climate and soils.  Much of herb seed is imported into the UK and the same could be said there.  This highlights the importance of local tree nurseries and herb seed collections.

Ash Tree Medicine

The leaves of Ash have diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative properties.  The leaves offer powerful tree medicine that we call heroic, and is not the medicine of modern day herbalism. We rarely use purgatives unless in serious poisoning and even then, we would be unlikely to reach for something potentially toxic itself.

Fraxinous excelsior can provide immunomodulatory activity, potentially helpful in immune related disease, as well as reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production backing up traditional herbal use for inflammation and pain.

Pickled Ash Keys Recipe

Ash keys are the seeds that form bundles and flutter to the ground, and are often collected as ‘helicopters’ which spin when thrown in the air.  For this recipe, you really want young ash keys, without more woody or tough rides on the feathered area.

You can take the basic recipe and add whatever kitchen spices you like. You will find versions of this by other foragers, like Robin Harford and Pamela Michael.  We have adapted to work with the herbs that we feel create the most delicious taste and beneficial medicine.

Ingredients:

  • Jar
  • Young ash keys to fill – ideally harvested in the daytime around a full moon.
  • 2 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • Herbs or spices of your choice, e.g. 4 sprigs of thyme, 6 peppercorns crushed, 5 bay leaves, 4 cloves
  • Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

  1. You will need an empty jar and enough young ash keys to fill it.
  2. Boil the ash keys, strain, boil again and drain. This is important to remove the more caustic compounds.
  3. Fill the jar with the ash keys, leaving a gap at the top.
  4. In a Bain marie – a Pyrex bowl rested on a pan with about an inch of water in it, place 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, whatever spices you require (we use, a large sprig of rosemary, 4 sprigs of thyme, 6 peppercorns crushed, 5 bay leaves, 4 cloves), a tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Bring the water to the boil and simmer under the vinegar mix for around 20 minutes.
  6. Strain the mix through a muslin, pour over the ash keys and seal. Leave to pickle for around 12 weeks (3 lunar cycles)
  7. Serve alongside other dishes as a fun and tasty accompaniment.

 

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