The Norse god Odin, finding two tree trunks on the seashore, turned them into the first man and woman. The man’s trunk was of ash.
To Scandinavians, the ash, whose leaves were always green, united heaven, earth and hell. Its roots were reputed to reach as far into the ground as its branches rise to the sky. From its wood, a new race of men would arise.
Thomas Carlyle said of it: “Igdrasil, the ash tree of existence, has its roots deep-down in the kingdoms of Death: its trunk reaches up Heaven-high, spreads its boughs over the whole Universe: it is the Tree of Existence.”
Fraxinus excelsior is one of the most powerful of all trees. To Vikings, it was the Tree of Life. Healing wands and protective staffs were made from its wood. It was used as the traditional Yule log, bringing the warmth of the sun into the dark night of winter.
In Scotland, ash sap was the magical first drink for a newborn. In Derbyshire, England, any young man who was reckless enough to fell one was booted out of the parish.
Ash timber was once used to make regal thrones, or “support the king’s thigh.” A failed crop of ash fruits, or keys, portends a death in the royal family within a year.
A descendant of the sacred ash tree of Creevna, Ireland, was still standing in the 19th century. Its twigs were carried to America by emigrants as a protection against drowning on the voyage.
English Midlanders used it in divination. It could even be used to cure warts. The sufferer would push one new pin for each wart into the tree, chanting this charm:
“Ashen tree, Ashen tree
Pray buy these warts off me.”
Its bark has been used as a quinine substitute in times of fever and was an effective remedy for ailments of the spleen and liver. The leaves, both a laxative and a diuretic, were used as a weight loss aid.
The green ash keys were pickled and eaten in sauces and salads. The sturdy wood made wheels, skis and farm implements. Its attractive grain made it popular for furniture.
A love charm goes:
“Even ash, Even ash
I pluck thee off the tree.
The first man I meet,
My true love may he be.”
Lastly, a circle drawn around a snake with an ash stick compels it to remain within its bounds.
Useful indeed, the mighty ash.
– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email email@example.com.