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Sorbus aucuparia Sorbus aucuparia
Rowan Tree
This small tree has much significance for the people of northern Europe. It is associated with the Celtic holiday of Imbolc and the goddess Brigid. Druids dyed ritual garments for lunar celebrations black with the bark and berries. They wove wattle beds from rowan whips, which they laid upon to induce trance. These magickal trees have been found planted around numerous stone circles. At one time this plant was considered especially protective for dairy cows, and British farmers drove their cattle through hoops of rowan to protect themRowan tree circle in Scotland. Likewise, it was planted next to one's home in order to protect it, and it was thought to be bad luck to dig one up. In Welsh churchyards, these trees were planted to protect and guard the dead. In the Highlands of Scotland, using any part of this tree except the berries was taboo, unless the wood was to be made into a ritual object. For instance, a threshing tool could be made out of rowan wood only if it were to thresh grain for ritual and celebration. A traditional traveler's charm was a rosary of dried rowan berries on a red thread. Rowan is the clan badge of the Malcolms and the McLachlans. On the Isle of Man, equal-armed crosses were made from the branches gathered without using a knife and bound with something red--ribbon, yarn, a bit of leather. These crosses were worn and put on cattle for protection. Rowan branches have been made into dowsing rods for divining the presence of metal. The berries are made into a wine in the Highlands (fruits harvested after the first frost are especially good for this purpose), Scots make a strong spirit from them, the Welsh made ale from them, and the Irish used the berries to flavor mead. Rowan wine is considered an aid to second sight. The berries also make a nice jelly.Top

Rowan berries In Norse Magick. This tree is also considered protective in Scandinavia. Runes were carved on rowan staffs in the past, and the name rowan is even said to come from the Norse word runa, for charm. Rowans that grow in the crevices of cliffs are considered especially powerful and are called "flying rowans," much as in the UK solitary trees are considered especially powerful and deemed Fairy trees. In Norse mythology, the first woman was made from a rowan (the first man was made from an ash), and this tree saved the god Thor from being washed away in the river of the Underworld. Top

Planetary Associations. Perhaps because of this Thor connection, some consider this a Mars tree that is especially good for ensuring virility and protection in war. But most associate rowan with Mercury. For one thing, it is very fast growing (one of its common names is quickbeam), but Mercury is also the god of magick, and rowan can call and banish spirits, help increase psychic abilities, and open communication with the spirit world. Its wood is great for making tools of divination and wands, and its leaves and berries (which have a pentacle on the end) are good for divinatory incense. Top

Rowan Tree How It Grows. This member of the rose family is a native of northern Europe and becomes a small tree of maximum height of 65 ft/20 m (40ft/10 m more usual). It enjoys growing in the mountains near scotch pine, oak, and birch, and is one of the most northerly growing trees on the European continent. It is nicely decorative. Its very sweet-scented cream-colored flowers appear in May and are strongly Moon. The more Sun-connected berries are bright red; they are very sour from vitamin C and must be cooked before eating because of the presence of a carcinogen (which is destroyed by heat or fermentation). Rowan needs another rowan nearby to make fruit; try planting a threesome. In fall, leaves turn yellow naturally, or frosts can turn them bright orange-red. The bark is quite handsome (this is a good bonsai tree) and is a good host for lichens. Blackbirds eat the berries, but deer and rabbits enjoy eating all parts of this tree, so protect saplings from them. Also watch out for Japanese beetles, which especially favor members of the rose family, including rowan. They stripped my tree of leaves one year. The rowan is also known as Delight of the Eye (Luisliu--in the Ogham alphabet, the name for rowan is luis), Quickbeam, Quicken, Witchwood, Sorb Apple, Royne Tree, Wicken, Rune Tree, and Rudha-an (Scots Gaelic for Red One). Top

How to grow rowan trees from seed: Soak the seed for 24 hours in cold water in the fridge. Then rinse and fold the seeds into a paper towel that has been wet and wrung out. Put in a baggie and warm stratify at 59-77F/15-25C for 30-60 days (check periodically to make sure they don't mold or dry out), then put the baggie into the veggie drawer in the fridge at 33-37F/1-3C for 90-120 days. Take out & sow to germinate--you can time it to take them out in March and sow them outside (not in direct sun). Instead of a paper towel, some people like to mix the seeds with 3 times their volume of sterile moist planting medium put into a little plastic margarine tub or a baggie. You can skip the warm stratification, but the cold stratification is necessary, and skipping the warm will mean less germinatiion over a longer period. Still, you don't need that many seeds to germinate unless you are planting a forest. You can also just sow them outside in fall. This plant likes light, acidic soils (dig in some peat moss) that do not become water-logged. Plant in full sun away from other trees--it does not compete well, although it will manage under the shade of scotch pine. It will grow in the northern part of temperate and in cold areas (zones 2-6, or down to -20F/-28C) but cannot take any heat, so it cannot be grown in the south at all. Once it is established, it is easy to propagate from twigs. General growing info Top

Rowan Berry Jelly
Rowan Berries
Granulated Sugar

Wash berries and remove stems. Put in a large pot and just cover with water. Boil until soft. Mash and strain in a jelly bag or press through cheese cloth.

Put 6 - 1/2 pint (1 cup) empty canning jars into a canner and cover with water. Boil them for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them.

Measure how many cups of juice you have as you transfer it to a clean, large pot. Boil the juice for 25 minutes. Stir in 1 cup sugar for each cup of juice you started with. Boil until the juice reaches the jellying point--8 degrees F above the boiling point for water at your altitude. This will take about 20 minutes.

Prepare lids. Check your package for directions.

Ladle the jelly into hot canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims clean, or the seal will not be good. Make sure there is no stickiness. Put the lid and screw band on and put them in the canner.

Cover all the jars with water and boil for 10 minutes (or 20 minutes over 1000 feet). Take the jars out and let them sit overnight. Don't touch the lids.

The next day, check to see that the sealed lids are curved down. If a lid clicks when you press it in the middle, it is not sealed. Use those ones soon. Store the rest in a cool dark place.

If this jelly is too runny for your taste, add crabapples for pectin. Top 

Sorbus aucuparia
Rowan Tree
100 seeds $3.75


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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Honoring Brigid
Celebrating Imbolc
Druid Sacred Plant
Making Sacred Objects
Sacred Uses
Mercury Herb

2004, 2014 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission