The rowan is one of my favourite trees, and just now, it’s at its most beautiful.
Sprays of blood-red berries, clustered among feathered leaves, bringing colour like nothing else to the brown and purple heather-coloured hills surrounding my home. They light up the mountains.
The rowan is native to Scotland, but is found in many places in northern Europe and the US. Here in the UK, it grows higher up the sides of mountains than any other native tree. In the US, it’s often called mountain ash (though it’s not related to the ash tree.)
Very much a witch’s tree, rowan has many magical properties and is sacred in Druidry and Wicca. Rowan wood is used for wands, amulets, and other ritual tools, and some Scottish tradition forbade the use of rowan wood for any other purpose than the sacred. The dark five-pointed star found on it’s red berry makes a tiny pentagram – a symbol of earthy magic.
Deeply associated with protection, rowan trees have often been planted outside homes to guard against evil, or in graveyards to protect the spirits of the dead. Sprays of flowers and berries decorate the entrances to houses and sheds, protecting the inhabitants from harm. Paradoxically, rowan has also traditionally been used to ‘protect against’ witchcraft… yet rowan-wood tools have been used as convicting evidence in witch trials.
Though it’s berries appear in August, the rowan is also associated with February and the festival of Imbolc, where it is a symbol of the life-force that is at work even when all around us appears to be sleeping or dead.
A bright clear atmosphere surrounds the Rowan. Its beauty and the strength of its life-energy brings a tangible healing to the spirit when ever you spend time with these delightful trees.
Its message is clear to all of us, not to give up, but to hold strong to your life force and what you believe in.
Glennie Kindred, The Sacred Tree
You can pick and dry the berries for your own magic, and you can use them for making jam, wine, cordials and medicine, too. They’re a little poisonous when raw so be careful. Here’s a recipe for rowan berry jelly, here’s another for wine! And here are a few more notes on magical rowan trees.
Rowan berry garlands
To celebrate the change from summer to autumn – ever my favourite time of year – I made rowan berry garlands to decorate my workspace and altar. When the berries are ripe they look like beautiful, fat, wooden beads, then as they dry, they become lighter and tougher and shrink a little on the thread. They look wonderful either way.
If you want to make your own, it’s as simple as it looks!You’ll need two good sprays of rowan berries, red embroidery thread and a needle. I’ve tried making these using cotton, wool and fine waxed thread – all work, but embroidery thread is the nicest to use and makes a sturdy garland.
Cut yourself about 50cm thread and tie a double knot in the end. Then start threading your berries! I found it easiest to push through the centre of the pentagram to thread them. Some will smoosh or drop off the thread as you’re doing it – just go carefully. Knot up the ends and hang them where you like. Your garland will take about ten days to dry.