What Is a Rowan Tree: Unveiling the Tree of Magic
My grandmother’s gentle reprimand to immediately plant a rowan tree when I bought my first home surprised me. She claimed it would offer me protection from bad spirits and lightning, amongst other things. I had never questioned the magic of trees in a more ambiguous sense.
The idea of some great mythology of rowan tree, however, chaffed against my evidence-based perception. But wasn’t there evidence? Wasn’t the local cypress forest the go-to place when people were mourning? Do eucalyptus trees make you feel more light-hearted, like they do for me? Despite not understanding the meaning of rowan tree energy, I planted one.
A Bit of Botany
Native to the northeastern United States, the United Kingdom and much of Europe and Asia, the many subspecies of genus Sorbus have proliferated well beyond these regions. They are often called mountain ash as their feather-like leaves look similar to those of an ash tree. However, they are actually members of the rose family.
These deciduous, shrub-like trees don’t generally grow taller than 40 feet and can live up to 200 years. They are early bloomers, generally presenting clusters of small, white, hermaphroditic flowers in May. And for those who are fruit-lovers, the good news is that Rowan trees bear bunches of bright red edible berries in the fall.
Myths encode information that is relevant or vital to a culture, and the mythology of rowan tree stories does this fantastically well. An ancient Greek myth on the origin of rowan trees tells of an epic battle between demons and a god-sent eagle.
It seems the careless Hebe, Goddess of Youth, lost the cup she used to dispense a rejuvenating elixir of life to some marauding demons.
An eagle was dispatched by the gods to recover the cup. The drops of blood and feathers from the eagle that fell to earth during the battle became rowan trees. This myth conveys both identification information (rowan trees have feather-shaped leaves and small round fruits that are the color of blood) and hints at the healing nature of products derived from the tree.
A very ancient Celtic myth, Froach and the Rowan Tree, recorded in the Book of Lismore in the early 1400s, imbues the fruit of rowan trees with curative powers as well.
As translated in verse by George Henderson, the myth claims that the tree’s “…berries’ juice and fruit when red, For you would life prolong: From dread disease it gave relief, If what is told be our belief.”
Healing and Nutrition
Both myths are substantiated by science. Rowan berries have a high level of vitamin C and a unique combination of antioxidant compounds, including rutin, anthocyanins and several types of quercetin.
Quercetin is a powerful flavonoid (basically a plant pigment) with many health benefits. Chief among these are its ability to eliminate pain, reduce inflammation and to prevent cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.
A bit medicinal tasting and quite bitter, rowan berries deliver more than antioxidants. They have been shown to curtail the effects of bacteria and harmful microbes in the body and on the skin.
But that’s not all: they are especially effective against E. coli and are also proven to be immune system boosters.
Rowan berries are traditionally prepared as a jam that accompanies wild game, but aren’t limited to this role. They can be used to make wine, ale or schnapps.
You can put them up in a sweet syrup for a few weeks to tame the bitterness, and then use them to accompany ice cream, waffles, tarts or whatever strikes your fancy. For a savory flavor, you can pickle them and use them much like you would a caper.
It turns out my grandmother wasn’t alone in her belief that rowan trees have protective powers. Folklore in the British Isles maintains that rowan trees protect against witchcraft and evil enchantments.
This protection can be offered by the live tree itself or respectfully harvested pieces of the tree, often fashioned into crosses. Runes have also traditionally been carved from the wood of rowan trees.
The psychic protective power of rowan trees may derive from its ability to help us connect to our intuitive selves. Recognizing our personal power allows us to ward off the negative influences that limit our spiritual growth. What better protection from evil is there than a self-actualized soul?
Far from superstitious, it has been consistently documented that trees reduce stress levels and can positively impact recovery from traumatic events. Though little hard research has been conducted on the mechanisms of this healing, intuition tells us that there is a vibrational connection between us and our woodland friends.
The Norse legend of Thor and the rowan can be interpreted as a metaphor for the centering ability of rowan trees.
In this ancient tale, Thor is rescued from a rushing torrent heading straight to the underworld by a rowan tree that bends across the river to save him. Powerful, rushing, negative thoughts can overwhelm and damn you, whereas stillness can free you.
The meaning of rowan tree mythology is clear. The tree is a gift of both health and self-knowledge. Rowan trees are one of the many allies here on this great, green planet that can help us become more fully-realized beings.