Ash – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Ash has stood on the margins between magic and medicine for centuries. A healing tree once believed to cure snake bites, the ash has fallen out of use in modern medicine.

It is still remembered with fondness by those who remember picking its winged seeds to make ash key pickle.

Scientific Name

Fraxinus excelsior



Botanical Description

Ash has light grey bark and large compound leaves divided into four or eight pairs of lance-shaped leaflets with sharply toothed margins. The tree grows up to 40 m. The leaves are preceded by black flower buds bursting into clusters of greenish-white or purplish colours. The fruit or seed, each has a single long wing called an ‘ash key’, which aids wind pollination.


Deciduous. Native.

Habitat and Distribution

Deciduous woodland, hedgerows, scrub.

Parts Used for Food

Seeds, shoots, leaves and sap.

Harvest Time


Food Uses

The keys (the winged seeds) have been eaten as a pickle in Europe and Asia. The young shoots are edible and can be added raw to salads. The leaves have been used for tea. The tree sap can be tapped to make ash wine.

Ash Recipes

Nutritional Profile

It is not noted as having any particular nutritional benefits, although its astringency may explain some of its healing effects in folk medicine. The leaves may have a laxative effect.

Herbal Medicine Uses of Ash

It was once an ancient remedy for snake bites, and was believed to cure many other ailments from obesity to leprosy! The tree was also used to treat jaundice, kidney and bladder stones, flatulence, warts, ringworm, and earache.

Other Uses

The wood was used to make spears as well as being excellent for firewood.

Safety Note

There is little data that I can find a warning about the side effects of using ash in food and medicine.

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Photo Identification


Allen, D. E. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal plants in folk tradition: an ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland: Timber Press.

Cleene, M. de & Lejeune, M. C. (2002) Compendium of symbolic and ritual plants in Europe. Ghent: Man & Culture.

Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: a source book of edible plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.

Kunkel, G. (1984) Plants for human consumption: an annotated checklist of the edible phanerogams and ferns. Koenigstein: Koeltz Scientific Books.

Grieve, M. M. (1998) A modern herbal. London: Tiger Books International

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Share Your Experience. Leave A Note For Others

  1. Very clear photos, great when identifying plants. Please post more of these and their uses.

  2. A shame the quote from John Evelyn is nonsense. An ash tree at twenty years old is valueless, other than for a day or two’s firewood. I am very focused on my ash trees due to die back. Trees that were a good size when I bought my land forty years ago have very little mill able timber: I know because I have a mill and plank anything worthwhile, saving the part of the trunk where the limbs divide for turning.

  3. The Ash tree is the tree of life Mentioned in the Bible that’s why God Cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden Island called the Garden of Eden with hands of the Ash always pointing to Sun it shows Love for Creation under the Sun.

  4. Thank goodness a lecturer at the agricultural college came to look and advise of my Ash over 30 yrs ago when one side looked dead. We had it trimmed and my huge Ash stands proud at one side of the garden. Have never tasted it though.

  5. I have two huge ash trees in my garden in Birmingham England nested by magpies.thinking of trimming cos losing sun and light quite a lot now

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