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.
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.
Habitat and distribution
Deciduous woodland, hedgerows, scrub.
Parts used for food
Seeds, shoots, leaves and sap.
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.
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.
The wood was used to make spears as well as being excellent for firewood.
There is little data that I can find warning about the side effects of using ash in food and medicine.
- Foraging safety guidelines
- Edible and medicinal wild plants of Britain and Ireland
- Foraging through the year
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