Traditional and Modern Use of Rowan or Mountain Ash

Rowan or Mountain Ash is an ancient tree used since ancient times.

The berries provide a variety of wild edible delights and offer a range of uses in medicine.

Scientific Name

Sorbus aucuparia.

Family

Rosaceae.

Botanical Description

The bark of this small shrubby tree is smooth, shiny and greyish coloured.

The stem and branches are slender with pinnate leaves that are dark green on the upper side and bluish green on the underside with toothed margins.

The tree yields scented white-petalled flowers in umbrella-like clusters. The berry-like fruit is scarlet, turning from green to yellow to orange-red as they mature.

Status

Native to Britain, Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus and Western Siberia; introduced to North America and New Zealand.

Habitat and Distribution

It prefers rocky places, glens and mountain riversides; also grown as an ornamental tree of parks and gardens.

Parts Used For Food

Largely berries, but the bark, twigs, buds, flowers, leaves and sap are also edible. See cautions below.

Harvest Time

A deciduous tree, fruiting August to November.
Rowan Notebook

Food Uses of Rowan or Mountain Ash

The berries can be used to make jams, jellies, conserves, marmalades, vinegar, wines, spirits, confectionery, ketchup, pies and soups.1

However, the raw berries have a bitter taste unless you know how to pick and prepare them.

The bitter, astringent taste is said to be improved after frost, which helps make the fruit sweeter.2

In Estonia, between the 18th–21st centuries, almost all parts of the rowan tree have been used as a wild edible, including the bark, twigs, buds, flowers, leaves, sap and fruit.3

Nutritional Profile of Rowan or Mountain Ash

The berries contain vitamins A and C, as well as other substances like pectin, malic acid and tannins. Candied rowan berries contain 30–40 mg of vitamin C.4

In fact, it was once used to treat scurvy and we now know that the tree’s berries contain high amounts of vitamin C.1

Recipes for Rowan or Mountain Ash

Herbal Medicine Uses of Rowan or Mountain Ash

Since ancient times, the berries have been prescribed for stomach disorders or for bleeding.1

The leaves were also used to make remedies for sore eyes, rheumatism, asthma and colds.5, 6

The berries and the bark are astringent which may support these uses of the tree.

Other Uses

The wood is hard and elastic and has had many commercial uses in woodcraft from making baskets and cartwheels to kitchen utensils and crates.

Cautions

The berries may irritate the stomach if taken in excess, while other sources warn that the seeds may be toxic and cause poisoning.1

There is little information about the safety of the tree during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, and so rowan is best avoided at these times.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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References

  1. De Cleene, M, Lejeune, MC. Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe volume 1: Herbs. Man & Culture Publishers. Belgium, 2003.
  2. Uphof, JCT. Weinheim, HR, Engelmann. Dictionary of Economic Plants. H.R. Engelmann. New York, 1959.
  3. Kalle, R. & Sõukand, R. Changes in the Use of Wild Food Plants in Estonia. 18th-21st Century. Plant Science. Springer. Online, 2016.
  4. Krishnan Marg, KS Dr. The Useful Plants of India. National Institute of Science. Communication and Information Resources. New Delhi, 2000.
  5. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri, 2014.
  6. Vickery, R. A Dictionary of Plant-Lore. Oxford University Press. Oxford, 1995.

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  1. Rowan was one of the ingredients in what we named ‘hedgerow jam’ a few years back . I took my kids for a walk up a county lane and we picked whatever we found that was edible. Our haul included rowan, blackberies, tiny green apples, rose hips, bulace, a few sloes, and haws. It was delicious and came out a lovely red-orange colour. It was great way to introduce the kids to foraging beyond blackberries, and using the results.

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