“Some things you must guard with care:
There are Rowans in the dooryard;
Rowans in the yard are sacred,
Rowan branches too are holy
And the leaves upon the branches –
And the berries even holier.
By their means a girl may learn,
A young woman may be guided
To affect her sweetheart’s feelings,
Even to command his heart.”
~ from ‘The Teaching of the Bride’ in ‘The Kalevala,’ Finland’s great epic poem
Late winter is a good time for dreaming up plans for springtime plantings. I’ve been wondering what type of tree or bush to plant near my front door to replace the Cedar that gave up the ghost last year. I’m leaning towards Mountain-ash, a tree very closely related to one known as Rowan in the Old World. Rowans are supposed to bring good fortune and repel negative energies, qualities that make them ideal plantings near the entrance to one’s home.
Referred to by the Celts as ‘Fid nan Druad’ or ‘wizard trees,’ Rowan Trees have been regarded by Northern Europeans as magical trees since ancient times. They are often found growing near ancient settlements, churchyards and henges (stone circles). A large number of Mountain-ash saplings, just the right size for transplanting, are presently growing towards the edge of my backyard.
A Scottish superstition warns that it’s bad luck to cut down a Rowan Tree. Its wood was traditionally employed in the fabrication of walking sticks, coffins, crosses and wizards’ wands. The trees are associated with prophecy and creativity. Quickbeam, one of Tolkien’s Ents from the Lord of the Rings saga was a Rowan.
The name of Mountain-ash is misleading, since this tree is not a true Ash but rather a member of the Rose (Rosaceae) family of plants. Mountain-ash leaves are a favorite of White-tailed Deer, Moose, Fishers, Martens, Snowshoe Hares and Grouse. Squirrels, mice, voles, grouse, jays, robins, thrushes and waxwings all enjoy the berries. Fermented berries can be intoxicating to small animals. Years ago, I stopped to pick up a robin that had flown into my windshield while I was driving. Its mouth was full of Mountain-ash berries.
I’ve yet to figure out exactly why the above lines from the Kalevala say that a young woman can affect her sweetheart’s feelings through the use of Rowan berries. Certainly any food or wine prepared with care and a loving heart will inspire good feelings, especially today, St. Valentine’s Day.
For anyone who has access to rowanberries and is curious about their possible ‘love-potion effect,’ here is a recipe for rowan jelly that I found in Pamela Michaels’ cookbook All Good Things Around Us.
Rowanberries make a light red jelly with a sharp flavour that goes beautifully with venison or game, as well as with lamb and pork. You can make the jelly with green cooking apples, but crab apples give the best flavour.
1-1/2 kilos / 4 lbs rowan berries + 1 kilo / 3 lbs crab apples + water + sugar
Wash the berries and strip them from their stalks, wash the crab apples, cut them in half and nick out any bad bits. Put both fruits in a large pan, add enough water to barely cover, bring to the boil and cook for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and pulpy. Pour into a jelly bag or double thickness of muslin and drip overnight. Measure the juice into a pan and add 400 g / 2 cups / 1 lb sugar for each 500 ml /2-1/2 cups / pint of juice, heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly for about 7-10 minutes until the liquid jells when dripped on to a cold saucer. Skim and pour into warm dry jars, cover with waxed circles while hot, seal with cellophane covers when cold.
For more information about Rowan trees, see: