Alder, the van of warrior bands for thereof are the shields.
Shield of warrior bands.
Protector of the heart, the shield.
Guarding of milk.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Alder fact file Alnus glutinosa (Latin) Fearn (Ogham) Aler (Anglo-Saxon) Elri (Norse) Gwernen (Welsh/Cornish)
The Alder can be a large canopy tree up to 70ft high laden with last year’s cones and reddish brown catkins at the same time fringing wetlands with a beautiful spring sight which is perhaps why the Norsemen called March ‘Lenct’ ( to become Lent) which means ‘the lengthening month of the Alder’.
Alder is often thought of as a Faerie or Elemental tree, an axis from which the elements flow and form.
Water- forms a valuable habitat known as ‘Carr’ supporting much wildlife on wetlands or beside rivers and lakes.
Fire- Alder wood does not burn especially well but produces hot charcoal and gunpowder.
Earth- The tree roots into the ground fixing nitrogen salts therefore enriching the soil around it.
Air- It has ‘Royal’ purple buds, the colour of the Raven and therefore connects the tree to the raven-headed giant Bran who has oracular powers of prophecy and protects the land of Britain from invaders. The wood has also been used to make whistles and pipes.
Alder in Lore is considered to be the male counterpart to the Willow as they both preside over our waterways nourishing and supporting this vital system. The male aspect is further enforced in the trees association with warriors. The wood was used to make a shield, and a fiery red dye obtained from the bark called ‘roeim’ (that which reddens the face) may have been used like woad to strike fear into the enemy. In the Welsh triads they speak of crimson stained Warriors of the Alder Cult. Dyes can also be obtained from the flowers (green) and the twigs (brown).The war Goddess the Morrigawn also takes the form of the raven and therefore one could associate her with the Alder.
The latin ‘Alnus’ may have been derived from the phrase ‘Alor Amne’- I am nourished by the stream.
The tree can be used for healing. The leaves can help relieve weary feet and put into duvets and cushions etc they can be used to give rheumatic relief. The leaves can also be used to tan leather and the bark can be placed on burns and inflammations including the neck if inflamed.
Alder wood is not durable unless immersed in water so is an ideal wood for water pipes, troughs, canal lock gates etc. Much of Venice is built on Alder piles and the wood in Britain would have been used as foundations for ‘Crannogs’- round houses built on waterways in ancient times.
There are three main woodland types of Alder:
Fen- low level ground on floodplains of rivers and streams.
Valley- Growing along narrow fringes to streams or climbing flushed slopes especially in Western Britain.
Plateau- level uplands often on a watershed. Alder generally will colonize new sites its seeds dispersed by water and to a lesser extent wind. It coppices well.
Alder doesn’t like stagnant anaerobic water or severe prolonged flooding but prefers moving oxygenated water and is associated with plants of fertile soil maybe due its nitrogen-fixing properties. In a mixed wood it associates itself with Lime, Birch, Chestnut and Hornbeam growing in soils varying from 3.3ph- 7.3ph. Local name indicators of Alder include Cargate and Carrfell.
For more information subscribe to our monthly newsletter HERE
Willow, the colour of the lifeless one
owing to the resemblance of its colour to a dead person.
Hue of the lifeless.
Beginning of loss, willow.
Strength of bees.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Willow fact file
Our largest willows are the white and crack willow that can reach 80ft in height. The willow species rather like the whitebeams consists of an array of specialist species some of which only grow in Scotland or in Northern areas of England.
The four main tree species are:
1/ Crack Willow (S.fragilis)
2/ White Willow (S.alba)
3/ Bay Willow (S.pentandra)
4/ Almond Willow (S.triandra)
The fourteen small tree/shrub species are:
1/ Sallow, Goat Willow (S.caprea)
2/ Grey Willow (S.cinerea)
3/ Purple Willow (S.purpurea)
4/ Common Osier (S.viminalis)
5/ Eared Willow (S.aurita)
6/ Tea-leaved Willow (S.phylicifolia)
7/ Dark-leaved Willow ( S.myrsinifolia)
8/ Creeping Willow ( S.repens)
9/ Downy Willow ( S.lapponum)
10/ Woolly Willow ( S.lanata)
11/ Whortle-leaved Willow ( S.myrsinites )
12/ Mountain Willow ( S.arbuscula)
13/ Net-leaved Willow ( S.reticulata)
14/ Dwarf Willow ( S.herbacea)
Celtic traditions sometimes encouraged trees to be planted at burial sites so the spirit of the corpse can rise into the sapling above, willow probably being a preferred choice as it is said to ease the passage of the soul at death. To wear willow is to grieve openly and the tree I suspect encourages us to be open to our deeper emotions.
Witches brooms may be bound with willow to dedicate the broom to the goddess and the moon. Its leaves, bark and wood maybe be burnt as incense for similar reasons.
Celtic lore speaks of willow connected to in-between states and otherworld experiences. Her connection with water enhances that as water represents that more fluid otherworldly state, the cycle of life and death and returning to the source.
Gypsies cut willow on Green George day (23rd April) to propitiate water spirits, bless the crops, herds,pregnant women and heal the the sick or needy.
As a provider of early nectar the tree is associated with bees who the Celts regarded as perfect examples of community life all working together to achieve their goals, and as beings from the Other-lands.
The Sumerian goddess Belili rules over the moon, love and the underworld and therefore is connected to willow as are other powerful goddess archetypes such as Hecate and Cerridwen. Women were warriors and leaders in Celtic Society and often trained the young men in battle. The old adage of the Willow bending in the wind rather than resisting it comes to mind as we recognise the power of the feminine source.
Willow is a great medicinal healer containing Salicylic acid the main ingredient in asprin. Its leaves and especially its bark can be used to ease rheumatism, headaches and other inflammations in the body.
Its wood is light and tough and has been used for rafters and floors and a certain white willow species for cricket bats. The stems/branches are strong and very flexible making them ideal for weaving baskets, hats and making coracles.
To learn more subscribe to our free monthly newsletter each month with positive, inspiring articles and poetry HERE
You may also which to learn more about our Native Tree Course HERE
Dandelion (Taraxacom officinale)
Here's the dandelion rhyme: see my leaves with tooth-like edges, blow my clocks to tell the time,
see me flaunting by the hedges, in the meadow, in the lane, pull me up- I grow again.
Asking neither leave nor pardon, sillies, what are you about with your spades and hoes of iron?
You can never drive me out- me, the dauntless dandelion!
Cicely Mary Barker 1925
The word dandelion is a corruption of the French ‘dent de lion’ which means ‘lions tooth’ referring to the shape of the leaf. Another common plant which is underrated. In medieval times it was grown as a vegetable cooked like spinach or added to salads. It is rich in vitamins A and C and is a superior diuretic as it replaces the potassium lost in the process.
The leaves are also a strong equivalent to frusemide and can be used for hypertension when dried.
The root can also be used as a vegetable sautéed in vegetable oil and is a powerful liver tonic and coffee substitute. Use the root dried or fresh.
To make coffee dig up your fresh roots, wash and dry them, then bake in the oven for about ten minutes on a low heat. Provided they are not burnt they taste delicious, just add hot water and according to preference some fresh milk.
If you wish to do it over an open fire chop the root up small and flash fry them with no oil.
To learn more subscribe to our monthly newsletter HERE
Burdock (Arctium Lappa/minus)
Wee little hooks on each brown little bur, (Mind where you’re going, O Madam and Sir!) How they will cling to your skirt-hem and stocking! Hear how the Burdock is laughing and mocking: Try to get rid of me, try as you will, Shake me and scold me, I'll stick to you still, I'll stick to you still!
Cicely Mary Barker 1925
This plant has a deep root that can be eaten fresh or dried as a blood purifier. In fact it is one of the finest and most effective blood purifiers in the medical world working with the kidneys to filter out all the impurities from the blood.
The fresh leaves can be applied to ulcers and sores as they are cooling and moderately drying.
As food the young stalks can be peeled and chopped to add to a meat broth or eaten with melted butter. The root as already mentioned can also be eaten by chopping it into rings and frying it. The sticky bur- like buds are very abrasive to the skin and have been named bachelor or sticky buttons.
Burdock is sometimes known as ‘wild rhubarb’ to which it resembles with its large leaves.
To learn more please subscribe to our monthly Tree and Plant Newsletter HERE
Rowan Tree ( Sorbus aucuparia)
Delight of the eye is mountain ash, owing to the beauty of its berries.
Delight of the eye.
Strength or friend of cattle, the Elm.
Strength of cattle.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Rowan Fact File. Luis (Ogham name).Caorann (Gaelic).
Rowan, like birch, was early in succession from the last ice age and is also most common in the highlands of Scotland; in fact the commonest tree except birch. Rowan is often confined to poor acid soils in Eastern England and is probably a naturalised species in southerly regions. Its berries are a food source for many birds connecting it to the musical spheres as well as a poetic muse for poets.
The Sorbus family (see whitebeam blog) to which rowan belongs is an interesting collection of trees including the whitty pear (Sorbus domestica), Britain’s rarest tree.
The more common whitebeam is a delightful tree growing more usually on limestone and chalk soils.
The Wild Service-tree (Sorbus torminalis) has distinctive triangular lobed leaves and has a thin distribution across England as far north as the Lake District. The latter tree has been identified from charcoal from the late Iron Age and is often known as the Chequer Tree producing fruit which if left to go ‘sleepy’ (rather like medlars) can be used in home brewing.
Rowan is steeped in ancient lore and medieval superstitions. Rowan may be a derivative of runa, a word meaning charm or spell and certainly has a strong connection with witches. Witches have used it to protect and work magic often with respect for it is said if they are touched by the tree the devil will consume them!
The berries were said to induce altered states, and spells were said to be written on rowan staves. Older references also focus on its magical properties and it has a certain sinister reputation in the ancient legends, such as when meat is offered on rowan spits both to Finn MacColl by phantoms and to Cuchulainn, (famous Irish warrior), by the Morrigawn. There is an ancient magical ritual mentioned in old texts called ‘Tarbh Fheis’ which involves sleeping on a bed of woven rowan twigs to induce a magical trance in order to gain hidden knowledge.
Rowan has been used for protection in the form of an equal-armed cross or by simply carrying the berries or wood with you at night especially at Midsummer to stop you being transported to the faerie realms. The tree can be planted instead of standing stones to guard earth energies. There is said to be a rowan guarded by the giant Searbhan Lochannoch called the Tree of Dubrois and it is said to transform a person of 100 years old to one 30 years old. Luis means ‘swarm’ or ‘great many’ which may refer to warriors and huntsmen who gather under the rowan as described in literature about the Tree of Clonfert and the Wry Rowan.
The rowan has a strong connection with archetypal Goddesses especially Bridget and Brigantia both who preside over water cults, pastoral people, flocks and herds, connecting rowan to the green world and the lord of the hunt and cattle, which were key providers for the Celtic people.
A female Druid, Dreco carried a magical rowan spear. Her grandfather was a Druid called Carton whose name is probably a corruption of the Gaelic word Caerthann which means rowan.
Medicinally rowan’s bark is used for treating diarrhoea and its berries are used for sore throats. A delicious syrup can be made with rowan berries and crab apples.
Learn more by subscribing to our monthly newsletter here.
Foxglove. Digitalis purpurea.
“ Foxglove, foxglove, what do you see?” The cool green woodland, the fat velvet bee; hey Mr bumble, I've honey here for thee!
Foxglove, foxglove, what do you see now?” The soft summer moonlight on bracken, grass ,and bough; and all the fairies dancing as only they know how.
Cicely Mary Barker
In woodland ecology terms the foxglove is known as a ‘shade evader’ waiting for a clearing in the woods for its seeds to germinate and it then causes an eruption of colour from its tall single stem. A stately plant common in our British woodlands.
Foxglove has a deadly reputation, its reckless usage leading to illness, children’s deaths and even the death of geese which led the people of Orkney to shun its use for human ailments. This terrible reputation didn’t just stop at herbal usage. It was noted a Staffordshire man in the summer of 1914 remarked that the foxgloves he saw looked like soldiers and would bring about war!
A procession of foxgloves in Hartland, North Devon is still held in memory of St Nectan. who when killed by robbers left a trail of blood from which foxgloves sprang up from.
Maybe this caution of foxgloves continues in folk lore due to its associations with faeries. The word ‘glove’ may be derived from the Anglo Saxon word ‘gliew’ which is a musical instrument with small bells and the word ‘fox’ may mean ‘folk’ or ‘the little folk’ leading to other names such as fairy bells or fairy thimble.
Such a delightful looking plant attracts the little folk in the form of children who inflate the flower and burst it giving the plant the name pop dock.
If a wasting illness is affecting someone a bath of foxglove is recommended as a faerie cure. Some may have taken the plant to promote intoxication which may well result in them visiting the realms of faeries. Bells traditionally have magical properties and create altered states enhancing a further connection with foxglove’s reputation with the magical realms.
Despite all these connections with faeries and death it still is a plant that has been used extensively in folk tradition as an all purpose salve, a cure for tuberculosis, coughs, colds and sore throats as well as a disinfectant and remover of pests such as rodents and insects in the house. It has also been used as a fresh poultice for wounds.
It is widely used and most known for its diuretic ability and especially its ability to slow the pulse and save people from heart failure. This use which is widely applied in the medical world today has been credited to William Withering who actually learnt of this plant through the many herbalists before him. He was most impressed when the medical herbalist Mrs Hutton cured a patient of heart failure after college physicians had failed.
Today the chemical digitalis derived from foxglove is one of the leading cardiac drugs whilst modern herbalists do not use the actual plant anymore. However although I am in no position to recommend its use
there are many old recipes from herbalists and Irish Medieval monks who used it extensively. They would have prescribed it in such a way that it treated the patient as a whole therefore reducing the risk of its toxicity. Current research is pointing to the modern synthetic version of digitalis to be more toxic than the original plant.
Sign up for a monthly newsletter to learn more here.
Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) and Hairy Bittercress (C.hirsuta) ideal for spring salads.
Lady's Smock Cardamine pratensis
Where the grass is damp and green,
Where shallow streams are flowing,
Where the cowslip buds are showing,
I am seen.
Dainty as a fairy’s frock,
White or mauve, of elfin showing,
‘Tis the meadow-maiden growing-
Cicely Mary Barker
On the edge of an ancient woodland I used to visit in my teens was a brook and a wet meadow cheered by ragged robin, lady’s smock and a hedge of Blackthorn.
Lady’s smock is a delicate looking yet hardy plant, a spring addition to wet areas. Its subtle white or mauve flowers and soft foliage warm the heart in April through to June. It may be the time of year that it flowers that gives it the name of Cuckoo flower or the fact that it is home to the substance known as cuckoo-spit ( which is made from froghopper bug nymphs).
It's spring blooms also give rise to associations with milkmaids, their smocks and to the Virgin Mary.
Older spring traditions remind us to respect the lady of the land as picking the plant can lead to a snake bite and bringing it indoors can cause a lightning strike. Folk traditions urge us to treat her bounty with respect, the snake is a sign of spring and the lightning a reminder of elemental power.
This plant is closely related to Hairy bittercress ( Cardamine hirsuta) a very common weed which is a tasty alternative along with Lady’s smock as a salad. I may be the only person who grows bitter cress and chickweed in a poly tunnel but it does ensure an early salad crop.
In medical literature, as in the writings of John Ray, the plant is given a reputation for nervous afflictions ( as is mistletoe) believed to help with hysteria as a powerful antispasmodic. We would expect more evidence of this in folk traditions which speak of its ability to help fevers in the Highlands and for headaches in Gloucestershire.
The plant is rich in vitamin C which is probably why it has been used to ease scurvy and is a good tonic for coughs. Traditional uses also include breaking stones, restoring appetite, helping digestion and warming a cold and weak stomach.
Soft curls of innocent love,
Subtle blooms of a maiden’s heart.
Pink and white flowers of gentle persuasion,
Amongst rough coarse grass and buttercup invasion.
Crisp cold winds,
And wet meadows,
Are suffused with beauty,
As she softly spreads,
Fresh new excitement,
Springs quickening pulse,
Tenacious young growth,
Love forever unfolds.
Click here to learn more subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter.
Birch Wood Silver Birch leaves Downy Birch leaves
Of withered trunk fair haired the birch.
Faded trunk and fair hair.
Browed beauty worthy of pursuit.
Most silver of skin.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Birch Fact File
Betula pendula, Silver Birch Betula pubescens, Downy Birch. Betula nana, Dwarf birch
Mature birchwood is often a light airy place supporting a myriad of many types of fungi (beech wood is also beneficial for fungus). It casts little shade and one can often observe redpolls and tits flitting and feeding amongst the canopy. These birds will use the seed as a food source. The leaves are a food source for the mottled umber caterpillar moth.
There are two classes of flora: 1. Blaeberry (Vaccinium mrytillus) rich birchwoods.
2. Herb-rich birchwoods with a grassy floor.
Birch often grows on acid soils ( with a preference for lighter soils) and interestingly birch actually deacidifies the soil as not only are its leaves rich in nitrogen, thereby enriching the soil, but also in calcium therefore carrying out the former process.
Birch will grow amongst other woodland types in clearings as it is an effective coloniser. It will also grow on the edges of woods wherever an opportunity arises. Its role in ancient natural history is as a first coloniser giving way to other species of tree in the process known as natural succession where the final species to dominate a given site is known as the Climax Species. However birch wood can be surprisingly persistent and is the natural climax species in the highlands of Scotland. Pollen from Loch Maree confirms continuous birch regeneration for the past 9,000 years! Further south in England we have a wood called ‘Birkland’ in Sherwood forest which name implies the Vikings recognised it as a birch wood over a thousand years ago.
There are two main species of birch in Britain and a third species specialist to the Scottish Highlands.
1/ Betula pendula, Silver Birch 2/ Betula pubescens, Downy Birch. 3 / Betula nana, Dwarf birch (specialist species of the Scottish Highlands).
The main two birches were formally recognised and published in 1791. The Downy Birch is more associated with ancient woodlands, has stiffer twigs which do not droop (better for brooms) and leaves which have less ragged teeth and are hairy on the underside with a triangular base.
The Silver Birch is more associated with wood pasture and is more useful for timber due to a more cylindrical trunk. Its branches droop and its leaves have a straight base and are not hairy.
In Scotland and in other parts of Britain birch has many uses. Commercially it was used for reels and bobbins as well as the commonest fuel used for the ironworks in the weald. Locally its bark was used for roofing and making shampoo.
Birch is the tree of new beginnings representing the qualities of inception. She has a dynamic, gentle, yet strong energy to help build and visualise a new way of being, the start of your journey into the inner worlds or the decision to commit more fully to your self-development.
Birch is associated with births, initiations, the spring and love. The deities that work with those qualities through birch are in Wales Arianrhodd and Gwyndion; Diarmid and Grainnah in Ireland; Frigga in Norway and the Anglo-Saxon Goddesses of Spring Eostre.
The Ogham name Beithe means being or a being and the Birch Grove is a place to connect with other-wordly visitors. This connection is further enhanced as it is said to be the first Ogham inscription that was written to warn Lugh Lamfada that his wife was being taken to faerie land.
Birch sap collected in March can be used for kidney/bladder stones and rheumatic diseases as well as for a cleansing mouthwash and is excellent for the skin.
Birch bark can be used as a diuretic, antiseptic and anaesthetic enabling nerve endings to lose sensations and relieve muscle pain.
Poetry of Birch.
Ancient tundra birch-dominated,
Solitude of creation, giving birth.
Naturally regenerates over thousands of years,
In the coldest of places, gentle strength perseveres.
Silver her bark, black are her branches,
A spring Goddess as she advances.
Famine power, persistent strength
Like Spring unfolding without relent.
O Birch, you teach us to be gentle when we fall,
May our hearts remain open and kind to all.
Learn more by subscribing to our newsletter Here.
Aspen Populus tremula ( Latin) Eadhadh (Gaelic Ogham) Aspris (Greek)
Black poplar Populus nigra White poplar P.alba
Horrible grief, test tree or Aspen.
Distinguished man or wood.
Kinsman to the Birch, Aspen.
Additional name for a friend.
Book of Ballymote 1391
The Ogham name Eadhadh is most commonly associated with the aspen which is our only native woodland poplar. In North America it one of the oldest living organisms in the world as the same root stock is producing new shoots as it has done since the last ice age.
In this country (UK) I have visited several aspen woodlands that have probably been created by one rootstock.
In Utah (USA) one single aspen is thought to cover an area of 106 acres!
In the British Isles however, the tree as an individual trunk only lasts 50-60 years before succumbing to heart rot. Its root system can live for much longer but is easily killed by other tree competitors as aspen is shade intolerant. This tree has a history therefore of benefitting from human interference as it grows well in a coppiced wood and especially when deer eat other tree species which would have otherwise suppressed it.
Due to modern practices of planting and neglect the aspen is now in decline. Aspen does not easily reproduce from seed as the seed has to germinate within a week and needs to be exposed to prolonged immersion in water. The suckers it produces do vary and some experts claim to be able to tell the difference between male and female trees. One notable variation is the ‘giant aspen’ which grows in Suffolk and Essex to a much larger size than the usual species. Although Aspen will grow happily in wet soils that do not drain such as clay, it has been shown to deal more effectively with drought than ash or birch in the dry summers of 1975-6. It seems to avoid habitats where there is water movement such as plateau or valley alder woods, preferring more stagnant water habitats. Aspen is a tree of cold climates and with birch and sallow was one of the first trees to colonise Britain after the last ice age.
Aspen has soft white wood which perishes easily and is poor building timber. Although ignored by the modern forester there are a surprising amount of references to it in medieval documents maybe due to the fact it grows well in coppice woods, and all timbers at that time were put to use. It was considered to be one of three non-coniferous softwoods (alder and black poplar being the other two), and therefore sometimes incorporated into building structures such as homes and windmills. As a specialist wood it can be used for carving and sculpture but was traditionally used for arrow shafts and clogs. In fact authorities were actively encouraging its use for arrow shafts in the 1400s due to a plentiful supply.
Aspley Guise (Beds) and Stonham Aspal (Suffolk) are places named after the aspen and may indicate the tree was more common outside of a woodland habitat than it is today. Eadhadh , the Gaelic name for aspen, can be translated as ‘most buoyant of woods’ and indicates its use for the making of oars and paddles. Aspen flowers before it comes into leaf and is wind- pollinated.
Aspen is known as the trembling tree ( P.tremula) and Christian lore states that the tree shudders at the thought that its wood was used for the crucifix. Other traditions equate the movement of its leaves ( due to its long flat leaf stalks) to speech and language. Some would say it is whispering or communicating with spirit or it can hear from afar and is stirred by what it hears. The tree therefore can be seen as an entrance to Other-worlds and used for divination.
In the ancient Celtic system of the Ogham it speaks of the tree as the Test Tree and a later common phrase ‘to tremble like an aspen’ could be related to this. To face fears and highlight your weaknesses takes great strength, are you prepared to tremble like an aspen to move on in your life?
Oscar, a Celtic warrior from Irish literature, had to kill the High King against impossible odds to protect his kinsman. He is likened to an aspen and described as ‘no way daunted despite terrible injury’.
In our own lives the fear is more likely to be standing up to what we believe in or being ourselves no matter what the outcome. Are you prepared to face loneliness, humiliation or loss of material wealth to be true to yourself?
Shields have also been made from this tree and the Greek word for aspen (aspris) means ‘wood to make shields’ reminding us of its connection to warriors and going forth. This tree can therefore help us find the courage to face our fears as well as testing us before moving on.
Aspen is the knowledge that you are never too advanced to feel fear and shake with grief. This is the realisation that will take you to a place of protection and an advancement of knowledge.
Our other native poplar is the black poplar (P.nigra) referred to in Medieval documents as ‘popeler’. It is a large non-woodland tree and once one of the most common farmland trees in Eastern England. It is now rare and only occasionally seen. The black poplar has distinctive rugged boughs once used to make cruck frames. These are curved timbers used to hold up roofs especially in medieval barns.
The black poplar stands, a black outline against the sky with large heavy curved branches sweeping down to the ground, oozing sap known as balsam indicative of the Goddess of Death.
When a new tree was planted at docking time a lamb’s tail was buried under it as a gift to the Goddess. Ointments can be made from the buds of this tree to treat bruises, inflammations and gout. The sap or balsam from the tree can be used as incense.
The last poplar tree I would like to mention is the white poplar ( P.alba). It stands in stark contrast to the black poplar with its wonderful silvery downy leaves which flutter in the wind that cannot fail to uplift one’s spirits. Like white willow this is the species most commonly associated with witches, especially medieval French witches.
There is a debate as to whether this tree is a native to Britain. Often thought to have been introduced to this country in the 1600s. It is referred to in documents dating from 1200-1300 as ‘abel’. Whether it is an early introduction or a true native we may never know. This tree has a leaf with 5 points symbolic of witches and is said that the balsam was used to help witches fly at night when rubbed onto their bodies. The white leaves are said to move you into a trance, give the gift of eloquence when placed under the tongue and connect the tree to the moon. Its distinctive white bark can be used to make a rather pleasant tea which is used for pain relief.
Click here to Learn more and enrol on our monthly newsletter.
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) Bell heather ( Erica cinerea) Cross-leaved ( E.tetralix)
To see the heath-flower withered on the hill,
To listen to the woods expiring lay,
To note the red leaf shivering on the spray,
To mark the last bright tints the mountain stain,
On the waste fields to trace the gleaner's way,
And moralise on mortal joy and pain,
Sir Walter Scott
Qualities of Heather
Ur that is Heath.
Terrible tribe in cold dwellings, mould of the earth, Heath.
Completion of lifelessness, the grave.
Growing of plants.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Heather Fact File
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) Bell heather ( Erica cinerea) Cross-leaved ( E.tetralix) Ur (Gaelic/Ogham name)
Heather- clad moors lift the spirits and speak of a unhindered freedom, of true love and of the soil and earth which it hugs with a protective embrace. Ur, the ogham name for heather is associated with the soil and the earth, confirming the heather’s relationship with the earth as its stems root into it forming a natural bed.
This has been used as an analogy in stories of lovers using the heather clad moor to lie upon as well as a practical usage as bedding in the past. To bed someone in older times was to make a lasting commitment, a meaningful relationship of unconditional love.
In the great epic – the pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne they finally embrace each other on a bed of heather collected by Diarmid. A Scottish ballad talks of a passion a women has for Black Jack Davy preferring to lie with him on heather-clad moors as opposed to a comfortable bed at home.
King Henry in a folk song beds a hideous hag on the green heather to be greeted by a fair woman of beauty the following morning. This is an age-old tradition of the King giving respect to all aspects of the sacred land no matter how beautiful or ugly.
Ur can also mean ‘new’ which may point to an acceptance of death. In Scotland they speak of the white sleep- a dead person awaiting new life . As with the hideous hag we see things turned around again when working with heather as death is seen as a new birth into another life and birth as a death to a previous life.
Maybe this is why the Gaelic word for heather, ‘Fraoch’ means fierce or war-like as it is the warriors that risk all to die and return in glory into a new life in Celtic traditions. Fraoch is a famous Irish warrior whose wife Boand is daughter to Aoife and Chulainn who are both legendary warriors of high repute.
Fraoch heather ale is probably the oldest style of ale brewed in the world, brewed since 2000BC in Scotland.
Calluna vulgaris is the most common of the three heathers mentioned above. The word Calluna comes from the greek meaning ‘ to brush’ and this species is ideal to make brushes and brooms and is also the heather most commonly referred to as ling. Ling comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lig meaning fire, and therefore reminds us of its use especially in Scotland for a fuel. In fact in Scotland the word 'ling' refers to any rush or coarse grass growing on the heath. This heather has purple flowers which are occasionally white.
Heather flowers are a great source of nectar for bees producing prize honey. The red grouse will feed upon the young shoots and the birds will feast upon its seed.
The bell heather is the main species cultivated for garden use, a much shrubbier habit with bright bell like flowers. The cross-leaved heather is very similar but grows in wetter areas and its leaves are borne in fours (tetralix incorporates the greek word for four) as opposed to three borne by the bell heather. These whorls of four leaves form a cross when looked down upon and also fold down to conserve moisture by lessening evaporation.
Heather has been used to make robe and thatch as well as brooms and brushes and strong ale. Medicinally it is said to help ease the pain of migraine and menstruation.
Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.