Our native trees and the folklore, superstition, history, and folk remedies associated with them.
Alder : Alnus glutinosa
Alder is of use in a number of folk remedies; carry a sprig of alder in your pocket to ward off rheumatism, using alder cones to treat gout, applying a poultice of leaves to aid healing and combat infection.
Ash : Fraxinus excelsior
Ash has always been given mystical association and character, both of healing and enchantment. Carrying ‘ash keys’ will protect from you from malign influence.
Aspen : Populus tremula
Aspen is the tree of the faeries, it is a magical tree. A leaf placed under the tongue will make the bearer talk more eloquently. In folk remedy, aspen is used to treat fears and apprehensions.
Beech : Fagus sylvatica
Beech is known as the Queen of the Woods, the Beech Queen, and her consort is the Oak King. Pieces of beech wood, worn as a good luck charm, will bring good fortune to the wearer.
Birch : Betula pendula
Birch is known for its protective magical abilities. Brooms made of birch twigs were commonly used to drive out the spirits of the old year and to ‘beat the bounds’ of property for protection.
Blackthorn : Prunus spinosa
Blackthorn is known as the Mother of the Woods, and the Dark Crone of the Woods. It is generally depicted in European folklore as a tree of ill omen, but in Irish tales it’s used in spells of protection. Never cut down blackthorn, or faeries will burn down your house – you have been warned !
Wild Cherry : Prunus avium
Do not use cherry wood for any purpose, as this is the ‘witch’s tree’. An infusion of cherry stalks is used in a folk remedy to relieve inflammation of the bladder and treat anaemia. Eating the fruit can prevent gout.
Crab Apple : Malus sylvestris
The crab apple is the original British apple tree with a distinctive ﬁve petal white/ pink ﬂower. The tree is often used when the Druid undergoes journeys in The Otherworld.
Dogwood : Cornus sanguinea
Offer a dogwood flower to the person you feel affection towards and wait for a response. If the flower is returned, you are out of luck. If the flower is kept, then that person is interested in your affection.
Elder : Sambucus nigra
Elder is known as the Elder-Mother or Old Lady. Ask permission to harvest her wood, flowers and berries. Bathe your eyes in the green juice of her wood, and you might see faeries and witches.
Wych Elm : Ulmus glabra
Elm is associated with The Otherworld. The tree has a special affinity with elves who used it to guard their burial mounds.
Hawthorn : Crataegus monogyna
Hawthorn stands over holy wells and is the threshold of The Otherworld. It is the tree of the ‘ancient ones’ (faeries). Do not bring hawthorn flowers indoors: “hawthorn bloom and elder-flowers; will fill a house with evil powers”.
Hazel : Corylus avellana
Hazel is the tree of the Druids because of its position at the heart of The Otherworld: nine magic hazel trees hang over the Well of Wisdom and drop their purple nuts into the water, food for the Salmon of Wisdom.
Holly : Ilex aquifolium
At the end of summer the Holly King defeats the Oak King as ruler of the dark months of the year. The Druids considered holly sacred and used it around the winter solstice.
Hornbeam : Carpinus betulus
Native Britons used hornbeam to make their chariots because of the strength of the wood. A tonic made from hornbeam leaves is used in folk remedies relieve tiredness and exhaustion. Chew the leaves, then place on a wound to stop the bleeding and to aid healing.
Juniper : Juniperus communis
Juniper smoke is highly aromatic, and in ancient times it was used for ritual purification. The smoke aids clairvoyance, and stimulates contact with The Otherworld.
Common Lime : Tilia x europacea ; Small-leaved : Tilia cordata ; Large-leaved : Tilia platyphyllos
Curiously enough, Lime has very little folklore associated with it. Associated with fertility, and in mainland Europe it is often a symbol of liberty.
Field Maple : Acer campestre
Hang the leaves around doorways to stop bats entering your home. A herbal remedy to cleanse the liver, is a tea of leaves and bark.
English Oak : Quercus robur ; Sessile Oak : Quercus petraea
Of all the trees in Britain and Ireland the oak is King. Its name, from Anglo-Saxon ‘ac’, Irish ‘daur’, Welsh ‘derw’ : the origin of the term ‘Druid’, given their association with sacred groves of oak trees.
Scots Pine : Pinus sylvestris
Scots Pine was used as a marker in the landscape; marking the burial places of warriors, heroes and chieftains; and at the edge of meadows on which passing drovers and their herds could spend the night.
Black Poplar : Populus nigra sub. Betuliflora
Collect the catkins and carefully mix with water, then place in a saucer and leave on the windowsill for faeries to eat at night.
Rowan : Sorbus aucuparia
In parts of northern England and Scotland, rowan was the favoured tree of Druids, perhaps oak didn’t grow in abundance. Charms made of rowan twig and red thread protect the wearer from evil influence.
Spindle : Euonymus europaeus
Spindle is an ancient woodland indicator, so it’s generally a sign you are standing in a rare and special place. It’s Botanical name Euonymus, associates it with Euonyme, who was the Mother of the Faeries.
Sycamore : Acer pseudoplatanus
Sycamore is a connection between the world of the dead and world of the living. In superstition, those who attempt to cut them down, often face an unexplained death.
Whitebeam : Sorbus aria
Whitebeam has magical properties, its wood used for wands and staffs. The Anglo-Saxons often used Whitebeam as a boundary marker.
Goat Willow : Salix caprea ; Grey Willow : Salix cinera sub. Oleifolia
Two scarlet snake eggs were hidden within the willow. The Universe hatched from these two eggs – one containing the Sun, the other the Earth.
Yew : Taxus baccata
Yew in mythology is one of the five sacred trees brought from the Otherworld at the division of the land into five parts. In Bardic schools, staves of inscribed yew were used to help memorize long incantations.
References and Further Reading:
Much of my knowledge of our native trees came from my late grandfather, William Rae; dairy farmer, gardener and folklorist, to name but a few.
Vickery, R. 2019 Folk Flora
Order Bards, Ovates, and Druids, Tree Lore
Trees for Life
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