The Ash or Fraxinus genus of 45-65 species of mostly medium to large deciduous trees. There are Ash tree species native to Europe, Asia and North America. North American species of Ash are under severe threat by the invasion of the emerald ash borer beetle.
Ash leaves are usually pinnately compound and appear opposite on the stem. Ash fruit are flat, ovular samaras (“helicopter seeds” or “keys”).
Ash wood is valued as a sturdy, flexible, shock-resis
tant wood with an attractive grain and color. It is used for sports equipment, tool handles, furniture and flooring.
A Few Ash Species
European Ash Fraxinus excelsior – aka Common Ash is native to much of Europe where it is widely used for timber and woodworking. Hurleys are (for the Irish sport of hurling) are made from this wood.
White Ash or American Ash Fraxinus americana – Is the largest ash species native to North America and an economically important species though it is not often seen in cultivation. It’s strong, straight grained, white wood is highly prized for many uses and it is especially prized for making baseball bats.
Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica is an economically important native American tree and has been widely planted as an ornamental as it is very tolerant of urban conditions. It is highly prized for making electric guitars. Unfortunately, green ash appears to be the favorite food of the emerald ash borer and its extensive use made the trees easy targets. Some estimates put the death toll at 99%.
Blue Ash Fraxinus quadrangulata – Is native to the Midwestern United States. It is unique in that its twigs have four corky ridges which give them a square appearance. A blue dye can be derived from the inner bark of the tree. Approximately 35% of the blue ash trees in the US have been destroyed by the emerald ash borer beetle, making it one of the more successful species.
Flowering Ash Fraxinus ornus – Also called Manna Ash, Flowering ash is native to Southern Europe and Southwest Asia and is a popular ornamental throughout Europe. It has smooth gray bark, attractive four-petaled white flowers and its autumn color could be yellow to purplish. Sap extracted from the tree is called manna.
Also of interest, Rowan or Mountain Ash is an unrelated tree often confused with Ash. I have found many spells that speak of “ash berries”. Since ash does not produce berries, I suspect the berries spoken of are in fact Mountain Ash or Rowan berries.
Ash in the Garden
Because of the emerald ash borer epidemic, the planting of ash trees is generally discouraged in the U.S. The result is that specimens can be difficult to find and expensive when you do find them. My suggestion when choosing an ash tree species to grow is to select one that isn’t already very popular in cultivation. Stay away from green ash. If you have room, white ash is stunning, especially in autumn.
Ash trees generally prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade. Newly planted trees must be kept moist until they are well established, then they can tolerate occasional dry conditions.
There are many butterfly and moth species that enjoy the presence of an ash tree.
History and Folklore
The name Ash comes from the Old English æsc, meaning “spear”. The Latin name Fraxinus means the same thing.
Some Folk Names for Ash Common Ash, Guardian Tree, Unicorn Tree, Nion
Yggdrasil, the sacred tree of Norse lore, is believed by some to be an ash tree, by others to be a yew tree. Still others suspect it is an oak.
The first humans of Norse Lore were Ask and Embla. Ask from the old Norse askr “ash tree”. (Embla may perhaps mean “vine”.)
In Celtic lore, the Ash tree is the World Tree.
According to Hellenic lore, the Meliae were ash tree nymphs. The trees and their nymphs appeared from drops of blood when Cronus castrated Uranus. Later, they acted as nurses to the infant Zeus.
Several traditions mention ash for making wands and staves and it is mentioned in some sources as a traditional wood for making besoms.
The sweet sap of the ash tree was gathered by the ancients and used like (in some cases referred to as) honey and fermented it to make mead.
An interesting healing tradition is that of the shrew-ash. A hole was bored into an ash tree and a shrew trapped inside, the hold plugged up. Thereafter, branches would be cut from the ash tree and used to asperge both people and cattle to heal them off aches and pains, mysterious swellings and other maladies. Alternatively, the patient might be passed through a split trunk or under overhanging leaves.
Ash for Healing
An infusion of ash bark has astringent properties and has been used to treat a variety of issues, including parasites and gastrointestinal complaints and as a gargle for sore throats.
Ash Around the House
The inner bark of Blue Ash yields a blue dye.
Branches of ash trees make good forage for livestock and can be stored for winter fodder.
Ash wood is wonderful tinder, even if it’s not fully seasoned.
Ash makes great broom handles and handles for other tools and is popular with woodcarvers.
Ash for Magick
Ash is a good wood to use for wands, staves and besom handles. It has a nice grain, it’s sturdy and its reputation as a lightening magnet demonstrates that it is a good attractor and conductor of energy.
Sleep with ash leaves under your pillow to receive prophetic dreams.
Carry a leaf of ash in your pocket for good luck. Ensure that there are an even number of leaves for best results.
Notes and Additional Information
Ash tree populations in the United States have been devastated by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.