In ancient Celtic culture, Druids received visions while foraying in dedicated rowan groves. With this guided meditation, into the rowan grove we go, to call out the darkest, scariest aspects of ourselves in order to examine our shadow side.
As a tree for all seasons, the rowan is sacred to many Earth religions. White spring-time blooms give way to lush summer foliage, which melts into golden and scarlet displays of autumnal color. In the winter, ruddy berries brighten the bleak landscape and provide a much-needed food source for songbirds. The tiny pentagram found on the base of its berries, gives a quiet nod toward the tree’s strong magical associations.
Rowan berries are fodder for more than just birds. They make a delicious jelly that serves as an enchanted accompaniment to savory dishes such as wild game and cheeses. In Northern Europe, berries were dried and ground into flour. There is historical evidence that the berries were also fermented to yield a strong spirit, similar to a perry. Also, the Welsh used to brew a cider or ale from the berries, a secret which is now lost.
Both the fruit and bark contain medicinal properties. Ripe berries can be used to create an acidulous and astringent gargle for treating sore throats and inflamed tonsils. A decoction of the bark is used to treat diarrhea and injected vaginally to treat leucorrecha. In addition, rowan berry tinctures are used to treat scurvy, hemorrhoids, and stranguary.
When it comes to more practically uses, the tree is used in tanning, produces a natural black dye, and is good for making poles and barrel hoops.
Magically, rowan trees are powerfully protective when planted near a house. Pinning springs of rowan to your clothing or hanging them in doorways wards off evil. The branches are used for finding metal in a method similar to water witching. Rune staves, sicks onto which runes are carved, were often cut from rowan trees. In fact, the tree is so closely twined with the magical realm that the puritans who landed in the Americas refused to acknowledge its presence in the new world, opting to dub the tree Mountain Ash instead.
Lunation: 1/21 thru 2/17*
*Lunations are approximate and vary from year to year. In 2022, the Rowan Moon begins with the new moon on January 31st. The full moon is February 16th.
Folk Name: Hunger Moon
Celtic Deity: Brigid
Celtic Holy Day: Imbolg*
*The midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox falls on February 3rd in 2022.
Associations: Protection, Healing, Quickening
Folk Name: Quicken/Quickbeam
The goddess most closely associated with rowan is Brigid, the exalted one. As a woman of the Tuatha de Danann, she was born at dawn and owes her parentage to Daghda and a female fae. Like her father’s cauldron of plenty, Brigid has a limitless larder whose food stores will not diminish no matter how much is eaten. Her cows provide a lake of milk, morning and night, and she presides over the ale brewing each year.
Known by many names (Bride, Brigantes, Bridhid, and Brigit), Brigid’s cult spread across of much of Iron Age Europe. She is the triple goddess of hearth fire, smithcraft, and the flame of inspiration for the bards. In Kildare, Ireland, a sacred spring is dedicated to her, where her sacred flame burned for nine centuries. Tradition claims it was attended by nine priestesses before being turned over to the nuns who founded an abbey on the same site. As the patroness of healers and midwives, there is a strong fertility aspect to her cult. There are also multiple linkages to divination, prophesy, and oracles. Her correspondences are milk, bread, fire, and ice.
Brigid’s festival is Imbolg, translated as the month of lactating of ewes. Imbolg is a cross-quarter day, falling at the mid-point between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. While the date moves a little depending on dates of its corresponding solar markers, it always falls in early February and serves as a reminder that light is returning to the Earth.
Among her celebrations is the annual anointing and blessing of candles to remove negativity and bring light into our lives for the remainder of the year. This ritual was officially ended by the Church of England in 1548 because of its pagan associations. Children often celebrated Imbolg by lighting a bonfire in the village square. The boy and girl who brought the most furze (evergreen shrub) to fire was crowned King and Queen, after which they made merry with biscuits (cookies) and whiskey punch.
Imbolg was also a day of divination. In ancient Europe, a hedgehog familiar was roused to predict the weather. If he saw his shadow, six more weeks of winter ensured. This gave rise to the Scottish proverb, “If Imbolg Day be fair and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.” The US doesn’t have hedgehogs, but we do have groundhogs and Punxsutawney Phil fulfills that ancient roll for modern folk. Other Imbolg eve divinatory customs include setting a sheaf of oats in a basket near the fire and reciting, “Brigid is come, Brigid is welcome.” In the morning, the ashes were checked for omens that would foretell evets in the coming year.
Jelly and Spirit Recipes
Those living in the Americas who want to gather their own rowan berries for recipes might struggle to find a tree. That’s because, in America, the rowan is known as Mountain Ash, regardless of the fact that it’s not an ash tree. If you have Mountain Ash trees in your neighborhood, know that they are in fact rowan trees.
Rowan berries become sweeter after freezing, so wait until after the first frost before harvesting. Then get whatever permissions you need and “gather ye berries as ye may.” If waiting for a frost may mean that you’ll lose all those lovely berries to the birds, simply pick them earlier and throw them in the freezer for a few hours to bring out the sweetness.
Before proceeding with the following recipes, be forewarned that like apple pips and cherry pits, rowan seeds contain parasorbic acid and cyanide. To avoid accidental poisoning, do not grind the seeds and be sure to strain all seeds from berry juices before proceeding with recipes.
Rowan Berry Jelly
4 lbs rowan berries
3 lbs other fruit such a quince, apple, or pear
1 oz liquid pectin
- Wash berries and remove stems. Peel, core, and coarsely chop apples/pears/quince or other fruit.
- Place berries and fruit in a large stock pot and cover with enough water that fruit is just covered. Bring to a boil under medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer until fruit is soft (about 20 min.) Remove from heat and let cool.
- Scoop mixture into a jelly strainer bag, then place bag in bowl and refrigerate overnight (at least 12 hours.)
- In the morning, gently squeeze bag to remove excess juice. (Over squeezing will result in cloudy jelly, so don’t get too zealous.) Measure juice.
- In a stock pot, add 1 lb of sugar for every two cups of juice and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved in juice (about 10 min.) Then increase heat and cook at a full rolling boil for 5 min. Add pectin and boil 1 min more. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
- Pour into hot sterilized jars. Seal and label.
Rowan Berry Liquor
4.5 lbs rowan berries
1 liter vodka
2.5 lbs honey
- Remove stems, rinse berries, and drain in colander.
- In a large stock pot, combine honey with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 min, skimming off any foam.
- Place berries in a fermentation container. Pour liquid over berries. Add vodka and stir.
- Seal container and let steep for 3 to 4 weeks in a cool dark place, shaking once every 3 to 5 days.
- When fermentation is complete, strain through several layers of cheesecloth into clean jars and store in refrigerator or cellar.
Dugan, Ellen. Garden Witch’s Herbal. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN. 2009. p. 127 – 128, 175
Dugan, Ellen. Seasons of Witchery: Celebrating the Sabbats with the Garden Witch. Woodbury, MN. 2015. p. 169 – 184
Green, Miranda. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames and Hudson, Ltd. London. 1992. p.50-51, 82, 97-98, 125, 166
Greenleaf, Cerridewn. The Book of Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for magical meals, an enchanted garden, and a happy home. CICO Books, New York. 2016. p.43
Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal, Complete Volume. Stone Basin Books. 1931. p.69 – 70
Murray, Liz and Colin. The Celtic Tree Oracle: A System of Divination. Rider & Co, Ltd. Great Britain. 1988. p. 26 – 27