Sorbus aucuparia, commonly called rowan and mountain-ash, is a species of deciduous tree or shrub in the rose family. It is a highly variable species, and botanists have used different definitions of the species to include or exclude trees native to certain areas; a recent definition includes trees native to most of Europe and parts of Asia, as well as northern Africa. The range extends from Madeira and Iceland to Russia and northern China. Unlike many plants with similar distributions, it is not native to Japan.
Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter, astringent, laxative, diuretic, cholagogue, prevent scurvy, and the parasorbic acid irritates the gastric mucosa. Pharmacist Mannfried Pahlow wrote that he doubted the toxicity of the fruit but advised against consuming large amounts.The fruit contain sorbitol, which can be used as a sugar substitute by diabetics, but its production is no longer relevant. Sorbus aucuparia fruits have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (as tea, syrup, jelly or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout.
Rowan berries are often called for in protection spells. They can also be strung as beads for necklaces and charms. The Rowan tree has been considered magickal for thousands of years by many different cultures. One of the earliest references to the Rowan is in the ancient Finnish creation myth about the goddess "Rauni." The word "Rowan" is derived from the Old Norse name for the tree, raun or rogn, and might be related to the word "rune" which means "magic, secret." Some say the Runes (a type of alphabet used by Germanic tribes for over a thousand years) were traditionally carved from sticks from the Rowan tree, with each letter of the alphabet being named for a different tree. An early name for the Rowan tree was "Luis," which is the second letter of the Rune alphabet. On Beltane (the night before May Day, which in some places was called Rowan Tree Day), sprigs of Rowan were often tied with string dyed red from the Rowan berries to cows' tails and horses' halters to protect them, and sheep were made to jump through hoops made from Rowan. Rowan was considered by some as protection from faeries, others say that faeries love the tree and will go out of their way to seek it out. Rowan trees were said to guard against the evil effects of "black" witchcraft. Berries were sometimes strung like beads and hung as a necklace around the neck of a supposed victim of sorcery. Some believed that one way to protect your soul from the devil was to touch a witch with a branch from a Rowan tree.
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