It's August, and Rowan berries are ripening to brilliant scarlet, gloriously bright against the blue-grey skies.
The Rowan is one of my favourite trees. I love the slender grace of her smooth grey trunk, her dainty sprays of leaves, the froth of her creamy blossom in spring and the sass of her bold, bright berries heralding the onset of Autumn. I love the way her beauty belies her tenacity and strength - Rowan is able to grow at high altitudes (hence one of her other names, 'Mountain Ash') and in poor soils and inaccessible places which are often inhospitable to other species.
The Rowan has long been considered a magical, protective tree and had the reputation of protecting travellers from getting lost and warding off evil. People planted Rowans by their houses, hung Rowan branches over their doors and tied crossed Rowan twigs together with red thread as charms. It's also considered a 'threshold tree' and as such was not only planted at boundaries, but also believed to watch over gateways between this world and the otherworld. Perhaps for this reason it was traditionally planted in Welsh graveyards.
Other names for Rowan include Quickbeam, Berry Ash, Traveller's Tree, Wicken Tree, Wiggy and Thor's Helper (because of a tale in the Prose Edda in which Thor saves himself from drowning in a raging river by grabbing hold of a Rowan).
Rowans can grow up to 15m in height and live for up to 200 years. The leaves, bark, flowers and fruit of the tree are useful for wildlife, providing food for moths, butterflies, bees, foxes, badgers, squirrels, dormice and birds. Humans can eat the berries too, they are best made into jellies, jams, wines, cordials or liqueurs. Heating or freezing them during processing helps break down the compounds within them which could otherwise potentially cause indigestion or kidney problems.
Embracing Autumn: Make a Rowan Charm for Yourself or Your Home
Try to find a Rowan tree in your area* and gather fallen twigs and/or berries to make a protective charm for your home, car or to carry with you. The simplest method is to use two crossed twigs and some yarn (red is the traditional colour to use, but you can choose colours that are meaningful to you) to make a 'God's Eye'/'Ojo de Dios'. You could thread rowan berries onto the yarn for added protection, or add a 'tail' of threaded berries to hang down from your charm. Instructions on how to make a God's Eye can be found here (or look on Youtube for a tutorial).
Alternatively you could simply thread Rowan berries together onto a length of cotton (using a needle and thread) or a piece of wire. Hang them over your front door to invoke the protection of the 'threshold tree' for your home.
* Rowans are often planted in parks, so even if you live in a city you should be able to find one. If all else fails, rowan berries can easily be purchased from herbal suppliers online. To ensure you are buying the right kind, check the Latin name which should be Sorbus aucuparia.