Trees have deep roots in Scottish folklore

Trees have deep roots in Scottish folklore

Plants and trees play a large part in Scottish folklore, myths and medicine.

At this time of year, much of the Scottish countryside is lit up by brightly coloured gorse flowers. The vibrant yellow blooms begin to show in January when most plant life is still hiding from winter. Their cheery, colourful display acts like a promise of the warmer months to come.

The shrub remains in flower until June. That six month-long duration is good news if you believe the old folklore that sweethearts should only kiss when the gorse is in bloom. Kissing season aside, gorse has long been used for several purposes in Scotland.

When rubbed between the fingers, the flowers have a coconut aroma and they taste of almonds. We don’t advise eating any wild plants unless you are sure you can identify them correctly. However, gorse flowers have been used to make wines and teas. They can also brighten up a salad. Again, we do not recommend you use any wild plant as a medicine but gorse buds were used to treat jaundice and scarlet fever in the past.

Gorse has been used as animal fodder and was also used to fashion brushes. The wood was once a source of fuel. Although not for illicit distillers who preferred to use smokeless juniper to heat up the stills hidden in the more remote glens.

From aspens to oaks, many trees feature prominently in Scottish folklore but there is a strong argument that the rowan tree is more notable than most. It was believed that rowans offered powerful protection against witchcraft and misfortune. Red was thought to be the colour most effective at countering witches. And the rowan’s bright red berries were ideal for scaring off any broom-riding threats.

Scottish folklore

Planting a rowan tree by the entrance to your property or next to your house was said to ward off evil. Carrying sprigs of rowan around helped defend against any mobile threats one might come across. It was also thought that stirring milk with a rowan twig would stop it from curdling.

As well as being a possible source of vitamin C – handy if you think you might be suffering from scurvy – rowan berries can be used to make a tart jam. The berries can also help predict the weather. Country wisdom has it that a bountiful crop of rowan berries in the autumn is a sure fire sign that a harsh winter is on its way. The thinking is that if a tough winter is on the cards then the rowan will produce more berries in order help fatten up the birds that feast on them. Bulked up on rowan berries, the local birdlife was in much better shape to face a long cold snap.

Given that the rowan was thought to be so powerful, chopping them down was taboo. In fact, cutting a rowan tree was pretty much a guarantee of bad luck.

There are not many rowan trees on our EatWalk Glasgow route but then no witches have been spotted for a while so it all balances out.

From Scottish folklore tales to local history, EatWalk tours are a great way to explore Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews. All while enjoying fantastic food and drink from our wonderful restaurants and bars. Tours and vouchers are available here.

Pic is from Wikimedia.

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