‘the Ash for nothing ill’

Ash tree sketch by Summer Rain
Ash tree sketch by Summer Rain

I can’t remember why I initially chose an ash tree to be the heart of Silvana, unless it was because there was a huge ash growing directly opposite my house at the time and I loved to watch it change with the seasons – something that is reflected in this scene from The Greening, when Fabiom has returned home after a lengthy stint away in the service of his prince:

**He regretted not seeing the spring, the soft flowering of the ash, the months when Casandrina, like her tree, dressed in pale mauves and sang of beginnings. But he was glad that he could at least share the remainder of the summer with her, listen to her songs of fulfilment and being, watch the ripening of the tree and the gilding of its boughs as the seedpods swelled and quickened.**

Or perhaps it was because I had assimilated the general feeling towards ash trees that is found in ancient history and mythology, without quite realising it.

Throughout history and throughout its range, from Scandinavian to Celtic mythology, in the writings of Ancient Greek medics and Medieval herbalists, the ash tree has been lauded for its virtues and benefits.

The 16th century English poet Edmund Spenser sums up ash trees in one simple phrase from his most famous work, The Faerie Queene:

Much can they prayse the trees so straight and hy,

The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,

The vine-prop Elme, the Poplar never dry,

The builder Oake, sole king of forrests all,

The Aspine good for staves, the Cypresse funerall.

The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours

And Poets sage, the Firre that weepeth still,

The Willow worne of forlorne Paramours,

The Eugh obedient to the benders will,

The Birch for shaftes, the Sallow for the mill,

The Mirrhe sweete bleeding in the bitter wound,

The warlike Beech, the Ash for nothing ill,

The fruitfull Olive, and the Platane round,

The carver Holme, the Maple seeldom inward sound.

Not only is it ‘wholly good’, but the ‘whole of it’ is good – for something. The seeds, sap, bark, leaves and roots have all associations with different remedies, and indeed at one time it was thought that passing a sickly child through the centre of an ash tree that had been struck by lightning would be beneficial – possibly because it was seen as the essence of all that was good in nature.

And this isn’t just folklore: modern research suggests it has uses in the treatment of diabetes, hart disease and even cancer. It has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties, among other benefits.

So here, in time-honoured blog tradition, is a list of 10 ailments ash trees have traditionally helped to relieve:

  • Gout
  • Intestinal worms
  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis
  • Flatulence
  • Pain
  • Constipation
  • Infection
  • Fever
  • Viper bites (though personally, I’d keep this as a back-up measure, and not a first line of defence)

-*-*-

Besides its medical uses, the shock resistant timber has historically been used for spear shafts and shield handles and, more recently, timber-framed planes such as those flown in WW2. Oars, hockey sticks and the Irish hurley number among the tree’s contribution to sport.

And whether in the real world or in Morene, ash can be used alone or in conjunction with other wood to make decent archery bows – as Fabiom can attest to:

**Fabiom glanced around until he saw a rack with bows of a suitable height. What to choose? He picked out a couple and tested them, replacing them and moving on until he came to one that felt almost familiar. It was elm backed with ash and it bent under his hands exactly as he knew it should.

“This will suit me very well.”**

Even though yew is a superior timber for that purpose, the inhabitants of Morene – human and Silvanii alike – are inclined to avoid the highly poisonous yews, with good reason:

**The healer probed Fabiom’s damaged shoulder and grimaced. “What can I do?”

“Treat it as you would any deep wound in need of cleansing. I may be able to counteract the (yew) poison with sap and bark from my own tree,” Casandrina told him.

“Sap? Bark? You mean to damage your tree?”

“I mean to help you save his life.”**

And finally:

At one point in my research, I consulted Google:

‘Is ash sap good for you’

The reply came back – Do you mean ‘Is fish soup good for you’?

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