Saturday, 31 August 2019

Rowan: in folklore and in Byron's Gin

Rowan: flowers, leaves and fruits
Image: J. Lyon
This month, rowan trees are coming into fruit across Britain and Ireland and both humans and birds are eyeing up those colourful berries! Rowan makes a delicious jelly (often eaten with game), and is also an important food source for birds during winter. But the value of this tree is not confined to the berries: the wood of the rowan tree is hard and heavy and was traditionally used for making wheels, in house-building, as oars, longbows and barrels for herring (the "silver darlings") which were an important food source in Scottish history.

Rowan was also important in folklore. Flora Celtica tells us that during a more superstitious past, hanging sprigs of rowan - on doors, on sailing boats and on cows' tails - was considered one of the most powerful ways of warding off evil and attracting good fortune. Conversely, cutting down a rowan tree was believed to bring bad luck.

According to C18th Scots author John Lightfoot, rowan berries were fermented and distilled to make a "very good" spirit; so it's hardly surprising that when Andy Amphlett, BSBI County Recorder for Banffshire, was working with Sandy Jamieson, Speyside Distillery manager, to choose ingredients for Byron's Gin, they selected rowan as one of those ingredients. 

This is probably a good time to remind you that if you buy a bottle of Byron's Gin to enjoy the delicious mix of ingredients, including rowan, you will also be helping to support the next generation of botanists, because - under the contract BSBI entered into with Speyside Distillery - for every bottle sold, a contribution is made to BSBI's Training programme. Slainte!  

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