The Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia1), also known as the mountain-ash2 is a flowering broadleaf tree native to most of Eurasia north of the Mediterranean. Rowans do well in poor ground and are often planted to stabilise unsound hillsides against avalanches or landslides.
The wood is of good quality and suitable for fine carving and for making loadbearing parts of carts and similar things alike and the bark yields a red-brown dye. Leaves may be used as livestock fodder.
Rowan fruit is typically a reddish coloured berry, sharp and astringent to humans when raw, but more appetising once cooked or freeze treated to reduce the acidity. Like the rose - to which the rowan is related - the berries are a good source of vitamin C. The fruit has other medicinal uses, mostly related to gastro-intestinal complaints and the juice is used as a rinse for sore throats and a topical for the treatment of some skin diseases. The size of the rowan berry crop is said to predict the harshness of the coming winter, but opinions vary from region to region about how to interpret it.
In legend, the rowan is said to be an effective protection against witches and other hostile powers - and a "flying" rowan (one seeded epiphytically on another tree by seeds passed in bird droppings) - particularly effective. Rowan twigs could be used in charms to protect against hostile magic (presumably including witch bottles) and were said to help prevent travellers from becoming lost. They could also be used to make dowsing rods that were effective in searching for metal ore. Farm implements made of rowan were also said to help resist curses on the crop and cattle were traditionally driven out to pasture at the beginning of the year with rowan switches to benefit their health and fertility (and presumably drive away any evil influences hanging over them).
Game and Story Use
- Note the ideas for magical components - presumably anything you want to be resistant to hostile magic or used in wayfinding (such as a traveller's staff) could be made of rowan.
- Perhaps a charm made from rowan would usefully take the form of a woven band of twigs to be worn "all around my hat".
- Rowan switches may be useful in driving spirits out of an area.
- The idea of a rowan as a warding plant may mean that it somehow hampers movement in the spirit world around itself - or maybe just some anti-magic field that some or all magic users find unpleasant.
- If dowsing is a thing in your setting, note that these rods are good for metal ores.