The name Mountain Ash, used for this plant mainly in North America, is rather misleading as it refers the plant to the species of Ashes, obviously due to the superficial similarity of foliage. But there is another name that is used in reference to this plant, namely "Rowan". This ancient name is believed to have been derived form the Old Norse word raundian, which can be translated as "getting red" and pointed to the bright shade of red the tree's leaves and berries obtain in autumn.
Mountain Ash is one of the most widely spread wild tree species on the British isles and in the course of time it has acquired numerous folk names, some of which are the following: Delight of the eye (Luisliu), Quickbeam, Ran Tree, Round wood, Rune Tree, Sorb Apple, Whispering Tree, Wiggy, Witch tree, Witchbane, and others. Many of the names mentioned above are tightly connected with the mythological beliefs, associated with the tree.
In European folklore, Mountain Ash, or rowan, was considered to have magical properties and provide protection from evil spirits. It was also believed to promote human psychic abilities, which accounts for the fact that rowan wood was traditionally used as a material for making druid staffs and all kinds of magical wands. It was also kept at home to avert lightning and taken onboard to keep ships safe from storms. The magical use of Mountain Ash also includes planting the tree on the graves to stop the dead from rising and haunting those living. The tree was also believed to protect from enchantment and employed in the scrying process as an indispensable ingredient of the divination incense.
The use of Mountain Ash can be very multifarious due to the plant's specific physical properties. The wood is rather dense, making it suitable for making walking sticks, tool handles, poles and hoops for barrels. All parts of the tree are astringent and are sometimes used in dyeing black and tanning.
Mountain Ash trees, or rowans, make great ornamental trees perfect for parks and gardens. Certain Chinese species are especially popular for the unusual color of the fruit and large clusters of berries. They effectively attract birds feeding on ash fruit and it is not by chance that one of the names formerly attributed to the Mountain Ash was "bird catcher". Hardly edible when raw, the berries can still be used to make delicious a bitterish jelly normally served with game or wild foul. In Northern Europe the dried fruit are turned into flour and further fermented to produce a strong spirit. There also existed a recipe for ale from rowan berries, but it is now lost.
The berries are also known to have the ability to substitute coffee beans. However, despite the widely-spread usage of Mountain ash for food purposes it has also been claimed that it had killed a child, apparently by prussic acid poisoning. Both the bark and the fruit can be used for medicinal purposes either in the raw or dried state. Ripe berries of Mountain Ash contain elements with anti-scorbutic properties, which mitigate even sever cases of scurvy.
In herbal medicine they also serve as an effective ingredient for gargle used to treat sore throats, inflamed tonsils, hoarseness. The astringent infusion is good for haemorrhoids and strangury treatment. A decoction of bark has pronounced healing properties in cases of diarrhea and leucorrhea, due to considerable vitamin A and C value. Mountain Ash is also used as a potential remedy for eye irritations, heart and bladder problems, neuralgia, gout, waist constrictions and many other disorders.