Editors of the Dictionaries of the Scots Language
are kindly supplying us with a Scots word of the month. This month, the word is:
The mountain ash, the berry of the mountain ash
Rowan or rodden is a word from our Viking legacy. It has literary applications; the rich red of the berries providing an apt simile such as this from the late 16th century Maitland Folio
: 'My ruby cheikis wes reid as rone'. The tree was praised in song by Lady Nairne: 'Oh! Rowan Tree, Oh! Rowan Tree, thou'lt aye be dear to me'.
However, the rowan tree also has associations with witchcraft and magic. According to Alexander Ross, in Helenore, or The Fortunate Shepherdess
(1768), the leaves could be used to bless a child-bed: 'The jizzen-bed wi' rantree leaves was sain'd'.
Stranger goings-on are described in the Miscellany of the Spalding Club
: 'Thow… desyrit hir to tak nyn piklis of quhyt (wheat), and ane peice rantrey, and put tham in the four nwkis (corners) of his hows' (1596–7) and 'Thow baid William Innes… tak the croce of a raintrie and put on his richt schulder, and turne him thryis about' (1597).
The superstitions continued into the 19th century. Chambers' The Popular Rhymes of Scotland
claims that: 'Black luggie (cup), lammer (amber) bead, Rowan-tree, and red thread, Put the witches to their speed!' and the Crawfurd Manuscripts
yield: 'Gude, or Sweet or Peace be here and rowntree' as a saying to bring good luck.
In 1902, the Transactions of the Banffshire Field Club
state: 'Over the byre doors and along the eaves you would see 'raan' or rowan sticks and red thread'.
Whether these measures proved efficacious is uncertain, but our editors wholeheartedly endorse the claim made by Marion McNeill in The Scots Kitchen
(1929): 'Rowan jelly is an excellent accompaniment to grouse, venison, and saddle of mutton', although the berries are gey sour and if you are in a bad temper it might be said you've had roddens tae yer supper.
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