Rowan

Rowan berries in the tree (Sorbus aucuparia)
A very common tree in the mountains and hedgerows alike, Rowan is frequently planted as a street tree for its moderate size and vibrant orange berries. The flowers and fruit are of interes to the forager.

Table of Contents

Rowan: Plant profile

Common names

Rowan, Rowanberry, Mountain Ash, European Mountain Ash,, Quickbeam, Witch Wiggin Tree, Keirn, Cuirn, Caorthann

Botanical name

Sorbus aucuparia

Plant family

Rosaceae (Rose)

Distribution

Native to most of Europe, part of Asia and northern Africa. Common throughout the UK and Ireland.

Where to find Rowan

Urban areas, forest edges and rocky hills.

When to find Rowan

Flowers late spring to early summer and berries early to mid-autumn.

How to identify Rowan

Rowan is a small deciduous tree growing to 15 m. The bark is smooth, shiny and silvery grey in colour.The leaves are serrated, composed of five to eight pairs of stretched oval leaflets with one terminal leaf (ocasionally two). The flowers are small, have five petals, are creamy white in colour and arranged in dense clusters. The fruit mature in those clusters into round berries, bright orange (or red, even yellow) in colour.

Rowan lookalikes

Other Rowan species (Sorbus sp.) have similarities, such as the Service Tree (Sorbus domestica), which have bigger fruit and Whitebeam (Sorbus aria), which has resemblant berries but leaves are completely different.

Elder (Sambucus nigra) may also be confused with Rowan by the flowers, but it usually has a number of canes rather than one solid trunk and the berries are purplish-black rather than orange.

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) has similar leaf arrangement but its leaflets are not particularly serrated and it produces winged seeds (ash keys) instead of berries.

Rowan tree in flower (Sorbus aucuparia)

All about Rowan

Our native Rowan trees play an important role in popular folklore and superstition, much related to witchcraft. It’s said crosses made of Rowan wood were tied with a red thread on May eve to be protected against witches.

This small deciduous tree is generally growing singly in forest edges and rocky hills, sometimes at higher elevations than any other native tree. The tree is also an appreciated ornamental and planted in urban areas.

Rowan trees bear clusters of vivid red berries in abundance, quite easy to spot from a distance.

Culinary uses and recipes with Rowan

Rowan is a bit niche. These berries are naturally bitter, but cooking them with sugar tames the flavour. They are traditionally paired with crab apples and used to make jelly to accompany meats and cheese, as they are high in pectin.

The flowers are also edible, quite aromatic and can be infused into drinks.

Medicinal properties of Rowan

Rowan berries are an astringent, a laxative and a good source of vitamins C and A.

Rowan berries in the tree (Sorbus aucuparia)

Safe foraging of Rowan

The seeds are believed to contain hydrogen cyanide so should not be eaten.

Rowan must  be cooked as raw berries will cause stomach upsets, but once cooked are perfectly fine.

Ecological importance of Rowan

The flowers are a food source for pollinating insects.

The berries are eaten by apple fruit moth caterpillars and small birds, such as lblackbirds and thrushes.

The leaves feed the larvae of moths and butterflies, such as the autumn green carpet and the larger Welsh wave.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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