View site in Scots
Flickr YouTube

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Rowan

Rowan n. - the mountain ash, the berry of the mountain ash.

Rowan or rodden is another 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 sixteenth 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 nineteenth 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 I don't know, but I can 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.
 

Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.

This week's word is spoken by Sheena Blackhall from Aberdeen.
 

Originally published: 24th July 2006