Some amazing medicinal plants: the European ash


In this series, we present medicinal plants from all the continents on Earth, starting with the European ash.

botanical name:

Genus: Oleaceae. Species: Fraxinus excelsior

common names:

Ash, common ash, weeping ash, bird’s tongue.


Found in most parts of Europe from the Mediterranean in the South to the Arctic in the North and to the Caucasus and western Russia in the East.


The Vikings considered the ash to be sacred. They called it the ‘Tree of Life’. Even today it is known as the ‘Venus of the Woods’. In Norse mythology, the Ash Ydrasil was an immense tree growing out of the Well of Urd (‘Urd’ meaning destiny). It was in the middle of Asgard, where the gods and goddesses lived, at the center of the world. The ash spread its crown and branches across the nine worlds.

In European shamanism of ancient times, trees were often seen as the means of transportation between the worlds. It is important to understand that the Ash Ydrasil and the Well of Urd were symbolic of the Norse spiritual worldview – they were thought to exist in the invisible heart of everything, including humans. The Well of Urd symbolized the past, and the accumulation of impressions in the subconscious – the reservoir of completed or ongoing actions that nourish the tree and influence its growth. The Ash Ydrasil represented the present – how we live our life in the here and now. There was no real thought of the future, only the interaction between the past and what we do in the present.

The water symbolized intention, flowing up from the well into the tree and then as dew dripping back down into the well. This represented the fact that time was thought to be cyclical rather than linear. The present returns to the past, changing the past, and the past is reabsorbed into a new present.

All beings were thought to have some say in designing their own destiny, and the destiny of others, expressed as the dew that dripped back into the well, changing the effect of the past. But it was not an active, conscious process in most people – only in those who were thought to be magicians – those who could work with destiny. There was no absolute free will, and no absolute fate. Life was lived between these two extreme views.

The sacred wood of the European ash has been burned for as long as we know to ward off evil spirits.


A large tree that grows up to 40 meters. It reaches a normal age of 200 years, but there are some trees older than 500 years.

The leaves appear late in the spring and fall in the early autumn. The small flowers appear before the leaves and are purple to black, lacking normal petals. The ash starts flowering when it has reached 30 years. Trees have female flowers or male flowers, and occasionally both. The ash is also known to change its sex from year to year.

The ash trees are usually pollinated by wind, and the seeds are dispersed by wind.

plant parts used:

The bark, leaves and sometimes the seeds.

therapeutic uses:

There’s a very long history of using the European ash as medicine. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) used it to treat patients.

St Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179), the German writer, composer and philosopher, writes of using the ash as a treatment for gout and rheumatism.

The leaves, bark and young twigs contain hydorxycoumarins that inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. These properties could make the ash beneficial as a treatment for healing wounds and sores and reducing swelling. They also contain phenolic acids, tannins and triterpenes, which are all used in traditional herbal medicine.

The bark is used to reduce fever and as a substitute for quinine. The bark and leaves have traditionally been used as a remedy for diarrhea.

The coumarin called fraxin that is found in the bark and the leaves has diuretic properties that may increase the excretion of uric acid. Due to these properties the bark may help treat gout and rheumatic disorders, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bladder and kidney problems are also treated with the bark, including the removal of stones in the urinary tract.

current ecology:

Sadly, it looks like this sacred tree will be wiped out in Europe due to a fungal disease, ash die-back, and a beetle called the emerald ash-borer. Both have migrated from Asia. This will change the landscape of Europe, and also affect the biodiversity of other wildlife that depend on the ash trees, including birds, mammals and invertebrates, as well as fungi, mosses and lichens.

And what does it mean, that the sacred tree that existed at the center of the world in the Norse psyche, is disappearing?

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