Ash & Almond
Ash & Almond
Fraxinus, the ash, is a genus of flowering plants in the olive and lilac family, Oleaceae. It is widespread across Europe, Asia and North America. The tree forms woods on its own or grows in scrub and hedges. Virgil (1) said ‘Fraxinus in silvis pulcherrima': 'Ash is the loveliest in the woods'. The third most common tree in Britain, it is currently affected by Chalara dieback of ash, caused by the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon ӕsc. It was planted for the tough, elastic timber used for fence poles, tool handles, shepherds' crooks, hockey sticks, oars and cricket stumps. John Evelyn (2) admired them. It was a tree used against evil. In Ireland it was burned to keep the Devil away. In the Highlands John Lightfoot (3) saw Ash sap given to a new-born baby as protection against witches and goblins. The bunches of winged fruits were carried to ward off witches. An 'even leaf' (an even number of leaflets), was thought lucky. Gilbert White (4) describes in a letter to Barrington (6) how a pollarded Ash was held open with wedges and a ‘ruptured’ child was passed through naked. The tree was then swathed up. By the principles of sympathetic magic, as the tree healed, so should the child. Rider Haggard (5) The Norfolk poacher mentions this among his grandmother's cures, adding ' but I cannot say if this charm came true'. Enid Porter (7) records this belief as common in Cambridgeshire until the 1880’s. The bark and leaves were used as a laxative and purgative, recommended in fevers and ague. The leaves were used for gouty, arthritic and rheumatic complaints. Ash was also used against snake bites and other creatures.
The almond (Prunus amygdalus) is a species of tree native to Mediterranean climate regions of the Middle East, from Syria and Turkey to Pakistan. It has been widely cultivated and many new varieties have been developed for their beautiful early spring flowers and their fruit. There are two important varieties of Almond, the Bitter Almond (variety amara) whose seeds (like the leaves of the Cherry Laurel) contain the substance amygdalin which can yield hydrocyanic (or prussic) acid, and the Sweet Almond (variety dulcis) whose seeds are the well-known edible almonds, being smooth and palatable. Apart from their use in cookery, either whole or ground, the main use of these nuts is for the extraction of Almond Oil, which is used in the manufacture of toilet creams and can also be used internally, having a slight laxative effect as well as some food value. Distillation of Bitter Almonds produces an essential oil containing 4-7 per cent of prussic acid, and when this has been removed the oil is used for making flavouring essences.
(1) Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) (BC 70-BC 19), Eclogue VII;
(2) Evelyn, John (1620-1706) writer, gardener, diarist, Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty's Dominions, 1662;
(3) Lightfoot John (1735-1788) biologist, Flora Scotica, London, 1777;
(4) White, Reverend Gilbert (1720-1793) curate, botanist and ornithologist, Letter to Daines Barrington, 8th January 1776.
(5) Rider Haggard, Lilias (1892-1968), author (daughter of Sir Henry Rider Haggard), I Walked by Night, editor (1935);
(6) Barrington, Daines FRS, FSA (1727–1800) lawyer, antiquary and naturalist Gilbert White Correspondent, 1776;
(7) Porter, Enid (1909-1984) Cambridgeshire author and curator Notebooks;