In 2013 The Year of Natural Scotland, there was a national consultation to establish what should be Scotland’s National Tree.
In the second in the series of blogs on the folklore of Scotland’s wildlife, Director of Training, Myles Farnbank explores the folklore and medicinal uses of the ‘top three’ Scottish native trees as voted for by the Scottish public. Learn the Folklore of Scotland’s Trees; Myths and Medicines.
No. 1 - Scots Pine
Widely used in herbal medicine the needles and young buds are used to treat respiratory disorders such as bronchitis and sinusitis. Its antiseptic qualities aids the healing of cuts, skin diseases and sooths skin irritations. There is an old tradition of making a bath preparation to reduce sleeplessness, rheumatics and nervous disability and to ease fatigue. An essential oil from the needles is used to treat asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Pillows full of the needles or shavings were slept on to cure coughs.
Folklore Used by the Druids in making great winter solstice fires to draw back the sun. The resin and needles were burnt as incense to counter magic and repel evil. The smoke was used to cleanse spaces of negative energy. The cones were once carried to increase a persons fertility and was also believed to give old people more vigour. Historically the Scot’s Pine is the totem for the clans Grant & McGregor.
No.2 – Rowan
This Rowan had been used since ancient times as a remedy for diarrhoea and as an astringent and antibiotic. Decoction of the berries was prepared as a gargle for sore throats. They were also used to treat haemorrhoids and scurvy.
The Rowan has many associations with magic and witches. In Scotland there was a strong taboo against cutting a Rowan down. The wood was seen as the most protective part and was used for stirring milk (to prevent it curdling), as a pocket charm against rheumatism and also used as divining rods. The protective power is thought to come from the berries, as red was thought to be the best colour for fighting evil.
No.3 – Holly
Old cures for corns were made, by first soaking the leaves in vinegar and then placing them on the corn for 24 hours. The juice of the leaves was said to stop a runny nose. None of these are used today and the berry is a purgative and poisonous.
Like some other native trees the Holly was felt to have protective properties and was frequently left uncut in hedges. A more arcane reason for this was to obstruct witches who were known to run along the tops of hedges. More practically farmers used their distinctive evergreen shapes to establish lines of sight during winter ploughing. Apparently the Duke of Argyll even had a prospective road rerouted to avoid cutting down a distinctive old Holly in 1861.