A species of ash grew in the great northern forests of Scandinavia, and was beloved by ancient Norsemen. The Vikings of Norway and Denmark were sometimes referred to as “Ashemen” because their spear shafts, ax handles, and shooting bows were made from ash wood.
In Norse Mythology a large ash tree named “Yggdrasil” was believed to be the origin of all life. Because it had tremendous size and strength (traits of normal ash trees), it was believed to hold up the sky. Clouds were thought to be its leaves and the stars its fruits.
Some early European customs believed that the ash tree had the power to keep away snakes. Women would hang their baby’s cradle from an ash tree while they worked in the field, confident that the tree would protect the child.
Ash was also used to predict the summer weather, based on when it leafed out:
“If the Oak is out before the Ash, twill be a summer of wet and splash. But if the Ash is before the oak, twill be a summer of fires and smoke.”
Here in America we have several species of ash, the most common one in our area being the white ash (Fraxinus americana). They all have the valuable wood properties of being strong yet light in weight. Ash wood is used to make sporting equipment such as baseball bats, oars, and paddles. It is also used for making handles for shovels, forks, hoes, and other tools. The wood is able to be bent easily, and so is useful for making the bent part of chairs.
Ash was thought to have medicinal value by early Native Americans, and was used as a strong laxative and as a tonic. A tea made from the inner bark was used to treat stomach disorders and promote sweating to break a fever. A solution made of from ash bark was used externally for sores, lice, and snakebites.
An interesting book on ash and other trees is The Folklore of Trees and Shrubs, by Laura C. Martin.