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Our Trees

What do trees invoke to you?  The Media shows the ‘global’ environmental and picturesque beauty of trees.   The local Council seems to regard trees in terms of  ‘risk assessment’ with planting and conservation taking ‘a backseat’.   For our Ancestors trees have had incalculable uses.    For me they have always been an important and essential part of my life not only for their visual beauty, but for my personal ‘well being’.    I could not bear the thought of a world without Trees.  Trees are us!

In Britain the last ice age (about 9 to 10,000 years ago left the land devoid of trees) and the formation of the English Channel lead to Britain having a poor native tree flora (about 33 species) with ‘man’ introducing many other species for example the English Elm is thought to have been introduced by Iron Age Tribes.  

Cover the list below and see how many native trees you can name?    What tree/s do you love to see?


  • Common juniper
  • Downy BirchSilver Birch03
  • Silver Birch
  • Aspen
  • Scots Pine
  • Bay Willow
  • Common Alder
  • Hazel
  • Small-leafed lime
  • Birch Cherry
  • Goat Willow
  • Wych Elm
  • Rowan
  • Sessile Oak
  • Ash
  • Holly
  • Common Oak
  • Hawthorn
  • Crack Willow
  • Black Poplar
  • Yew
  • Whitebeam
  • Midland Thorn
  • Crab-Apple
  • Wild Cherry
  • Strawberry-tree
  • White Willow
  • Field Maple
  • Wild Service Tree
  • Large-leafed Lime
  • Beech
  • Hornbeam
  • Box    

Over the centuries numerous trees have been introduced to Britain such as:  Sweet Chestnut, Walnut, London Plane, Horse Chestnut, Sycamore, Common Lime and English Elm to name but a few.


What uses do our trees have?  Variety of internal and external wood products; herbal uses; food source; shelter; boundaries; sources of food for insects and animals; and a symbiotic relationship with other fauna and flora.  The aesthetic value of trees and to our psyche.


 Ash was used for spear and shield handles, more recently for tool handles and can be coppiced.  Ash leaves can be used as a laxative and diuretic.  Alder and Hazel can withstand cutting and are used for coppicing.     The Alder poles were used for charcoal for the manufacture of Gun power as well as for many other everyday items of woodwork.  Alder was also used for dyes.  For medicinal purposes Alder was used for inflammations, rheumatism and diarrhea.   Beech  nuts are a source of food for many birds, animals and many fungi are associated solely with beech woods.  In the Iron Age it made a nutritious addition in terms of leaf buds and spring leaves to salads and soups.   The beech nuts could be roasted and used in bread or for a coffee like beverage or used as a source of cooking oil.   It was used traditionally as an antiseptic and disinfectant.  The Crab Apple fruits are a source of food for many birds and eaten by mammals once fallen and it also makes an excellent jelly.   The Elder (technically a shrub, but regarded as a tree) has many uses: such as berries to make Elderberry Wine and also known as the poor man’s medicine’ chest.   The Hawthorn is traditionally a boundary marker and used as an important remedy for heart disorders.  The Hazel one of Britain’s most valued trees for its quick growing stems used for hurdle fencing, thatching spars, bean sticks and its edible nuts – a good source of protein.   The Oak traditionally used to build ships;  for building frames (sometimes the wood left over from the ships was used for housing) and oak barrels.  The Oak acorns for animal forage.  It was used to combat diarrhea and dysentery and some infections.  Rowan – spinning wheels are traditionally made from this wood.  Roan has a number of medicinal uses internally:  digestive and for inflammations and externally:  for cuts, ulcers, sore throats.  The Yew is a hardwood and is known as ‘iron wood’ because when used for fence posts they last a long time and were also used for Longbows because of its flexibility.


The Old Ways Our ancestors held the tree in high esteem as they were an essential and integral part of their lives.  Tree traditions were essentially linked to the feminine deities  –  the ancient Mother Goddess .  The Tree of Life can be traced back to Neolithic times and used by different cultures.    The ancient Druids used Groves (of trees) for their worship place (for all original knowledge came from the trees).   In cultures across the globe specific native trees are still revered in local festivals till this day. 


The Alder has traditionally held close associations with Faere Folk who were believed to be the original British people.  The Hawthorn – ‘maythorn’ was important in the Celtic festival of Beltane and used for bonfires whereby the villagers would drive their cattle through the bonfire to ensure their fertility for the coming year.   The Hazel to the Celts is the ‘tree of knowledge’;  it also has strong associations with myth and magic:  for example King Arthur searching for the Mabon (child) the son of the Great Mother and eventually the salmon take him to the mythical well where he is found under a hazel tree.    The Celts had altars dedicated to the god Fagus (Hazel).  During the Iron Age Beech and Yew were used for ‘writing’  runes (tablets or sticks).   There is a strong link between Druidry and the Ash as a first century Druid staff was found on the Isle of Anglesey decorated with a solar spiral.   There is also a link between the Ash and the Welsh myth Gwydion the master druid.   In Norse myth the first man was made of Ash wood.   The Holly (an evergreen) is used to represent the Greenman from midsummer to midwinter when the underworld reclaims the sun.  The Elder tree has associations with Arthurian tales.   It was considered very unlucky to cut down an Elder tree and is reputed to be the gateway between the worlds.  The Oak has strong connections with Celtic Druids whereby Pliny the Elder reported the Druids of Gaul cutting mistletoe from oaks with golden sickles (there has been much debate on this).   The Oak is also used to represent the Green Man – from midwinter to midsummer when the sky god rules.  In Norse law the Rowan saved Thor from being washed away to the underworld.   It was a sacred tree of the Irish goddess Brigid.   It was said that the first woman was made from Rowan wood.   In Druidry Brigid is the muse for the Bardic tradition and the Rowen is known as ‘the tree of inspiration’.  The Ash was originally thought to be the hanging tree, but it is now considered to be the Yew – in The Nordic Tree of Life (Universal Tree)  – Yggdrasil where Odin hangs himself for nine days and nights from which he brings to mankind the Runes alphabet.  In Tarot Packs it can be seen represented as ‘The Hanging Man’.   The Yew is connected to the Celtic calendar Samhain when the gates between the world of the living and the world of the dead were opened.


This is a tiny walk to the edge of a wood glancing at a few of our native trees, but there is a vast forest for you to explore should you so desire.   I hope what I have written has awakened your interest in our trees.  Should you wish to walk further there are many paths you can explore.



Heidi Von Zilpke