The white man has found many uses for America’s forest. We’ve used the wood for fuel, paper, houses, furniture, tools, gun stocks, etc. We’ve even found various species to be best for specific uses.
I’m sitting here looking at a dead ash so let’s start with ash. Ash will be found in 4 varieties of blue, green, black and white. Pioneers used ash for wagon wheels and shafts, as well as baskets, butter tubs, and handles for hoes, rakes, and pitch forks.
Today, more civilized man uses the ash for play. Ash wood is used to make polo mallets, tennis rackets, hockey sticks, swing seats, and baseball bats. Modern man has more time to play than work. I have to wonder what the ash trees have to say about us when we’re not out here amongst ‘em. They’ve seen this transition of wood utilization go from work to play and from need to want. I wonder if they give up their wood so willingly now. These are the kinds of things that meander ‘tween the ears while sittin’ on your brains on a stump.
The Indians used ash for baskets, dye, weapons, and tea. The tea was a bit of a cure-all, as was sassafras. It was used to cure gout, rheumatism, snake bites, and to promote longevity.
In the medical field, they say many times, “You may want to get a second opinion.” If this second opinion alludes to a “shrew tree” – beware. Don’t try this at home.
Indians and settlers thought they had the cure for sore limbs on animals or people and it was a shrew ash. They thought the soreness resulted in having touched a shrew before. Their cure was to catch a shrew and place it in a hollow ash tree, plug up all exits and then you have a shrew ash. Take a twig off that tree and touch the sore limb and waa-laa – you’re cured. Maybe now is the time to get a third opinion. I know there’s a wealth of good logic in woodland folklore passed from Indians to settlers but I don’t think this one will hold water.
Here’s another ash folklore that I don’t think you’ll hear at K/D or SOMC. In days gone by, Indians and settlers would split an ash sapling and pass a sick child through it. They would then mud, bind, and seal the ash back together. If the ash lived so would the child and vice-versa.
I believe that the more we understand how the tree is used today and was used yesterday enhances our appreciation for said tree tomorrow. It’s that folklore of yesteryear that helps cipher out the technology of tomorrow.
Fine examples would be salix and sambucus. These are both found in a medicine man’s tent centuries ago and still today in pharmacies. Salix is willow and an ingredient in aspirin and used to cure headache.
Sambucus is elderberry and the prime ingredient in elderberry wine and known to cause a few headaches. Sambuca is also an Italian liqueur and made from elderberry. That’s where it gets its dark color and fruity taste. The elders’ berry will contain toxins and can be poisonous if harvested at the wrong time. Don’t try this without referring to the moonshine manual. For medicinal purposes, I think sambucus is used for memory loss (like ginkgo ). I can’t remember.
All in all, when it’s all said and done, the more we revere the past, the better off we’ll all be in the future. A little reverence goes a long way in not allowing us to take Mother Nature for granted.
As John Anderson would say, “I’m gonna kneel and pray everyday, lest I should become vain along the way.”
Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.