Tree Superstitions from the British Isles

There are many superstitions we have heard of (and admit it, we have actually DONE), like "don't walk under a ladder", "only pick up a penny from the ground if it's head's up", and "knock on wood to reverse bad luck". Did you know there are numerous superstitions regarding trees? This list specifically contains tree superstitions from the British Isles. So if you have English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh heritage, your ancestors may have participated in a few of these beliefs!

Rowan Tree in Scotland Henry Hemming

Rowan Tree in Scotland Henry Hemming

Apple

If the sun shines through an apple tree on Christmas morning (or in some areas, Easter morning), it is a sign of a good crop to come and a prosperous year for the tree's owner.

Apples must be blessed by rain on St. Peter's Day or St. Swithun's Day. It is said that the fruit is unfit to eat until this has happened. (St. Peter's Day is June 29th and St. Swithun's Day is July 15th).

It is unlucky to strip a tree of all apples. An apple or two should be left for the birds. Another version of this tale is that a few apples should be left for fairies or other nature spirits.

Ash

The ash tree's leaves and wood protect all who keep them in the house or wear them from witchcraft and evil. In some parts of Scotland, ash wood was preferred by herdsman because it protected the cattle from witchcraft.

An old Devonshire legend says that the Infant Jesus was given his first bath by a fire of ash wood. For this reason, a newborn in this area was first washed by ash wood whenever possible.

An ash leaf is lucky – especially a leaf with an equal number of divisions on each side. It's a sign of good fortune to find one, especially if the finder carries it in his or her pocket.

Aspen

Aspen leaves "tremble" easily, even in light breezes. Because of this, aspens were credited with the power to cure fevers. An old magical tradition held that ailments could be treated by something that resembled their effects. Since fevers can cause the patient to tremble, he was likely to be healed by the tree.

Bay

Standing under a bay tree during a storm is a safe spot because it is claimed that these trees never get struck by lightning.

When growing near a house, these trees protect residents from illness.

Bay leaves placed under a pillow at night can produce pleasant dreams.

Birch

An old Herefordshire custom was to decorate a birch tree with red and white streamers and set it against a stable door on May Day. This tree then protected the horses from disease and misfortune, as long as the tree was left there all year.

Elder

It is considered unlucky to bring its wood into a house and extremely unlucky to burn it.

Despite being unlucky in a home, elder was once used for many remedies. An Oxfordshire treatment for burns was to mix elder bark with fresh butter, bandage this mixture onto the wound, and then submerge it into cold water.

Hawthorn

In Somerset, it is unlucky to cut down a hawthorn tree unless a prayer is said first. In Ireland, permission from the fairies must be asked beforehand.

It is unlucky to bring may flower, the flower of a hawthorn, inside the house.

Hazel

Scottish children were sometimes given the milk of the hazel nut as their first food because it brought good luck and health.

Juniper

To have a dream about junipers is unlucky. However, to dream of the berries is fortunate.

Maple

If a child is passed through its branches in infancy, he or she will live a long life.

Oak

Many old parishes have ancient oaks along their boundaries. These trees are known as Gospel Oaks. It was custom during Rogation processions to halt under the trees for a short service.

Rowan (Mountain Ash)

In the Isle of Man, rowan crosses made without a knife were fastened to the tails of cattle on May Day Eve to protect them from the mischief of fairies and other spirits.

Willow

In 16th century medical theory, willow trees were thought to be good for rheumatism because they like to grow in damp places and rheumatism is affected by dampness. In modern times, salicin (found in the bark of willows) is used in the treatment of rheumatic fever.

By Sarah Paski

Information Source

"The Encyclopedia of Superstitions" – Christina Hole

Read more about trees and tree care.