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Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

Main features

  • Deciduous tree growing to 15m 

  • Can be found in woodland, at high altitudes, in parks, and in gardens

  • Leaves have five to eight pairs of long oval leaflets with a serrated edge, and a similar-shaped terminal leaflet 

  • Clusters of cream-white five-petalled flowers in spring

  • Bright orange-red berries in late summer/early autumn

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Rowan - Sorbus aucuparia

Edible tree - novice

Other common names Mountain Ash, Witch Wiggin Tree, Keirn, Cuirn, Quickbeam, Rowanberry


Scientific name meaning Sorbus comes from the Latin Sorbeo, meaning absorbing. Aucuparia is also of Latin origin from Aucupor, meaning "to ctach/chase birds. This is a reference to the berries being used to bait birds

Season all year

Habitat - where will I find it? ​A UK native, Rowan can be found in woodland and growing at high altitudes. It is easy to grow, with attractive fruit, so is often found in gardens and parks

Description - what does it look like? Rowan is a deciduous tree with silvery-grey bark growing up to 15m. 

The leaves consist of five to eight pairs of stretched oval leaflets that have a serrated edge, with a similar-shaped terminal leaflet. The flowers emerge in late spring and are in dense clusters. Each small flower is creamy white and has five petals.

The flowers are followed by bright orange-red berries in late summer/early autumn

Possible lookalikes Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) couls be confused with Rowan, but its leaflets are not particularly serrated and it does not produce berries. Elder (Sambucus nigra) may also be confused with Rowan, but it usually has lots of canes rather than one solid trunk, it has less leaflets on its leaves, and its berries are purple-black, rather than orange-red

Use as a food The flowers can be used to make jams, jellies, syrups and cordials, or to infuse cream/milk. The berries must be cooked (see Hazards) and can be used to make a sweet-sour jams, wine, cordial, jelly or fruit cheese. The berries are high in vitamin C

Use in herbal medicine Has been used as an astringent, laxative, and diuiretic, and to treat scurvy, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, vaginal discharge

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses An anti-ageing skin mask has been made from the berries, while the branches produce a black dye. The wood is prized by woodturners. 

Hazards The berries contain parascorbic acid, and eating them raw will cause vomiting and stomach upset. Therefore, they must be cooked. 

In addition, the seeds are believed to contain cyanogenic glycosides and hydrogen cyanide so should not be eaten

Importance to other species Rowan's leaves are eaten by the larvae of many moths and butterflies, including the Larger Welsh Wave and Autumn Green Carpet, while Appple Fruit Moth caterpillars feed on the berries. 

the berries are also and important food source for birds, including Blackbird, Mistle Thursh, redwing, Redstart, Fieldfare, Waxwinf and Song Thrush.

In addition, the flowers are important for pollinators

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

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