LATIN Alnus glutinosa
CELTIC Fearn / Fern / Vearn / Vern
ALPHABET F / V
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED resurrection / red / divining (shield) / 8
TIME PERIOD Mar 18 - Apr 14 / spring equinox (Mar 20-21)
USE posts for bridges, crannogs / medicine / dyes /
utensils / whistles / charcoal
SEE ALSO Bran
REMARKS Alder trees were sacred to the Celts, and to cut
one down without permission could result in a burnt-out
home. The wood is lightweight, soft, rot-resistant and
burns with extreme heat.
Alder was used for the piles of bridges, piers, and
posts of buildings in wet areas, for the construction of
dairy pails and utensils, and for supernatural whistles
which could call up the wind.
Alder bark was used to make a tea reputed to be
excellent for cleaning the blood. Three different colors
of dye were obtained from the alder: red from the bark,
green from the flowers, and brown from the twigs. The sap
turns from white to red when the tree is cut.
The small tree has flowers in catkins, long if male
and short and oval if female. The flowers form in the
summer but only reach their full bloom the next March,
before there are leaves on the branches.
The Gaelic name of the alder was used to denote the
letters F and V in the Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Malus sylvestris
SUBSTITUTE Buckthorn / Ash / Poplar / Elm
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED 5 / moon goddess / immortality / sacred
TIME PERIOD winter solstice (Dec 21-21) / May
USE winter food / medicine / tanning / yellow dye
SEE ALSO Arthur
REMARKS All apple trees were cultivated from the ancient
crab-apple. In ancient Ireland, the death penalty was the
punishment for cutting down an apple tree. The apple tree
was a symbol for eternal life, and there was an association
between Avalon, the apple orchard, and The Otherworld. In
addition, the fruit of the apple displayed the moon symbol
of the five-pointed star when cut laterally.
The fruit provided a winter food that countered
scurvy, the bark was used for tanning leather and a yellow
fabric dye was obtained. Cider, a drink for sun festivals,
could be produced from the fruit, and is still a favorite
drink in the Celtic regions of Asturias in northern Spain
and Cornwall in southwest England.
The crab-apple often grows in oak forests and is a
favorite host for the mistletoe. The tree displays
fragrant white or pink flowers in May. The fruit of the
uncultivated crab-apple is yellow when ripe and quite
LATIN Fraxinus excelsior
CELTIC Nion / Nin / Niun
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED rebirth / triple goddess / charm against
drowning / divining (spear) / 13
TIME PERIOD Feb 18 - Mar 17
USE wands / wheel shafts / oars / coracle ribs /
spear shafts / medicine / chieftain chairs /
yellow dye / broomhandles
SEE ALSO On-niona
REMARKS The strong and elastic qualities of ash wood
made it suitable for many uses in Celtic times, including
spear and javelin shafts, coracle ribs, chariot frames and
broomhandles. It was also considered a charm against
drowning. A druid's wand with spiral decorations made of
ash and dating from around AD 1st century was found at
An infusion of the leaves was recommended to cure
obesity, a punishable offense in Celtic society. The bark
was used in treatment of rheumatism and liver disorders,
and the fruit was eaten to combat flatulence. A yellow dye
was produced from the roots.
The flowers of the ash appear in April, dark purple
indicating that they are male. The tree is one of the last
to come into leaf in the spring. In October the fruits
whirl down from the trees in their brown pods or "keys".
The Gaelic name for ash was used to represent the letter N
in the Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Populus tremula
CELTIC Eadha / Eded / Eagh
ALTERNATIVE White Poplar
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / divining (indifference) / light
yellow / death / old age
TIME PERIOD gibbous moon / Samhain (Nov 6-7)
USE shields / measuring stick
REMARKS Aspen is a silver-barked poplar tree with
spreading branches and round-shaped leaves that show their
white undersides at the hint of a breeze. The female trees
have white catkins which become fluffy in May to aid
dispersal of the seeds.
Aspen was used by the Celts for making rods that were
used to measure corpses. In divining sessions, the aspen
stick represented indifference. The tree represented the
letter E in the Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Hordeum sativum
ASSOCIATED moon goddess
USE food / beer
SEE ALSO Cerridwen
REMARKS The oldest cultivated barley, a species of
grass, has six rows of grain in the ear. It was grown
mainly as a food for humans, boars and horses but also used
to make a barley beer. The plant grows well in poor soil
and is useful for crop rotation. Boiling ground barley in
water produced a soothing drink.
LATIN Laurus nobilis
CELTIC Labhras / Llawryf
USE medicine / flavoring food
REMARKS The bay tree is an evergreen with smooth
leathery leaves, small yellow flowers and deep purple
berries. Bay leaves were used for flavoring cooking and
also as a remedy for gastric disorders and rheumatic pains.
The related cherry laurel (prunus laurocerasus) is a
highly poisonous plant, and contains prussic acid (cyanide)
in its bark, leaves and berries.
LATIN Fagus sylvatica
CELTIC Feá / Ffawydden
USE boar food / human food / medicine
SEE ALSO Fagus
REMARKS The beech forest is a dark forest with little
light penetrating the dense foliage. The tree grows to a
height of 60-100 ft (30-40 m) and 6-9 ft (2-3 m) in
diameter with a shallow wide root system that likes a
medium loam and chalk soil. The tree has tufts of male
(long, hanging) and female (short, stout) flowers. The
trees have few bottom branches so it make an easy forest to
travel through on foot or horse.
The wood was used to make furniture and the oil from
the nut was used in lamps and for cooking. A medicinal tar
was produced from the tree to treat skin eczema and
psoriasis and a syrup was made into an expectorant
The name of the tree is old Aryan and means "lord and
master provider of food". Beech nuts were a favorite food
of the wild boar, the favorite food of the Celts.
LATIN Atropa belladonna
ALTERNATIVE Deadly nightshade
ASSOCIATED druidic ritual
USE poison / hallucinogenic drug / medicine
REMARKS The belladonna plant has very fragrant purple
bell-shaped flowers, large oval leaves and shiny black
berries. The plant is highly poisonous and eating a berry
can result in death. Nevertheless, the medicinal value has
long been recognized, and minute doses were found to
counteract poison and alleviate acute pain in some
The druids and their initiates used this plant in some
of their rituals. It was administered by experienced
people who understood the dangers.
CELTIC Beith / Beithe / Beth / Beite
SUBSTITUTE Willow / Rowan
ASSOCIATED sun god / 5 / divining (self-propagation) /
TIME PERIOD Dec 24 - Jan 20 / winter solstice (Dec 21-22)
USE divining rods / marriage acceptance / flogging
rods / maypoles / medicine / dye / brooms
REMARKS The birch represented the letter B in the Tree
Alphabet. The tree was important to the druids and
associated with the sun god because it represented new
beginnings. Because the tree was self-propagating, it was
also considered ideal for divining.
When a maiden accepted the advances of a young man,
she signalled her acceptance by giving him a birch branch.
Flogging rods of birch were used to drive out unwanted
spirits in a person, and also to beat the boundaries of a
field and to drive out the spirits of the old year. This
was done during the leafing season of March-April when the
planting of spring wheat took place. Willow and rowan were
sometimes used in place of birch.
Brooms were sometimes made from the twigs of birch
bound with willow to a handle of ashwood. The bark was
used to make a fawn-colored dye. The leaf buds, bark and
sap were all used for medicinal purposes, including the
treatment of kidney and urinary disorders, rheumatism and
arthritis. Birch ash or charcoal is an excellent remedy
for acid stomach.
The silver birch has long yellow male catkins hanging
in groups, and shorter female catkins which start out green
and then turn brown, releasing seeds housed in brown
double-winged pods. The tree is often found growing in
LATIN Rubus fruticosus
CELTIC Muir / Dreas-smeur
SUBSTITUTE grape vine / raspberry
ASSOCIATED divining (use helpers) / 6
TIME PERIOD September 2-29 / autumn equinox (Sep 22-23)
USE wine / medicine / dyes
REMARKS The blackberry produces white flowers and sweet
tasty berries on a hardy thorny creeping vine. The Celts
had a law, still observed in Devon and Cornwall, that the
berries were not to be eaten after September. They were a
substitute for grapevines at the festival of autumn
equinox. The blackberry has a high concentration of
natural sugar and make an excellent wine. Many hillfort
sites still have blackberry bushes in their vicinity.
The plant was used at least until AD 18th century by
the Scottish Highlanders for dying their clothing, giving
various colors (red, dark orange, blue or purple) according
to the maturity of the fruit. The berry juice was also
used for gum diseases, mouth ulcers and throat infections
as well as kidney disorders. A tea of new shoots in the
spring could provide minerals to the depleted body store
and stimulate the kidneys to eliminate wastes.
When the blackberry plant was indicated during
divining, it suggested the need for a helper, just as the
plant itself needs a support on which to climb. The Celtic
name of the plant was used to denote the letter M in the
Celtic Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Prunus spinosa
CELTIC Preas nan airneag
SUBSTITUTE Red Bearberry
USE food / blue-black dye / shillelaghs
SEE ALSO Zeus
REMARKS The bush has black thorny bark and clustered
white flowers which open in late March. The edible blue-
black berries (sloes) are ripe from August to October. The
plants were used for making blue-black dyes. The wood was
used to make the Irish shillelagh or fighting stick.
LATIN Vaccinium myrtillus
CELTIC Dearc bhraoileag
ALTERNATIVE Bilberry / whortleberry / whinberry
SUBSTITUTE Blueberry and alum / elder and alum
USE food / medicine / blue dye
REMARKS The blueberry is a small shrub with rosy-green
flowers in April-June and a small blue-black berry which
ripens in summer. The edible berries are astringent and
rich in vitamins. They were recommended for alleviation of
diarrhoea, nausea, ulcers, liver and pancreas disorders,
and as a tonic when recovering from sickness.
The berries also produce a blue or purple dye, and
were being used for that purpose as late as AD 18th century
in the Scottish Highlands. For dying purposes, they were
combined with verdigris and sal ammoniac, or with alum.
Verdigris is prepared by soaking copper in wine dredges
(acetic acid) which produces a green pigment. Sal ammoniac
is a crude form of ammonia made from hart antlers.
LATIN Borago officinalis
TIME PERIOD flowers in summer
REMARKS The borage plant is easy to spot with its blue
star-shaped flowers and its grey-green leaves. Borage was
added to wine for its exhilarating effect, and was
sometimes also eaten raw before going into battle. It
makes a good cold drink and has been used in the treatment
of respiratory ailments.
LATIN Buxus sempervirens
USE musical instruments
SEE ALSO Buxenos
REMARKS The boxtree is a small-leaved evergreen, with
wood so heavy that it will sink in water. The close grain
made it an ideal material for musical instruments. In
April the tree produces small yellow flowers.
LATIN Cytisus scoparius
SUBSTITUTE Wild Mignonette and Indigo / Furze bark
USE dyes / staves for darts and spears
REMARKS The broom bush grows profusely on heathland and
produces flowers of a vivid yellow color. The branches
were traditionally used for sweeping (brooms).
An infusion of the tops was reputed to aid in bladder
and kidney diseases and restore normal rhythm to a feeble
irregular heartbeat, but only when administered in
carefully-monitored small doses, otherwise causing
The plants were also used to produce dyes, either
bright green when used by itself, or pale blue when mixed
with elder, using alum as a fixative.
LATIN Rhamnus catharticus
SUBSTITUTE Crab-apple / Ash / Poplar / Elm
USE Yellow dye / medicine
REMARKS The plant produces small yellow-green clusters
of flowers, and a black berry-like fruit which has strong
purgative qualities. Yellow dye was made from the unripe
fruits, and the bark was used in a remedy for constipation
as well as for eliminating tapeworm.
LATIN Prunus avium
CELTIC Silín / Ceiriosen
USE food / medicine
REMARKS In April the buds of the wild cherry emerge a
bronze color then turn green at the same time as clusters
of large white pink flowers begin to blossom. The edible
berry is bright red to deep purple.
The wood of the tree was hard and the bark was used in
infusions as a remedy for coughs and as a sedative.
LATIN Castanea sativa
USE food / medicine / fodder / furniture
REMARKS The chestnut tree can grow to 100 ft (30 m) with
large spreading branches, long shiny toothed leaves,
catkins, and nuts inside spiky pods.
Chestnuts were an important food supply for the Celts,
being eaten raw, boiled, roasted and dried. The dried
chestnuts were smoked and then ground into a meal used to
make a porridge. Some were left to fatten pigs and goats.
The leaves were used for treatment of pulmonary
disorders, and the wood of the tree was used for building
and in furniture making.
LATIN Rubus chamaemorus
CELTIC Lus na h-Oighreig
SUBSTITUTE Watercress / Bitter Vetch
USE food / violet dye
REMARKS The cloudberry is a shrub which produces single
white flowers on long stems and an edible orange-red berry.
The plant was used to produce a violet-colored dye.
NAME Club Moss
LATIN Lycopodium clavatum
USE medicine / red dye / dye fixative
REMARKS The club moss is not a true moss but has tiny
leaves and branches that creep along the ground and the
spores are highly inflammable.
The plant was used in remedies for urinary troubles
and gout. It was also used in dying cloth, both to produce
a red dye and as a fixative, substituting for the mineral
CELTIC Crotal Geal
SUBSTITUTE Spindle and sal ammonia / sundew / blueberry and
alum / crowberry and alum (or club moss) / Murex
USE crimson or purple dye / medicine
REMARKS Cudbear has long been used for making dyes in
the Scottish Highlands. The process started with sun-
drying the lichen, then pulverizing it and steeping it in
The old people claim that socks dyed with this lichen
will leave the wearer free from blisters and swollen feet
when walking long distances. An alternative source of
purple dye was the shellfish known as Murex, introduced to
the Celts by the Phoenicians.
LATIN Taraxacum officinale
USE food / medicine / magenta dye
REMARKS The dandelion is a well-known perennial herb
with bright yellow flowers. The leaves are edible, and the
roots are used in the treatment of liver and kidney
disorders and as a laxative. The plant was also used to
produce a magenta dye.
ALTERNATIVE Pincushion flower
ASSOCIATED druidic ritual
USE medicine / ritual
REMARKS The plant has small clustered flowers that
protrude from the head like pins in a cushion. The flowers
can be blue, purple, crimson, pink or white and the plant
was known to combat itchy skin.
LATIN Sambucus niger
CELTIC Ruis / Trom
ASSOCIATED death / doom / divining (passage by force) /
moon goddess / protection against witches / 15
TIME PERIOD Nov 25 - Dec 22 / winter solstice (Dec 21-22) /
midsummer the plant flowers
USE dyes / wine / medicine / flutes
REMARKS The white flowers of the elder bush make a good
clear scented wine and the black berries are used to make
an equally appealing red wine. Because it had white
flowers, black berries and produced a fine red wine, the
elder was associated with the moon goddess and with death.
The berries were also used as a source of winter food
high in vitamin C, and the flowers and inner bark had value
as a laxative and a cold medicine. An infusion of the
leaves could function as an insecticide. Elder mixed with
broom with the addition of alum as a fixative produced a
pale blue dye.
The Manx used to make flutes from the wood. Elder
sticks were reputed to have magical qualities and the wood
was not to be burnt because it would bring bad luck. It
was chosen to represent the letter R in the Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Ulmus montana
CELTIC Leamhan / Llwyfen
USE cattle fodder
REMARKS The elm is a large tree, up to 80 ft (25 m)
high, which grows best in alluvial loam. Its red flowers
appear in February. The seeds of the elm are positioned in
the center of a flat oblong-shaped kite. The tree has
supple twigs called wyches, and produces a good wood for
building. In early times the leaves of the elm tree were
used to feed cattle.
LATIN Linum usitatissimum
CELTIC Líon / Llin
USE linen / food / basketry
SEE ALSO Diarmuid mac Cearbhail
REMARKS Flax is an annual plant, 3-3½ ft (1 m) high and
without branches. Its flowers are usually blue and the
pollen grains are either blue or yellow. Its round fruit
has 5 compartments each containing 2 brown oily lens-shaped
seeds. These are edible and nutritious, containing a fatty
acid essential to the human metabolism. Linseed poultices
are recommended for rheumatism, boils and abcesses. Mixed
with bran it makes a good feed for horses, though poisonous
if improperly prepared.
The cultivation of the flax plant was widespread from
very early times. The flax sheaves are soaked in water for
8-10 days until they ferment, allowing separation of the
outside and inside layers. The fiber is then removed after
drying, then spun and woven into linen. It was also used
for weaving baskets.
It was prophesied that Diarmuid mac Cearbhail would
die while wearing a night-shirt made of linen from a single
LATIN Ulex europaeus
CELTIC Onn / Eythin
SUBSTITUTE Spindle Tree
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / protection from spells / bee
goddess / divining (spindle tree)
TIME PERIOD crescent moons / spring equinox (Mar 20-21)
USE kindling / dye / honey / hedges
SEE ALSO On-niona
REMARKS During the spring equinox, furze fires were lit
on the hilltops and the new flowers would attract the first
bees of the year which would make a sacred mead. It was
also a good source of kindling for cooking and baking
The bush is very prickly, creating good hedges to
contain livestock, and displays intense yellow flowers. The
Scottish Highlanders used this plant to produce a bright-
green dye well into AD 18th century. Furze denoted the
letter O in the Celtic Tree Alphabet.
NAME Grape Vine
TYPE woody vine
ASSOCIATED divining (use helpers) / 6
TIME PERIOD September 2-29 / autumn equinox (Sep 22-23)
REMARKS The grapevine is the oldest reference to the M
in the tree alphabet although the blackberry is also a
noble choice. As a divining tool it represented the need
of helpers or support. The vine produces red and white
grapes giving a variety of drinks much sought after by the
Celts. Grapevine ash is highly alkaline and was used to
neutral stomach acids.
Because of the warmer climate the vine was grown
widely in all Celtic countries during the Bronze Age
including the British Isles and the Baltic regions. As the
weather of Europe cooled, the growing of wine grapes moved
farther south. During AD 12th century the weather of
England cooled enough to kill thousands of vineyards.
NAME Guelder Rose
LATIN Viburnum opulus
ALTERNATIVE Whitten / Water-elder
TIME PERIOD Oct 28 - Nov 24 / Samhain (Nov 6-7)
USE food / medicine
REMARKS The guelder rose is part of the honeysuckle
family, producing nectar-secreting flowers in June and
leaves that turn crimson in the fall. The flowers are
complex, with large stark white blossoms surrounding a
cluster of much smaller creamy-white ones.
The large and translucent red berries are edible when
cooked and the bark was used for medicinal purposes as a
strong muscle relaxant and an asthma remedy.
The rose supplied the letter P and was a Brythonic
substitute for the Gaelic Ng in the Tree Alphabet. Ng
stands for ngetal, or reed.
USE medicine / ritual
REMARKS The plant has yellow or orange flowers,
alternate leaves and a milky-looking juice. It was used by
the druids for medicinal purposes.
LATIN Crataegus oxyacantha
CELTIC Huath / Uath
ALTERNATIVE Whitethorn / Mayflower / Quickset
ASSOCIATED 0 / white / red / black / sacred wells / moon
TIME PERIOD May 13 - June 9 / Beltainn (May 4-5)
USE food / medicine / ritual
SEE ALSO Isbaddaden
REMARKS The fragrant hawthorn blossoms were associated
with the moon goddess. The flowers appear in May with
dense clusters of 5-petalled white flowers which turn pink
as they mature. Any early blossoms would be present during
the Beltainn festival. The edible fruit ripens from a deep
red to a purple in September and hangs in groups of 3.
The leaves are also edible and have sedative
qualities. Besides the useful function of aiding the
removal of splinters and thorns, the haws contain
ingredients said to strengthen the heart and blood vessels
and help regulate hypertension and other nervous
Because of the association the flowers had with the
fertility rights of Beltainn, the Christian religion tried
to associate the hawthorn with abstinence from sex and an
unlucky time to marry.
Many of the sacred wells have hawthorn growing near
them and the Celtic name of the tree was used to represent
the letter H in the Celtic Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Corylus avellana
CELTIC Coll / Collen
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED knowledge / wisdom / inspiration / 9 / orange
and hazel / divining (destruction) sacred food /
marriage refusal /
TIME PERIOD Aug 5 - Sept 1 / Lughnasadh (Aug 7-8) / nutting
USE shields / wattle / fences / baskets
SEE ALSO Camulos / Fionn
REMARKS The hazel was the tree which represented C in
the Celtic Tree Alphabet. It was considered a divine tree
and cutting one down could incur the death penalty.
To the Celts, the hazelnut was the symbol of wisdom.
An Irish topographical treatise (The Rennes Dinnshenchas)
describes "The Well of Connla", a spring-fed pool around
which grew the 9 Hazel Trees of Poetic Inspiration. The
nuts from the trees (Nuts of Wisdom) fell into the pool and
fed the Salmon of Knowledge.
A forked hazel stick was used to dowse for water.
Druids carried white (no bark) hazel wands, and apart from
being a good divining rod material it was associated with
curses. During divination, the selection of the hazel
related to destruction, loss, conclusion or culmination of
events. If a young maiden wanted to stop the advances of a
male, she gave him a branch of hazel.
The oily nuts are quite delicious to eat. Nutting
season traditionally began on the new moon in the autumn.
The long twigs of the hazel were used for making baskets,
wattles and fences. The wood was also used in the making
LATIN Calluna vulgaris
CELTIC Ura / Fraoch-bhadain
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / red / bees / divining (to cover
TIME PERIOD half moons / summer solstice (Jun 21-22)
USE roof thatch / mattresses / brooms / honey / dye
SEE ALSO Artio
REMARKS The heather plant has tiny overlapping leaves
and rosy-purple flowers that make a distinctive-tasting
honey. It was important to Artio, the moon goddess. When
uprooted just before flowering, the branches and stems were
well suited for making brooms, thatched roofs and mattress
stuffing. Heather was also used to produce a dark-green
In Scotland, white heather was considered luckier than
red heather because it was not stained by the blood of the
Picts. The plant denoted the letter U in the Celtic Tree
Alphabet and when divining it signified "to cover over".
LATIN Ilex aquifolium
CELTIC Tinne / Kelynn
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED waning half of the sun year / lion / holly club
/ divining (to bind) / 11
TIME PERIOD July 8 - August 4 / Lughnasadh (Aug 7-8) /
flowers in May
USE timber / chariot shafts / darts / poison /
SEE ALSO Llew / Lugh / Teutates
REMARKS The holly is an evergreen with red or yellow
berries and shiny leaves, usually dark green, with sharp
points. The trees usually flower in May and would be
present for the Beltainn festival. The berries ripen in
September, usually to a red color, and will last through
the winter. The trees are bisexual.
Although the holly berries are poisonous, the leaves
and bark were valued in remedies for digestive disorders,
liver complaints and colic. The wood was used for
building, for chariot shafts, and for darts, easily coated
with poison from the berries.
Holly was the club of the god associated with the lion
of the wanning half of the year. The holly was chosen to
represent the letter T in the Tree Alphabet. As a divining
tool the holly represented binding.
LATIN Humulus lupulus
USE medicine / food
REMARKS The stems of the hop plant grow each year from
an underground root, and extend little tendrils which hook
onto any available support with a clockwise twisting.
Pillows of the leaves were used to induce sleep, and
the long-haired variety of the plant was powdered and then
steeped to produce a calming tea with the same effect. The
young shoots are edible when cooked. An important use of
the hop flowers was in the flavoring of ale.
USE medicine / drink / dye
REMARKS The iris has beautiful large-petalled fowers and
long narrow leaves. It grows best in marshlands. The
seeds were used in a beverage, and dye was available from
the plant: in the case of yellow iris, the root produced
black dye and the flower produced yellow.
The blue iris was poisonous to livestock and could
only be used with great caution by humans, but contains
elements recommended in the treatment of skin conditions,
gastritis, migraines, poor circulation, obesity and other
disorders. An extract from the root of the iris produces a
LATIN Hedera helix
CELTIC Gath / Gort
ASSOCIATED druidic ritual / blue / divining (serpentine) /
sun god / fall equinox / 10
TIME PERIOD September 30 - October 27 / Beltainn (May 4-5)
USE ivy ale (toxic) / medicine
SEE ALSO Artio
REMARKS The leaves of the ivy are thick and glossy,
usually dark green, and the plant produces yellow-green
flowers in the fall. Ivy leaves and bark provide a
substance which neutralizes bee and wasp stings.
The ivy vine had very strong serpentine qualities
linking it with rebirth, and was important to the fall
equinox festival. Ivy grows around elms in many areas and
around silver fir in others. The leaves were used to
collect Beltainn dew. A very poisonous and hallucinatory
drink called ivy ale was made from the small blue-black
The Gaelic name Gort was used to represent the letter
G in the Tree Alphabet.
REMARKS Lichens are composed of two parts: algae and
fungi, which live symbiotically. They can withstand long
periods of extreme cold and heat, salt water immersion,
snow covering, constant shade, etc. Various lichens were
used in the Highlands of Scotland until well into AD 18th
century to produce different colors of dye.
The dark lichen (crotal dubh) produced a dark crimson
color; limestone lichen (crotal clach-aoil) produced
scarlet; rock lichen (crotal-nan-creag) produced dark-red;
white corcar lichen (crotal corcuir) mixed with urine
produced a bright crimson; and stone lichen or common
yellow wall lichen produced a brown dye.
NAME Lungs of Oak
CELTIC Crotal coille
ALTERNATIVE Lungwort Lichen / Tree Lungwort
USE light brown dye / medicine
REMARKS This lichen grows on the bark of old trees,
especially oak, and its resemblance to lungs may have
suggested its suitability for treating pulmonary
conditions. The plants were also used to produce a brown
LATIN Rubia tinctorum
USE red to maroon dyes / medicine
REMARKS The plant has a tangle of black roots and
yellowish white flowers. The roots contains alizarin
which, although yellow, will produce light-fast red to
maroon dyes when mixed with a fixative such as alum. The
dye could be used on wood and a variety of cloth.
Madder was known to be an antidote for many of the
ancient drugs. It is also reputed to stop kidney stones
from forming or dissolve existing ones.
LATIN Mandragora officinarum
ALTERNATIVE Love apple
TYPE perennial herb
USE medicinal - narcotic / anaesthetic
REMARKS The plant has thick fleshy roots which resemble
a human in shape, large oblong lance-shaped leaves, and
white-blue flowers with a fetid smell. All parts of the
plant are poisonous and narcotic, but were used with
caution as an anaesthetic. It was sacred to the druids,
and its possession was said to bring good fortune as well
as being able to drive out evil spirits from the possessed.
LATIN Origanum vulgare
REMARKS Marjoram is a prennial plant with pink or purple
flowers. It produced a good nerve tonic, cured headaches,
increases urine and stimulates bowel movements. The oil
can be used as a pain-killer. The flower was used in dying
wool, producing a purple color. Marjoram is also liked by
NAME Meadow Saffron
LATIN Colchicum autumnale
ALTERNATIVE Autumn Crocus / Pig Killer
ASSOCIATED druidic ritual
USE ritual / medicine
REMARKS Meadow saffron has long slender leaves in the
spring and pale purple crocus-like flowers in the fall. The
plant should be regarded as poisonous.
It is a highly toxic plant which was used by the
druids in their rituals. A tincture prepared from the
dried bulbs and/or seeds was used in the treatment of gout
and rheumatism, as well as for an eyewash.
LATIN Filipendula ulmaria / spiraea ulmaria
CELTIC Lus chneas Chuchuilinn
ALTERNATIVE Queen of the Meadows / Bridewort
SUBSTITUTE Water-flag root, alder, common dock root, oak
bark and acorns
USE black dye / medicine
REMARKS The herb Meadowsweet has long lobed leaves,
downy white on the underside, and fragrant clusters of
small creamy white flowers on long stiff stems.
The plant contains salicylic acid and was found useful
in treating rheumatism, fever, stomach upsets, urinary
infections and skin eruptions. The plants were also used
for making black dye.
LATIN Viscum album
CELTIC Drualus / Uchelwydd
ALTERNATIVE All Heal
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / druidic ritual / the spirit of
the oak in winter / moon / sun
TIME PERIOD fall equinox (Sept 22-23) / waxing half moon
REMARKS Mistletoe, a sacred plants to the druids, was
collected on the sixth day (waxing half) of a new moon. The
plant grows on its host in spherical clumps while its roots
live in The Otherworld between the bark and the tree. Omen-
sticks or divining rods (Coel-Creni) were cut on the eve of
summer solstice and had the power to find hidden treasures,
drive away evil spirits and find the way to the
Because the mistletoe stays green during winter while
the host loses its leaves, it was said to hold the spirit
of the oak tree in winter, a female plant containing the
male soul. The berries of the mistletoe are silver in the
sunlight, golden in the moonlight, and change from white to
gold when cut. The Golden Bough is the branch of the
The berries were considered an all-heal and an
aphrodisiac. Chemical analysis shows that the plant
contains cholin, acetylcholin and viscotoxin and all three
will reduce high blood pressure, thin the blood, and give
back elasticity to the blood vessels. A tea made from the
crushed leaves was recommended to ease the pain of
malignant ulcers, the berries were used to help cramps, and
the oak mistletoe in particular is said to be helpful in
the treatment of epilepsy. Apart from its healing powers,
mistletoe was reputed to confer the power to see ghosts.
The most common host trees of the mistletoe in England
and the French lowlands are apple and black poplar, while
in the French highlands and the Rhine valley the Scots pine
is more typical. A variety of mistletoe from eastern
Europe seems to enjoy having the oak as a host and was
LATIN Artemisia vulgaris
TIME PERIOD midsummer festival
SEE ALSO Artemis
REMARKS The herb is a perennial with tough reddish
stems, pointed-segment leaves and small reddish-yellow
flower groups. It was the alternative to St John's Wort to
be worn on Midsummer's eve and day and was associated with
fertility rites, probably because of its contraceptive
An infusion of the flowers was recommended for
rheumatism, and the plant's bitter qualities could aid
digestive ailments. In addition, footwear would be lined
with mugwort leaves to alleviate fatigue on long treks.
The related aromatic wormwood (artemisia absinthium)
was also used medicinely against fever and worms, and for
improving digestion, but requires extreme caution due to
its potential for causing heart damage and hallucinations.
TYPE tree - sacred
TIME PERIOD spring equinox
USE sacred wine
SEE ALSO the Great Mother
REMARKS The mulberry was the sacred fruit of the triple
goddess (The Great Mother). The berries were used to make
the sacred wine which was drunk in her honor during the
CELTIC Roid / Myrtwydd
USE Yellow dye / flavoring
REMARKS The most widespread European variety of the
myrtle plant has dark green leaves which can be used in
cooking, fragrant white flowers and sweet purple berries.
The variant bog myrtle was used by the Scottish Highlanders
until well into the 18th century for producing a yellow
CELTIC Duir / Dair / Dur / Derwen
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED death and rebirth / bull / sun / oak club / 12 /
golden brown-black / black / white
TIME PERIOD Jun 10 - Jul 7 / winter solstice (Dec 21-22) /
waxing half of the year / summer solstices (Jun
USE bread / drink / boar food / carvings / black dye
/ medicine / building / shillelagh
SEE ALSO Belenos / Cu Chulainn / Dianos / Daghda /
Ferghus mac Roig / Fionn / Taranis / Zeus
REMARKS To the Celts, the mighty oak was thought to be
the most handsome of trees and the acorn and its cup
represented the male and female principle. The doorway to
the otherworld was made of oak because the tree's foliage
and its roots were mirror images.
Oak was the club of the bull god who was born at
winter solstice and ruled the waxing half of the year. It
was the symbol for the Celtic Tree Alphabet in general and
also represents the letter D, which signifies the waxing
half of the year. The oak was also associated with thunder
The strong wood of the oak tree was invaluable and
trunks were sunk into the ground to make the walls of a
raith. Its timbers were used in the construction of large
ships, and oak planks made excellent sturdy doors (Dianos).
The oak was also used to make shillelaghs or Irish fighting
The nuts of the oak, or acorns, were a favorite food
of the wild boars. The Celts ground acorns into a flour
for making bread. The acorns made an excellent drink as
well; the bitter taste was expelled by burying the acorns
in ash or charcoal and sprinkling them with water.
The bark of the oak was recognized for its medicinal
value, said to enhance the effect of clay poultices on
tumors and to add to the benefits of salt baths for
relaxing. A black dye from the bark and acorns of the oak
was still produced by the Scottish Highlanders until well
into AD 18th century.
An oak tree can live for up to 2000 years and will not
produce acorns until 60 or 70 years old. They like rich
loam soil and if grown close together will produce tall
straight trees with few lateral branches. Oak apples are
growths on the tree caused by gall-wasps.
USE winter food
REMARKS The pear trees known to the Celts were rather
short and bristly with white flowers that appear by April
and somewhat hard but edible fruit which provided a
valuable winter food source.
TYPE tree - chieftain
USE timber / posts / masts / medicine
REMARKS The pine is a coniferous evergreen tree with
needles clustered in groups of 2 to 5. The tree is bi-
sexual and has male and female flowers which are on
different branches. The female flowers develop into pine-
cones which require two or three years to ripen. The Scots
pine will grow up to 130 ft (40 m) tall with few lower
The wood was used for many building purposes. Chewing
on pine buds was reputed to be good for catarrh. Crushed
buds or needles were used in poultices for sprains, and the
buds would also combat scurvy, as they contain vitamin C.
LATIN Punica granatum
ASSOCIATED fertility / healing
SEE ALSO Here / Nehalennia
REMARKS The pomegranate tree has small lanced shaped
leaves and has clusters of red flowers. The fruit was a
symbol of fertility, healing and the Underworld. It is a
red gold in colour and is completely filled with edible
seed. The rind was used for tanning leather.
SUBSTITUTE Buckthorn / Ash / Crab-apple / Elm
USE Yellow dye
REMARKS The poplar tree grows quickly and can reach good
heights. The flowers appear in hanging catkins, and the
female ones (on a different tree from the male) develop
into seeds with cottony hairs for transport on the wind.
The male black poplar produces masses of red catkins in
April. A yellow dye was made from the tree.
LATIN Primula vulgaris
CELTIC Sabhraicin / Briallen
TYPE plant (herb)
ASSOCIATED good luck / sun god
TIME PERIOD Beltainn festival / April
REMARKS On the Isle of Man, the primrose is considered
to be a lucky plant and sacred to the Fay Folk. Primroses
were picked on the eve of the Beltainn festival, then
spread over the walkways and in front of homes for good
luck. The funnel-shaped flowers which begin to appear in
April come in two forms, both pale yellow like the new sun.
CELTIC Cushag / Buadhghallan
SUBSTITUTE Barberry / Peat soot
TYPE plant (herb)
USE orange dye / medicine
REMARKS Ragwort is a small plant with bright yellow
flowers and deep-lobed leaves. These plants were used in
the Highlands of Scotland up until AD 18th century for
producing an orange dye. The Manx use the plant, which is
their national flower, as an antidote to infections.
LATIN Phragmites communis
CELTIC Ngetal, Ngedal
TYPE water plant
ASSOCIATED clear yellow-green
TIME PERIOD October 28 - November 24 / Samhain (Nov 6-7)
USE roof thatch / musical instruments
REMARKS The stem of the reed grows straight and tall,
the leaves are broad and flat, and the purple flowers are
in a plume. It grows in wet areas, at the borders of lakes
and slow-moving rivers as well as by the seashore and was
usually cut around November.
Reeds or wheatstraw was used for the thatching of
houses and making reeds for musical instruments. The reed
represented the letter Ng in the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, but
as the Brythonic had no such letter, they substituted P for
Peith (Guelder Rose).
LATIN Rosa canina
CELTIC Rós / Rhosyn
USE food / medicine
REMARKS The flower of the wild rose is pink or white in
color, and when the blossoms fall they leave berries, or
rosehips. The rosehips are a rich source of Vitamin C, a
crucial element in the diet during the winter months for
preventing scurvy, a disease that would cause hair and
teeth to fall out, giving an aged appearance.
The concentration of the vitamin in Scottish varieties
of wild roses has been found to exceed those in southern
England by several hundred percent. They also contain
mineral salts including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and
LATIN Pyrus aucuparia
ALTERNATIVE Mountain Ash / Quickbeam / Quicken
SUBSTITUTE willow / Ivy / blackberry / elder / juniper
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED tree of life / 14 / dark charcoal-grey /
divining (fluid) / dowsing metals
TIME PERIOD Jan 21 - 17 Feb / Imbolic (Feb 3-4)
USE druids drink / sacred fires / sacred food /
medicine / timber / chieftains' chairs / shafts
SEE ALSO Froech / Diarmaid / Grainne / Brighid
REMARKS Rowan wood was used in battle fires to attract
helpful spirits, and also used for the Samhain fires. Rowan
thickets were used as oracles. During tree divining, the
selection of rowan indicated fluidity. The rowan itself
was also used to divine in association with a newly flayed
Rowan wands were used for various functions, such as
providing protection against lightning, searching for
metals, controlling bewitched horses and forcing demons to
answer difficult questions. A rowan stake through a corpse
was said to immobilize its spirit. Rowan wood was also
used in the construction of spinning wheels and spindles.
Rowan berries were a sacred food which would replace
nine meals. They were guarded by dragons (warriors), were
used to heal wounded warriors and were said to add a year
to a person's life. Rowan berries, apples and hazelnuts
made a good infusion and were considered the three foods of
The berries also were recommended as a remedy for
hoarseness. The rowan's creamy-white flower clusters open
in May and its spherical fruits are scarlet red by August.
Rowan represented the letter L in the Celtic Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Ruta graveolens
ALTERNATIVE Herb-of-Grace / Herby Grass
SUBSTITUTE Tormentil / Yellow bedstraw
USE bright-red dye / medicine
REMARKS The rue plant is a small shrub whose leaves were
used medicinally. In small doses it was a good stimulant
and emetic. Care had to be taken not to boil it during the
preparation and not to administer it during pregnancy. The
root was used for producing a bright-red clothing dye.
LATIN Crocus sativus
CELTIC Blath a' Chroich
USE saffron dye / flavoring
REMARKS The saffron plant is a type of crocus with
grass-like leaves and light-purple flowers with orange
stigma and style. The orange part produces a strong
aromatic spice as well as a brilliant dye.
VARIATIONS Shamrook / Shamrog
TIME PERIOD veneral equinox
USE clover - medicinal / salads / honeybee food
wood sorrel - slightly edible / oxalic acid
SEE ALSO Olwen
REMARKS The shamrock is a three-leafed plant but its
specific identity is not clear; it may be wood sorrel
(oxalis acetosella), clover (trifolium), black nonesuch
(medicago lupulina) or alfalfa (medicago sativa).
The wood sorrel has tiny white flowers veined with
purple. It contains oxalic acid which is used in
bleaching, dyeing and the cleaning of metals. The clovers
have a range of flower colors including yellow, crimson,
reddish-purple and white.
Clover has medicinal uses including treatment of
ulcers and bronchial ailments and is agriculturally useful
as it provides nitrogen to the soil. Its flowers are also
quite edible. The ancient Irish seem to have preferred the
sour taste of the wood sorrel leaves, which are poisonous
if taken in large doses. The giant Olwen was associated
with the clover plant in that they grew in her steps.
Alfalfa has little blue or purple flowers and a pod
twisted in a spiral. It is useful for blood loss, as a
tonic or to slow haemorrhage. The edible sprouts are a
good source of vitamins and minerals.
The shamrock is associated with the vernal equinox.
The seamrag has been used for its calming effect on the
mind or body. It must be gathered silently, and with the
left hand. The 4-leaf variety of the shamrock is known as
Mary's shamrock and is considered lucky.
NAME Silver Fir
LATIN Abies pectinata
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / birth / black / hinge /
divining (will/desire) / new sun year
TIME PERIOD new moon / winter solstice (Dec 21-22)
SEE ALSO Artio
REMARKS The silver fir was chosen for the vowel A of the
Tree Alphabet. It was associated with the new moon, and
was sacred to Artio the moon goddess who presided over
birth and was present for the birth of the new son god in
December. The combination of silver fir bows and ivy was
symbolic of the mating between Artio and the Celtic sun
god. The silver fir was also used as a divining tool
signifying will or desire.
The tree is known for its straight grain and its
strength, although the cut wood is not very durable to
weathering. The evergreen needles are bright green with
double white lines on the underside, and can stay on the
tree for at least eight years. The tree can grow to
heights of over 150 ft (50 m) and can live for centuries.
Cones appear only after about 40 years of life, and the
bark stays smooth for the first 100 years. The resin is an
ingredient in turpentine.
NAME Spindle Tree
LATIN Euonymus europaeus
USE bright-green dye / spindles
REMARKS The spindle tree has bright red berries with
orange-jacketed seeds, tiny white flowers and sharply-
pointed leaves. Its wood is a yellowish color with a fine
hard grain ideal for making spindles. The tree was also
used to make a bright-green dye.
LATIN Scilla maritima
ALTERNATIVE Wild Hyacinth / Sea Onion
REMARKS The squill plant grows in sandy soil by the sea.
The small white to purple flowers appear on a tall leafless
stalk which grows from a very large bulb underground. The
bulb was valued for its medicinal properties, recommended
in the treatment of heart troubles, breathing difficulties,
bad circulation and in ridding the lungs of phlegm, though
it could aggravate gastric conditions.
NAME St John's Wort
LATIN Hypericum perforatum
SUBSTITUTE Teasel, Sundew, Monk's Rhubarb
USE bright-yellow dye / medicine
REMARKS This plant has perforated leaves and bright
yellow 5-petalled flowers. It was worn on the eve of
summer solstice. It was used by the Scottish Highlanders
until well into the 18th century for producing a bright
The plant was highly valued for its soothing
properties. Steeping the flowers in oil and placing in the
sunlight produced an antiseptic lotion used for treating
wounds, burns, skin irritations and inflammations. It was
also taken internally for calming stomach disorders,
improving circulation and as a general tonic.
LATIN Dipsacus sylvestris
CELTIC Liodan an Fhucadair
SUBSTITUTE Fuller's Teasel / privet / iris
USE green dye / teasing
REMARKS The plant has small purple flowers which after
blossoming leave a stiff toothed head used for teasing the
nap of cloth, separating flax, etc. The lower leaves of
the plant are capable of holding a considerable amount of
water. The plant was also used to produce a green dye.
LATIN Verbena officinalis
TIME PERIOD rise of Sirius (dogstar)
SEE ALSO filidh
REMARKS The vervain plant has tiny white flowers on long
spikes and two types of leaves. It was valued by the
filidh for use in breaking spells. It was gathered when
the Dogstar (Sirius) was rising. It was gathered with
great care so as not to leave a trace of its root in the
ground. A piece of the root was then cut off and hung
around the neck of the spellbound person and the rest of
the root was burnt. The foliage was then hung to dry and
the spell would weaken as the plant withered.
In addition, vervain contains relaxant elements which
led it to be prescribed for nervous tension and exhaustion,
controlling fever, relieving asthma attacks, increasing
milk flow and soothing sore gums.
NAME Water Lily Roots
SUBSTITUTE Baleberry and nut galls / Red Currant and alum /
USE dark-brown dye
REMARKS The water lily grows best in still water, and
can produce giant leaves which lay on the water's surface
with white, pink, red or yellow many-petalled flowers. The
plants were used to produce a dark brown dye.
NAME Water Violet
LATIN Hottonia palustris
REMARKS The water violet produces lilac-colored flowers
on foot-long stems rising above the roots and branches
which float on the water's surface. The Manx use this
plant for healing weak eyes and toothaches.
NAME Water-flag Root
CELTIC Freumh an t-Seilisdeir
REMARKS These trees and plants were used for making grey
and black dyes in the Highlands of Scotland until AD 18th
LATIN Nasturtium officinale
SUBSTITUTE Cloudberry / Vetch
SEE ALSO Cu Chulainn
REMARKS Watercress grows in abundance in running water
and produces an abundance of green leaves rich in iron and
vitamin C, a modest amount of iodine and helps build
resistance to disease.
The stalks are hollow and can be used for breathing
through while underwater. Watercress was a favorite salad
with the Celts.
CELTIC Saille / Suil
ALPHABET S or Z
ASSOCIATED 16 / death / divining (a distant guard) / moon
goddess / light yellow
TIME PERIOD April 15 - May 12 / Beltainn (May 4-5)
USE dye / medicinal / wicker / bindings / coracle
frames / sieves
SEE ALSO The Great Mother
REMARKS The willow was considered a tree of enchantment,
sacred to the moon goddess. It also represented the death
aspect of the triple goddess. The wryneck, a bird sacred
to the moon goddess, lays its eggs in the willow in spring.
The tree was also important to poets.
Willow wands were used for divining water. The wood
is very flexible which made it suitable for ribs of the
coracle boats, binding birch twigs to ash handles of
brooms, and making sieves for winnowing.
Willow leaves and bark are a source of salicylic acid
and were prescribed for rheumatic cramps. A tea made from
the bark was used for reducing fever and pain. The bark
was also used to make a light yellow dye.
The willow represented the letter S and Z in the
Celtic Tree Alphabet.
LATIN Isatis tinctoria
USE Blue dye / tattooing
REMARKS The woad plant grows to about 2 ft tall (60 cm)
with clustered yellow flowers, long leaves and brown winged
seedpods. The leaves were crushed, fermented, kneaded into
balls or bricks, and sundried.
The product was then used to produce a blue dye for
clothing and body paint. This was a highly valued plant by
the Celts, especially the Picts, due to their custom of
body painting or tattooing of both sexes.
ASSOCIATED druidic ritual
REMARKS The plant has white or pink flowers and feather-
like foliage. The astrigent herb was essential to the
Celts for its property of staunching wounds. The plant was
also used calm fevers, relax cramps, build up resistance
and improve digestion, circulation, functions of the
kidneys, liver, bladder and gall bladder. Sniffing the
powder of the crushed flowers would dislodge the most
stubborn mucous, and the plant was even said to delay
NAME Yellow Bedstraw
SUBSTITUTE Tormentil / rue
USE bright-red dye
REMARKS The plant has yellow flowers on stalks which
were sometimes used for bedding when dried. It was also
used for producing a bright-red clothing dye.
CELTIC Idad / Idho / Ida / Iogh
TYPE tree - chieftain
ASSOCIATED moon goddess / 5 / black (death) / wisdom /
TIME PERIOD full moon / winter solstice (Dec 21-22)
USE timber / bows / breast plates / vessels / barrel
staves / poison / hinges / sculpture
SEE ALSO Caer Ibormeith
REMARKS The yew is a sacred evergreen tree with dark
needles and red berries. The druids valued it as an Ogham
stick (Coel Creni) for prophecy and in divining it
signified death. It was also prized for the sweet sticky
berries from which different types of poisons were made.
When mixed with hellebore and devil's bite, it made a good
poison to be used on sword edges or spear tips. Its
flattened needles are poisonous to cattle.
Vessels and carvings of yew have been found at Celtic
sites. The tree can live over 2000 years, and some are
still visible at various sacred Celtic sites and paths,
such as those which line the ancient trackways of southern
England. The yew represented the letter I in the Celtic
Tree Alphabet and was sacred to the moon goddess, who was
associated with the death of the old sun.