MARCH / APRIL 2020
The woods and hedgerows are bustling with activity. At every glance appears an unfolding mystery that provokes both periods of deep engagement and contrasting periods of spacious relaxation.
As the yearly frenzy of growth and reproduction gets underway, a new woodland is presented daily, each tree, plant, and creature making its own subtle contribution to the unfolding opera.
From the minuscule to the massive, the woodland layout somehow rearranges itself, paths change shape, new track ways appear as they become avenued with greenery, and previously unnoticed trees emerge waving from the hedgerows. The subtle changes have a comparatively definite effect on one’s perception of the woods and present a strangely unrecognisable landscape with each return.
My intrigue has taken me in search of the sweet sap of the ash tree. Ash “manna” is excreted by certain types of ash tree. The Manna ash, fraxinus ornus, a native of Southern Europe and Asia, is one of the best known for this, referenced in the bible, and other religious traditions, it drips sap from wounds in its bark and the resulting dried material can be harvested.
I read that our native ash, fraxinus excelsior, also produces the same substance. I set off to find out whether it’s true, meticulously inspecting all of the ash trees I could find around the base of the Tor. My search was largely unfruitful, until I happened on one particular tree. As I inspected her emerging flowers, I caught a glance of a precious droplet hanging from one of the black diamond shaped buds. I gazed at it, enamoured, like Gollum. I gently collected a small amount on my fingertip and placed it on my tongue. Initially, nothing much, but as the droplet moved its way across my tongue so emerged a gentle floral honey flavour.
I observed further, and over the following days, other buds on the tree began to release sap, some becoming congealed and dried into white crispy flakes, like that of the manna ash.
Can you make mead from ash sap?
I believe there is more to the ash than meets the eye, and I wonder whether references to the ash honeydew and mead, in certain belief systems, provides a clue to the special role this tree played in our heritage.
It seems to be possible to produce mead (or wine) directly from maple sap, so perhaps the same is true for the ash? Or perhaps it can be mixed with honey in this process. I am yet to find enough direct evidence, but the clues point towards a link between bees, honeydew (insect excretion of sap), ash sap, honey, milk and “manna” or meliai. Some well worded research is presented in this article.
At least now I can safely say that our ash does release a sweet sap, whether in enough volume to tap remains to be seen. That said, there is an ash in Abbey Park, with a square section of bark that appears to be younger than the bark surrounding it. The tree is around 100 years old and the scarring looks as if it might have been made when it was a lot younger. Perhaps this is evidence of ash tree tapping.
Our magical journey into the tree’s world continues.
TREE OF THE MONTH:
The old oak at the foot of the Tor.
This old oak was the first oak in the area to spring its catkins, bright pink and green tails sprouting from fat clustered buds along with some fresh new leaves.
The rhyme goes: “Oak before ash, we’re in for a splash; ash before oak, we’re in for a soak.” Referring to the release of the leaves and meaning that if ash shows it’s leaves before oak then we will have heavy rain.
At the moment, I have seen two local oaks and three local ash trees with their leaves sprouting, plus some American ash trees in the car park, but I don’t think they count.
I think it’s still to be seen which of the two commits to full leaf unfoldment.
I will be keeping a close eye.
Two Minute Tree Walks
Welcome to “Two Minute Tree Walks”, a weekly window to the trees of Avalon. The first edition takes a little trip down Bulwarks Lane, visiting the horsechestnut, ash, and hornbeam as they unfold into Spring.
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