Fraxinus excelsior (LINN.)
Common Ash. Weeping Ash.
The Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior, Linn.), a tall, handsome tree, common
in Britain, is readily distinguished by its light-grey bark (smooth in
younger trees, rough and scaly in older specimens) and by its large compound
leaves, divided into four to eight pairs of lance-shaped leaflets, tipped
by a single one, an arrangement which imparts a light feathery arrangement
to the foliage. The leaflets have sharply-toothed margins and are about
3 inches long.
In April or May, according to season, and before the appearance of the
leaves, the black flower-buds on the previous year's shoots expand into
small dense clusters of a greenish white or purplish colour, some of the
minute flowers having purple stamens, others pistil only, and some both,
but all being devoid of petals and sepals, which, owing to the pollen
being wind-borne, are not needed as protection, or as attraction to insect
After fertilization, the oblong ovary develops into a thick seed-chamber,
with a long, strap-shaped wing which is known as an Ash-key (botanically:
a samara). The bunches of 'keys' hang from the twigs in great clusters,
at first green and then brown as the seeds ripen. They remain attached
to the tree until the succeeding spring, when they are blown off and carried
away by the wind to considerable distances from the parent tree. They
germinate vigorously and grow in almost any soil.
The Common Ash and the Privet are the only representatives in England
of the Olive tribe: Oleaceae.
There are about fifty species of the genus Fraxinus, and cultivation
has produced and perpetuated a large number of distinct varieties, of
which the Weeping Ash and the Curl-leaved Ash are the best known.
As a timber tree, the Ash is exceedingly valuable, not only on account
of the quickness of its growth, but for the toughness and elasticity of
its wood, in which quality it surpasses every European tree. The wood
is heavy strong, stiff and hard and takes a high polish; it shrinks only
moderately in seasoning and bends well when seasoned. It is the toughest
and most elastic of our timbers (for which purpose it was used in olden
days for spears and bows and is still used for otter-spears) and can be
used for more purposes than the wood of other trees.
It is known that Ash timber is so elastic that a joist of it will bear
more before it breaks than one of any other tree. It matures more rapidly
than Oak and as sapling wood is valuable. Ash timber always fetches a
good price, being next in value to Oak and surpassing it for some purposes,
being in endless demand in railway and other waggon works for carriage
building. From axe-handles and spade-trees to hop-poles, ladders and carts,
Ash wood is probably in constant handling on every countryside - for agricultural
plenishings it cannot be excelled. It makes the best of oars and the toughest
of shafts for carriages. In its younger stages, when it is called Ground
Ash, it is much used, as well as for hop-poles (for which it is extensively
grown), for walking-sticks, hoops, hurdles and crates, and it matures
its wood at so early an age that an Ash-pole 3 inches in diameter is as
valuable and durable for any purpose to which it can be applied as the
timber of the largest tree. Ash also makes excellent logs for burning,
giving out no smoke, and the ashes of the wood afford very good potash.
The finest Ash is that grown in the Midlands, but so little first-class
Ash has been of late years obtained in England that in I 90 I the Coachbuilders'
Association appealed to the President of the Board of Agriculture to try
and stimulate landowners to grow more of this valuable timber, as English
Ash is better in quality than that imported from other European countries
or from America. Any owner of a devastated woodland or other suitable
ground may demand a grant of L. 2 (pounds sterling) an acre if he is planting
pine, and L. 4 (pounds sterling)if he is planting hard woods, such as
Ash. The supply of standing Ash timber is also becoming limited in America.
Ash is the second most important wood used in aeroplanes, and a study
of the spacious afforestation scheme now in force over the Crown Lands
of the New Forest reveals the fact that especial trouble has been taken
to find suitable homes for the Ash. The great bulk of the wood used in
aeroplanes is Spruce from the Pacific Coast.
Ash bark is astringent and has been employed for tanning nets.
Both bark and the leaves have medicinal use and fetch prices which should
repay the labour of collecting them, especially the bark.
The bark is collected from the trunk and the root, the latter being preferred.
Ash bark occurs in commerce in quills which are grey or greenish-grey
externally, with numerous small grey or brownishwhite warts, the inner
surface yellowish or yellowish brown and nearly smooth; fracture smooth,
fibrous in the inner layer, odourslight; taste bitter and astringent.
The bark contains the bitter glucoside Fraxin, the bitter substance Fraxetin,
tannin, quercetin, mannite, a little volatile oil, gum, malic acid, free
and combined with calcium
Medicinal Action and Uses
Ash bark has been employed as a bitter tonic and astringent, and is said
to be valuable as an antiperiodic. On account of its astringency, it has
been used, in decoction, extensively in the treatment of intermittent fever
and ague, as a substitute for Peruvian bark. The decoction is odourless,
though its taste is fairly bitter. It has been considered useful to remove
obstructions of the liver and spleen, and in rheumatism of an arthritic
A ley from the ashes of the bark was used formerly to cure scabby and
The leaves have diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative properties, and are
employed in modern herbal medicine for their laxative action, especially
in the treatment of gouty and rheumatic complaints, proving a useful substitute
for Senna, having a less griping effect. The infusion of the leaves, 1
OZ. to the pint, may be given in frequent doses during the twenty-four
The distilled water of the leaves, taken every morning, was considered
good for dropsy and obesity.
A decoction of the leaves in white wine had the reputation of dissolving
stone and curing jaundice.
The leaves should be gathered in June, well dried, powdered and kept
in wellcorked bottles.
The leaves have been gathered to mix with tea and in some parts of the
country are used to feed cattle, when grass is scarce in autumn, but when
cows eat the leaves or shoots, the butter becomes rank.
The fruits of the different species of Ash are regarded as somewhat more
active than the bark and leaves. Ash Keys were held in high reputation
by the ancient physicians, being employed as a remedy for flatulence.
They were also in more recent times preserved with salt and vinegar and
sent to table as a pickle. Evelyn tells us: 'Ashen keys have the virtue
of capers,' and they were often substituted for them in sauces and salads.
The keys will keep all the year round if gathered when ripe.
In Mexico, the bark and leaves of F. nigra (Marsh), the Black Swamp,
Water Hoop or Basket Ash, are similarly employed to those of the Common
Ash. In Mexico, also, the bark and leaves of F. lanceolata (Borch.), the
Green or Blue Ash, are employed as a bitter tonic and the root as a diuretic.
In the United States, the bark of the American White Ash (F. Americana,
Linn.) (F. acuminata, Lam.) finds similar employment. It has numerous
small circular depressions externally and a slightly laminate structure.