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Bird's Tongue

  • Fraxinus excelsior L.
  • Oleaceae
  • Olive family

Common Names

herbsAmerican white ash
herbsEuropean ash
herbsWeeping ash

Parts Usually Used

Bark, leaves

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Bird's tongue is a European tree, 100-130 feet in height; the leaves are opposite and odd pinnate, consisting of 7-11 ovate, acute, sessile, toothed leaflets. The small flowers appear before or with the leaves in spring and are borne in small, crowded panicles. The fruit is a one-seeded, flat samara that is winged at the top.

Another variety: American ash (F. americana) also called the white ash.

Where Found

Commonly planted in parks and along streets and found wild in woods and along riverbanks and streams. North America, Europe, Asia and extending south into Mexico and Java.

Medicinal Properties

Bark: diuretic, febrifuge, stimulant, laxative

Leaves: cathartic

Legends, Myths and Stories

The ash was a sacred tree of Scandinavian and Germanic tribes of northern Europe. According to their mythology a mighty ash tree, called Yggdrasill, served as a representative of the cosmos. The tree's roots were the underworld, the earth or Midgard (meaning middle ground) was where the people lived, a disk surrounded by a ring of water. This disk and its circular ocean covered the tree's lower branches, supported by the trunk. In the upper branches, Valhalla, the heaven of the gods, was located, along with the land of the giants and the land of the frozen north.

According to this same mythology, the universe, the gods, and the giants came into being first. After that, vegetation sprouted forth; then the gods created the first human couple out of two trees. The first man, who was called Ask, sprang from an ash tree; and the woman, Embla, was thought to have come from the elm or alder tree. The name ash is derived from Ask.

Pliny thought that the ash tree repelled snakes. According to him, if a snake had the choice of entering a ring of fire or going near the ash tree, the snake would jump into the fire.


The bark is used to reduce fever, ague, and expel intestinal worms. The leaf tea (popular in Europe) is used as a purgative and for rheumatism, gout, arthritis, dropsy.

The old herbalists thought that 3-4 leaves of the Ash tree taken in wine each morning from time to time makes those lean that are fat, snakebites, and keep them from eating too much. Many years ago, the decoction of leaves was used for leprosy, burns, scalds, scabby conditions.

Formulas or Dosages

Use the bark of young branches and twigs.

Infusion: use 1 to 2 tsp. leaves and 1/2 cup hot water. Steep 2 to 3 minutes, then strain. Take 1 to 1 1/2 cups a day, unsweetened, a mouthful at a time.

Decoction: use 1 tsp. bark to 1/2 cup water. Boil briefly, steep for 2-3 minutes. Take 1/2 to 1 cup per day, unsweetened, a mouthful at a time. Improve the taste, if desired, by adding some peppermint or sweet marjoram.

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