White Ash – Fraxinus Americana: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Crafty Tree of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, a’gimak’, white ash is a useful tree to know. In fact, it’s one of the top five trees Caleb Kinew Nini Musgrave @canadianbushcraft recommends knowing in our area. The other four being birch, cedar, spruce and basswood.

The “white” refers to the pale underside of leaves, twigs, and bark, although it’s really more of a grey. We also have black ash around these parts, and less common, green/red ash. White ash is usually hiding in our maple hardwood stands, like these beauties I found near the studio:

Ash is one of the more newly threatened and actively campaigned on behalf of tree species around here, due to the emerald ash borer. If it arrives it will devastate the ash population. They might barely survive the devastation. You can see and read about these metallic green, not-so-welcome borers here.

Edible Uses of White Ash

The inner bark has been scraped off in fluffy layers and cooked. But ash is more of a medicinal, and even more so, utility tree.

Medicinal Uses of White Ash

White Ash is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Laxative and Purgative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage included an extract of leaves or strong bitter leaf tea for internal cleansing after childbirth. A decoction of the roots and bark has been used to induce labor too. Besides infants and placentas, the leaf may also expel some worms. I haven’t noticed anyone using ash for women nowadays… or worms?

White Ash - Fraxinus Americana
Old Illustration of White Ash – Fraxinus Americana

As a popular old remedy, physicians used to use white ash as a styptic to stop minor bleeding, an emetic to cause vomiting, as a laxative, and more. (A foreign species called “manna” is a more powerful laxative.)

Alternative Uses of Ash

The bark produces a yellow dye.

Ashwood has a great steam-bending ability making it wonderful for bows. It’s also traditionally popular for utilities like spears, canoes, paddles, snowshoes, and more. And it’s second only to hickory for tool handles.

Growing Fraxinus Americana

While green ash is/was less common here, it appears to have shown the most promise in surviving the emerald ash borer. So I’m thinking, if you want to plant ash, green ash may be your best bet. White, black and green/red (called red ash in the past) are all native ashes in Ontario. Local wildlife will enjoy the seeds!


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Forest Plants of Central Ontario

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Ontario Nature Guide

Trees of Ontario

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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