Saturday, 25 December 2010

Antibacterial rowan berries

People in both Finland and Scotland value the berries of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) for making drinks, preserves and as flavourings.  A team of scientists from the University of Helsinki and the Scottish Crop Research Institute have analysed the composition and bioactivity of phenolic compounds found in the fruit of the wild rowan and four hybrid cultivars and published their results in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The study shows the phenolic compounds, mostly caffeoylquinic acids, have a marked inhibitory effect on some of the commonest bacteria, such as E. coli, associated with human disorders.

An abstract of the paper is available here:

The hybrid rowans, known as sweet rowans, have, I think, mostly been developed in Russia and the four studied were Burka, (Sorbus aucuparia x {Sorbus aria x Aronia arbutifolia}), Granatnaja (Sorbus aucuparia x Crataegus sanguinea), Titan or Titaan, (Burka x Malus sp. x Pyrus sp.) and Zoltaja (Sorbus aucuparia x Pyrus sp.).

There are several more of these rowan hybrids as, for example, detailed here:

Monday, 13 December 2010

Wild service wood lances

In the Tornoiement de l’antechrist, a poem written in the 13th century in Old French by Norman writer  Huon de Mery there is a passage referring to lances made from the wood of the wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis (alisier in both Old and Modern French):

Lances orent fors et fretées/Qu’Aliance fist d’alisier:/ Et ot chascune fait lier/Le blanc penoncel de sa lance/A .IIII. freisiaus d’Aliance.

My Old French is virtually non-existent, but I have had a shot at translating this thus:

They had decorated lances which the Alliance had made of wild service wood: each one had tied the white pennant to his lance and the four Alliance ribbons.

If anyone can come up with a better version, I would be grateful.

This use of the wood for lances once again reinforces its shatter-proof qualities and also that there must have been a fair amount available for the manufacture of these weapons.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The song of the wild service (Sorbus torminalis)

The wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis, has its own song.  Le bois d’alisier (The wild service tree wood) is a folk number from Évelyne Girardon (=Évelyne Beline).  It is based on a traditional French song called Voici La Saint Jean (Midsummer – St John’s Day - is here) and is very widely known both in France and elsewhere.  The festival of St. John is on 24th June and this is sometimes considered as midsummer.  Both 24th June and 23rd June, St. John’s Eve, are associated with various pagan activities such as bonfires and have roots in the pre-Christian past. There appears to be some uncertainty as to the original home of the song, but claims have been made for Jumièges in Upper Normandy, Switzerland and elsewhere. The song has also been exported to North America.

The original Voici La Saint Jean song has no reference to a wild service tree wood or anything like it, so this would seem to be a late addition from Évelyne Girardon or another.

The song can be listened to here:

The reference to the wild service is in the chorus: Vole vole mon coeur au bois d’alisier, vole vole mon coeur (Fly, fly my heart to the wild service tree wood, fly, fly my heart).