A couple of years ago, while walking through an old cemetery nearby my home, I happened upon a stunning crabapple tree covered with hundreds of tiny rosy red apples. I learned that these trees were planted on gravesites to encourage new life in the afterlife and was believed that this would help the person buried there to feel more connected with nature in their afterlife journey.
It’s not hard to feel the magic of this tree. When I discover a crabapple tree in the wild, I feel connected to something greater than myself and feel safe in that knowledge. This is the kind of tree that can help you connect with your ancestors since they are believed to have been used by them during harvest celebrations and as potent symbols of fertility, immortality, health, and prosperity.
Not only does this tree carry the powerful pull of our ancestors, but it is also an edible fruit that most people overlook. So if you’re like me and love wild seasonal bounties, you might find crabapple to be a total game-changer with its many uses.
Let’s delve into the folklore of crabapple, as well as ways to use this underappreciated fall fruit to honor our ancestors during the autumn equinox.
In actual fact, Crabapple folklore is nearly identical to that of ordinary apples. However, I specify Crabapples because they are the only indigenous ancient apple tree of North America and the wild ancestor from which all cultivated apple species come from, so it seemed more special to focus on crabapple specifically.
Associated with the magical properties of nine great herbs of Anglo Saxon charms, the fruit is thought to banish evil and heal all ills. The nine herbs charm is part of the Lacnunga (remedies) text. The Lacnunga is an ancient 11th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript written around 1000 AD. It may quite possibly be why we still share the belief today that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
The Greeks and Romans
The Greeks and Romans planted apple trees throughout their respective empires. They believed that the apple represented fertility and immortality.
The Roman goddess of love, Venus, was often depicted holding an apple.
In Greek mythology, Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, threw a golden apple into a wedding party to start a fight over who should get it.
The healing properties of apples were recognized by traditional healers wherever the tree appeared. Gaia, the Earth Goddess, gave Hera, Queen of Heaven, an apple tree when she married Zeus. That tree was kept in the Garden of Hesperides and guarded by Ladon, a dragon. One of Hercules’ tasks was to fetch an apple from that tree.
The apple is a magical fruit in Norse mythology. In the legend of Asgard, Idunna guards the golden apples in the Garden of Asgard where a tree grows that bears divine fruit that keeps gods young forever. Apple wands were also used in Norse love rituals. To the Norse, apples represented long life, wisdom and love.
Like their Northern cousins, the Celts regarded apples as magical trees that possessed healing and life-giving properties. Apples were associated with the Otherworld, and Celtic lore tells of how King Arthur was taken to Avalon by his sister (Morgan le Fey) to be healed. To this day, apples are still thought of as magical trees that possess healing and life-giving properties.
The celts called the crabapple tree The Tree of Love. To give an apple is to give your love. Crabapples have long been associated with love and marriage.
As a Goddess Symbol
Apples are magical symbols. The apple’s association with witchcraft comes from the pentacle found in the centre of its core when cut in half. This pentagram contains a potent charm of protection. It also symbolizes the Goddess and her womb, the five senses, and the five ages of man.
This dates back to prehistory and mimics the pattern of Venus as it moves about the sun every eight years. Ancient goddesses such as Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Venus, Aphrodite, Diana, Pomona and Freya all associated apples with immortality. Petriﬁed remains of sliced apples have been found in tombs dating back over 5,000 years.
Finding crabapples isn’t particularly difficult if you know what you’re looking for. They are actually quite common and can be found in many New England environments. People love to put them in cemeteries (as I have found), parks, abandoned orchards, former homesteads, open woods, thickets, old fields, streambanks and near hiking trails.
How to Identify Crabapple
Luckily, the crabapple has no toxic look-alikes. Crabapple trees are small- to medium-sized with a rounded crown and many branches. They can stand anywhere from 5 to 30 feet tall with an equal to greater canopy spread. And even though many hybridized varieties exist, it’s not necessary to distinguish the actual variety; identifying the Malus genus is sufficient.
Crabapple leaves are oval and tapered at both ends. They grow alternately on long stemlets in clusters that alternate along branches. The leaves are toothy, but their teeth may be rounded or sharp depending on the species of crabapple. Crabapples come in many colors with pale speckles and coarse brown or yellowish blotches. All crabapple varieties are edible; however, some varieties are less bitter than others. Foragers should taste them before harvesting to determine quality.
What Can I Make With Crabapples?
So to celebrate the turn of the wheel of the year into autumn and the season of Mabon, I will be cooking up some Mabon treats using the tart and tasty crabapple. They are a wonderful way to remember and honor the old harvest rites and our ancestors who cherished the apple as a magical fruit. As falling leaves mark the dying back of autumn, the apple reminds us that death is not the end but a part of life’s eternal circle.
Try this surprisingly delicious recipe. The best way I can describe it is that the crabapples taste somewhat like spiced cranberries. They would go nicely with pork or turkey. I will be enjoying them at our autumn equinox celebration.
One thing is for sure, crabapples are a wonderful, underappreciated fruit that has so many uses and can be incorporated into many recipes. They’re tart, they’re tasty, and many of us grew up with them hanging from trees in our yards. If you have crabapple trees in your garden, we encourage you to pick a few this weekend for some ancestral magic!
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.