Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Identification



Common Names

Ash, Common Ash, European Ash.

Botanical Name

Fraxinus excelsior

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Lamiales

Family – OleaceaeGenus – Fraxinus

Known Hazards

None known. 

Could be Confused with…

Rowan or elder but elder has fewer leaflets and rowan’s leaves are serrated.


One of the most common trees in the UK. Found almost everywhere currently suffering from Ash dieback disease which causes brittleness and death.

Physical Characteristics


Light grey bark, that fissures with age, the stems are smooth with distinctive black buds, which are arranged in opposite pairs.   

Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Large compound leaves, up to 40 cm long, are divided into four or eight pairs of lance-shaped leaflets with sharply toothed margins. The leaves can move in the direction of sunlight, and sometimes the whole crown of the tree may lean in the direction of the sun. Ash leaves also fall when they are still green.     

Young Leaves


Flowers & Seeds

Black flower buds are followed by clusters of greenish-white or purplish flowers. Seeds – Once the female flowers have been pollinated the seeds develop. The seeds or keys have a long wing. They are green when fresh and turn brown with age.

Rosser1954, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
Ash keys, Lisburn by Albert Bridge, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Edible Uses

The seeds have a distinctive spicy taste similar to black cardamom and go great with rice dishes. They are eaten as a pickle in Europe and Asia.

The shoots can be eaten when young and can be eaten raw or steamed.

The sap of the tree can be collected in spring and is commonly used to make ash wine.


Ash is considered to be a healing tree and although its use in modern medicine has fallen it was once believed to be a cure for snake bites and leprosy amongst many other ailments.

Extra bits from the Foragers…

Ash was the choice wood for spear and axe hafts as well as for farming and garden tools due to its dry and strong wood!

Identification is key!

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