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Fraxinus excelsior – European Ash

Fraxinus excelsior (European ash) is a Tree which grows to a height of 30 m and a width of 20 m. It has a fast growth rate. It has a hardness rating of 4 and is quite resilient to frost. European ash will flower in October to November. The seeds ripen from March to July.

The flowers from this plant are dioecious (each plant is either male or female, thus both genders need to be present to seed) and they are pollinated by wind.







30 metres


20 metres


Europe, including Britain south of latitude 64°, to N. Africa and W. Asia.

How to Grow Fraxinus excelsior 

Soil Information

European ash will grow in light (sandy), medium (loamy), hard (clay) soil. It is not necessary for the soil to be well drained.

The soil prefers the following pH/acid levels:

  • pH of less than 6, Acidic soils
  • pH between 6 and 8, Neutral soils
  • pH greater than 8, Basic soils

Ash prefers soils.

Fraxinus excelsior Ideal Planting Locations

Common ash should not be planted in shady areas. Forming woods on calcareous soils in the wetter parts of Britain, also in oakwoods, scrub, hedges etc. It is also often found on acid soils.

Planting places suited to this plant described below.

  • Grows within a woodland garden
  • Is suited as a canopy tree
  • A bog garden plant

European Ash Cultivation Details

Prefers a deep loamy soil, even if it is on the heavy side. Most members of this genus are gross feeders and require a rich soil. Plants can succeed in very exposed positions, including maritime exposure, though they can become wind-shaped.

Thrives in alkaline soils but not in shallow soils over chalk. Tolerates a pH as low as 4.5, but prefers a base-rich soil above 5.5. Trees are surprisingly tolerant of seasonally water-logged soils. Dislikes dryness at the roots, especially in late spring.

Very intolerant of shade, young plants fail to develop properly in such a position and often die. Although the dormant plant is very cold-hardy, the young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun.

A fast growing tree, it is sometimes cultivated for its valuable timber. Very tolerant of cutting, ash was also at one time frequently coppiced for its wood. However, modern use of plastics has reduced its economic values.

There are many named varieties, selected for their ornamental value. Trees have a light canopy and cast little shade. A food plant for many insect species, there are 41 associated insect species. Trees can be male, female, monoecious or hermaphrodite, they can also change sex from year to year.

Trees take 30-40 years to flower from seed. The flowers are produced on one-year old wood. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus.

Edible Uses*

* See disclaimer

Edible Rating: 3/5

Immature seed - usually pickled by steeping in salt and vinegar, and then used as a condiment for other foods. The leaves are sometimes used as an adulterant for tea. A manna is obtained from the tree. No further details are given. An edible oil similar to sunflower (Helianthus annuus) oil is obtained from the seed.

  • Manna - this is a sweet substance that exudes naturally from certain plants, usually from the stems.
  • Seed - includes nuts, cereals, peas and beans.
  • Tea - the various herb teas that can be used in place of tea, plus the genuine article.

European Ash Medicinal Uses*

* See disclaimer

Medicinal Rating: 2/5

The leaves are astringent, cathartic, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, laxative and purgative. They have been used as a laxative, making a mild substitute for senna pods. The leaves should be gathered in June, well dried and stored in airtight containers.

The bark is antiperiodic, astringent and a bitter tonic. Little used in modern herbalism, it is occasionally taken in the treatment of fevers. The seeds, including their wings, have been used as a carminative. They will store for 12 months if gathered when ripe.

  • Antiperiodic - Counteracts recurring illnesses such as malaria.
  • Astringent - Produces contraction in living tissue, reducing the flow of secretions and discharges of blood, mucus, diarrhoea etc.
  • Carminative - Reduces flatulence and expels gas from the intestines.
  • Cathartic - A strong laxative but less violent than a purgative.
  • Diaphoretic - Induces perspiration.
  • Diuretic - Acts on the kidneys, promoting the flow of urine.
  • Laxative - Stimulates bowel movements in a fairly gentle manner.
  • Purgative - A drastic laxative causing a cleansing or watery evacuation of the bowels, usually with a griping pain. 
  • Tonic - Improves general health. Slower acting than a stimulant, it brings steady improvement.

Fraxinus excelsior Propagation

The seed is best harvested green - as soon as it is fully developed but before it has fully dried on the tree - and can then be sown immediately in a cold frame. It usually germinates in the spring. Stored seed requires a period of cold stratification and is best sown as soon as possible in a cold frame.

Approximately 5% of stored seed will germinate in the first year, the remainder germinating in the second year. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter.

Plant them out into their permanent positions or a nursery bed in late spring or early summer of the following year. If you have sufficient seed then it is possible to sow it directly into an outdoor seedbed, preferably in the autumn.

Grow the seedlings in the seedbed for 2 years before transplanting either to their permanent positions or to nursery beds. Cuttings of mature wood, placed in a sheltered outdoor bed in the winter, sometimes strike.

Known Hazards

Poisonous to ruminants, it has also caused dermatitis in some people.

Other Uses for Common Ash

A green dye is obtained from the leaves. The bark is a source of tannin. A tying material can be obtained from the wood. Very tolerant of extreme exposure and relatively fast growing, though often windshaped in exposed positions, it can be grown as a shelterbelt tree.

However, it is late coming into leaf and also one of the first trees to lose its leaves in the autumn and this makes it less suitable in a shelter belt. Wood - hard, light, flexible, strong, resilient.

A very valuable wood, it is much used for tool handles, oars, furniture, posts etc. An excellent fuel, burning well even when green. There is some doubt over how well the green wood burns with several people claiming that it needs to be properly seasoned.

  • Dye - Plants that provide dyes.
  • Fuel - Usually wood, plant materials that have been mentioned as being a good fuel.
  • Shelterbelt - Wind resistant plants that can be grown to provide shelter in the garden etc.
  • String - Plants that can be used as they are as a temporary string or can be easily made into a string. See also Fibre.
  • Tannin - An astringent substance obtained from plants, it is used medicinally, as a dye and mordant, stabiliser in pesticide etc.
  • Wood - A list of the trees and shrubs that are noted for having useful wood.


'' - There are some named forms for this species, but these have been developed for their ornamental value and not for their other uses. Unless you particularly require the special characteristics of any of these cultivars, we would generally recommend that you grow the natural species for its useful properties. We have, therefore, not listed the cultivars in this database.


Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.

  • Bean. W.
  • Author: Bean. W.
  • Rating:
  • Publisher: A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
  • Date of Publication: 1981

Flora of the British Isles.

  • Clapham, Tootin and Warburg.
  • Author: Clapham, Tootin and Warburg.
  • Rating:
  • Publisher: A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
  • Date of Publication: 1962

The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.

  • Huxley. A.
  • Author: Huxley. A.
  • Rating:
  • Publisher: Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
  • Date of Publication: 1992

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Gary Clarke

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