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Apples in our garden

Apples growing
in our garden

The Apple Tree

Newton's apple tree
The original Bramley
Johnny Appleseed


Aphrodite Malus, the apple is a genus in the rose family Rosacea, It comprises about 25 species of small deciduous trees which reside in the Northern hemisphere. The wild apple in the Northern hemisphere is the crab apple Malus Sylvestris and it is one of the parents of the orchard apple (Malus Domesticus). The orchard apple has lost its thorns but interestingly, those seeds which escape to the wild often give rise to trees which regain their thorns.

The Apple in Mythology

The apple has had a bad press ever since Eve tempted Adam and it is still considered to be a symbol of temptation. This is rather unfair as the Bible does not specifically name the apple as the fruit of the tree of knowledge. A Scandinavian legend attributes the gods' eternal youth to the eating golden apples supplied by Idhunn, child of Frigga. To the Greeks the apple stood for immortality while the Arabs thought it had curative properties. It was also a symbol of fertility in Ancient Greece and was sacred to Demeter, goddess of corn and sustenance and to Aphrodite (picture opposite), goddess of love (also known as Kypris after Cyprus). There are or have been numerous customs across Europe relating the apple to love. In Renaissance France a young man would woo a girl by offering her an apple while in Rumania, it is customary to present a red apple at a wedding.

The apple was also associated with Hera in Greek mythology and to Fraya and Frigga in Nordic mythology. There are also associations with the Britain of King Arthur. The Welsh for apple is afallen, and it is the derivation of the name "Avalon".

The Apple Tree (or Quert) in Celtic Lore

Like the Hazel, The apple was considered sacred to the Celts and felling it carried the death penalty. It has always been a symbol of love but to the Celts it also represented the other world. Like the willow, it is linked to water which represents the transition or crossing to the other world (as in the river Styx). The apple also protects against evil magic and were used for this purpose at the festival of Samhain. The custom carries on today with apple bobbing on Hallowe'en night.

The faerie maiden lured Connla to the Land of Youth by throwing him an apple. After he ate it he pined for her so much that he willingly followed her into the faerie realm.

In a second story, king Cormac mac Art (227 -266 A.D.), High King of Tara, Co. Meath, who ruled in the third century A.D., was offered a magic silver branch carrying nine apples by a young man whom he espied when he looked out of his window one morning. When they were shaken they made the most beautiful music ever heard in the land; it lulled all who heard it into a sleep of forgetfulness. Whether they were in pain, sickness or sorrow they immediately forgot their trouble and fell into a soothing sleep.

The king went to meet the youth and asked for the branch, which the youth offered to him if the king granted him three requests. Cormac agreed and the youth departed, giving the king the branch.

A year later the youth returned to claim his three requests which were the king's daughter, his son and his wife. Each in turn were compelled to go with the youth, to the grief and distress of the king and all his subjects.

Mystical Quert, enchanted apple tree,
beneath you boughs young love lies free,
Your fragrant fruit in faerie hand
lured Connia to your timeless land.

Your magic silver branch red-bellied
with nine ripe apples sweetly swelled,
made faerie music in Manannan's hand
and sent forgetful slumber over all the land.

The Apple in Natural Healing

The apple's uses in healing include the vitamins and minerals it contains, especially E and A, which tend to be most concentrated in the skin. It also contains antioxidants and helps the body to detox. It is beneficial to the bowels, liver and brain. Apple with honey has been a remedy for heart problems since ancient times.

English proverbs:

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
To eat an apple without rubbing it first is to challenge the Devil
A bad woman can't make a good apple sauce (it goes mushy)

Nicholas Culpeper

Culpeper gives several recipes for apple based poultices for various purposes. These include a poultice of roasted sweet apples with powder of frankincense to remove pain from the side and another of the same apples boiled in plantain and mixed with milk which removes fresh marks of gunpowder from the skin, just in case you have a gunpowder problem. The pulp of boiled or rotten apples applied as a poultice is good for inflamed eyes, either applied neat or in milk., rose or fennel waters.

Culpeper also gives various recommendations for the consumption of apples, including roated apples for the asthmatic, for the consumptive and for inflammation of the breasts and lungs. They are very proper for hot and bilious stomachs but not for the cold, moist and flatulent. The more ripe ones move the belly a little whereas the unripe ones have the contrary effect. Boiled or roasted apples eaten with rose water and sugar, or with a little butter, is a pleasant and cooling diet for feverish complaints.

Newton's original apple tree

Newton's Apple Tree

The tree under which, in 1665, Sir Isaac Newton was said to be sitting when the fall of an apple inspired him with the notion of gravitation, is at Woolthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire. The idea that he first thought of gravitation when he saw an apple fall from the tree was originally reported by Voltaire.

The particular tree was first mentioned by Edmund Turner in 1806. The tree fell over in 1820 but, like the original Bramley mentioned below, roots grew where the branches touched the ground and the tree continued to thrive.

The Original Bramley

The original Bramley which became parent to a £50 million market, was grown from a pip planted by Mary Anne Brailsford around 1810. The pip is thought to have come from an apple tree in her garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and after planting out grew into an excellent seedling which first bore fruit in 1837.

Twenty years later a local nurseryman, Harry Merryweather, recognised the potential and asked the then owner, a Mr. Bramley, for permission to take cuttings to which he agreed, so long as the fruit bore his name. Hence the apple is known as a Bramley, not as a Brailsford.

The tree fell into neglect and fell over in 1900 but remained rooted and continued to grow. It produced new roots where the branches touched the ground – a phenomenon known as a “Phoenix tree”.

When the current owner acquired the tree (around 1970) it was in a very neglected condition but was restored by another nurseryman, Mr. Claude Coates.

Nottingham university cloned the tree and a new one is growing in the garden. However, the original is still fruiting and an be viewed by appointment. There are now over 500 Bramley trees around the country – one of which is in our garden.

It is really quite amazing that such a large and productive industry started with a single pip.

Johnny Appleseed

The legend of Johnny Appleseed has a basis in fact. The eccentric and deeply religious John Chapman roamed the American frontier barefoot, bearded and dressed in rags, planting apple trees from a sack of seeds he carried over his shoulder. Chapman was born in 1774 and appeared in Pennsylvania in 1797.


Acknowledgements and further reading:

The Heritage Trees of Britain and Northern IrelandJon Stokes and Donald RodgerConstable
The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
A - Z of SuperstitionsCarole PotterChancellor Press
The Celtic Book of Seasonal MeditationsClaire HamiltonRed Wheel
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenaderChronicle Books
The Complete HerbalNicholas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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© Ken James 2008