Apples of Mabon

The Common Apple ( Malus pumila ).

The Common Apple (Malus pumila).

There are ancient traditions, the world over, dear reader, that celebrate the progression of seasons, particularly the planting, ripening, and harvesting of crops.  The Autumnal Equinox is no exception.  In Celtic traditions, this time is called Mabon, and is the second of three harvest festivals. It is also sometimes called Alban Elfed, Cornucopia, the Wine Festival, or the Apple Festival (among other names). As this is a time when apples are ready for harvest, this versatile fruit is our topic of conversation today. 

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Malus domestica  herbarium specimen, collected in the Channel Islands, 1888. (3)

Malus domestica herbarium specimen, collected in the Channel Islands, 1888. (3)

Plant Profile:

Common Name(s): Apple, Common Apple, Paradise Apple

Name (s) : The evil dwarf (most used), Malus domesticaMalus sylvestrisPrunus common and  Pyrus mains (ITIS website) (1,2)

Height: 6-15 ft (1.8-4.6 m), in cultivation and up to 30 ft (9.1 m), in the wild

Leaf Attributes: Alternate-arranged leaves, dark green, simple oval shape with serrated edge and lightly downy undersides (6).

Habitat:

(Native): Central Asia, where the botanical ancestor, the wild apple (Malus sieversii), still grows, particularly in the Altai Mountains of southern Kazakhstan.

(Current): Worldwide, though favoring cooler climates or those with the possibility of frost.

Uses: culinary, medicinal, spiritual

Notable Attributes:

  • While only 2.8% of cultivars’ leaves turn red in the autumn, 62.2% of their wild counterparts have this trait (4).

  • The wild apple (Malus sieversii), is now considered a threatened species in its native habitat (5).

  • Apple blossoms appear in the spring, fruit coming to maturation in late summer or autumn.

  • Apples are high in fiber, but otherwise lacking in essential nutrients (7).

  • The apple is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae.

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Whether fresh-picked and tree-ripened, baked in a pie, or put in a stew (among others), the apple is a versatile fruit.  The first archaeo-ethnobotanical (archaeological ethnobotany), examples of humanity's relationship with the apple go back millennia. It was one of the first plants cultivated by humans and as such there are now thousands of varieties worldwide (7,500, in fact (8)), each selected for particular attributes.

The apple has long been associated with wisdom and power. Because of this, it is also connected to both what is known of ancient magical practices and their modern, adapted counterparts.  In much of Europe, the apple has been associated with fertility. There are even similar stories of golden apples in multiple cultures, presented to one’s intended. With the combination of wisdom, power, and fertility, the apple is certainly a powerful fruit. Wisdom brings knowledge, tempered with truth, power adds the ability to use this wisdom to effect positive change, and fertility brings forth the abundance of a successful outcome.

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Additionally, in northern European traditions, particularly Scandinavian, sometimes the Apples of Hel are mentioned in the literature, alluding to the possibility of the apple also forming a bridge between the world of the living and the realm of the dead, where Hel presides (11).

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As a point of interest, when an apple is cut across its width, the center seed pocket forms a 5-pointed star. This star, within the circle of the fruit’s outer perimeter, forms a pentagram, which is seen as a protective symbol in many nature/Earth-based spiritual practices.

As far as medicinal uses, preliminary research suggests that nutrients and/or phytochemicals present in apples might act as a cancer preventative, though research is still being conducted (9,10). Additionally, while the meat of the apple is often sweet and juicy, it is the skin that contains the majority of the apple’s fiber and antioxidant properties. So, in the even that you can and do eat apples, I would suggest just giving the skin a good wash, rather than peeling it.

Till next time, be well.

Katheryn

Blossoms, fruits, and leaves of the apple tree ( Malus pumila )  Franz Eugen Köhler,  Köhler's medicinal plants   Apple tree. A flowering and fruiting branch in B of course. Size, 1 bloom without crown in longitudinal section enlarged, 2 stamens, likewise, 3 pollen, ditto, 4 fruit in longitudinal section, likewise, 5 the same cross section same as above,, 6 and 7 seed with seed coat in longitudinal section, of different sides of ditto,, 8, the same cross section, likewise, 9 the same without seed coat, ditto

Blossoms, fruits, and leaves of the apple tree (Malus pumila)

Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's medicinal plants

Apple tree. A flowering and fruiting branch in B of course. Size, 1 bloom without crown in longitudinal section enlarged, 2 stamens, likewise, 3 pollen, ditto, 4 fruit in longitudinal section, likewise, 5 the same cross section same as above,, 6 and 7 seed with seed coat in longitudinal section, of different sides of ditto,, 8, the same cross section, likewise, 9 the same without seed coat, ditto


Sources:

  1. “Apple Tree,” National Park Service: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Feb 26, 2015. https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/apple_tree.htm

  2. Integrated Taxonomic Informaiton System (ITIS). https://www.itis.gov/

  3. Herbaria United: (Image): Malus domestica herbarium specimen from Guernsey,Moulin Huet Bay, VC113 Channel Islands in 1888

  4. Archetti M. (2009). Evidence from the domestication of apple for the maintenance of autumn colours by coevolution. Proc Biol Sci. 

  5. Participants of the FFI/IUCN SSC Central Asian regional tree Red Listing workshop, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (11-13 July 2006) (2007). "Malus sieversii"The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesIUCN2007: e.T32363A9693009. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T32363A9693009.en. Retrieved 10 November 2017.

  6. "Origin, History of cultivation"University of GeorgiaArchived from the original on 21 January 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2008.

  7. "Nutrition Facts, Apples, raw, with skin [Includes USDA commodity food A343] Nutrition Facts & Calories". Nutritiondata.com. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2013.

  8. “Apple Facts,” Apples and More. The University of Illinois, Extention. https://extension.illinois.edu/apples/facts.cfm. Accessed 9/24/2018.

  9. Ribeiro FA, Gomes de Moura CF, Aguiar O Jr, de Oliveira F, Spadari RC, Oliveira NR, Oshima CT, Ribeiro DA (September 2014). "The chemopreventive activity of apple against carcinogenesis: antioxidant activity and cell cycle control". European Journal of Cancer Prevention (Review). 23 (5): 477–80. 

  10. Gerhauser, C (2008). "Cancer chemopreventive potential of apples, apple juice, and apple components". Planta Medica74 (13): 1608–24

  11. Ellis Davidson, H. R. (1965) Gods And Myths of Northern Europe, page 165 to 166