In Cleveland the rowan-tree must be gathered with peculiar observance and at a particular season. The 2nd of May, St Helen’s Day, is Rowan-tree day or Rowan-tree Witch-day, and on that day, even yet with some, the method of proceeding is for some member of the household or family to go the first thing in the morning, with no thought of any particular Rowan-tree –rather, I believe it might be said till some Rowan-tree is fallen in with of which no previous knowledge has been possessed by the seeker. From this tree a sufficient supply of branches is taken and (a different path homeward having been taken, by the strict observance, from which they went) on reaching home twigs are ‘stuck on every door of every house in the homestead,’ and scrupulously left there until they fall out themselves. A piece is also always borne about by many in their pockets or purses as a prophylactic against witching. Not very long since, either, the farmers used to have whip-stocks of Rowan-tree wood – Rowan-tree-gads they were called – and it was held that, thus supplied, they were safe against having their Draught fixed, or their horses made restive by a witch. If ever a Draught came to a stand-still – there being in such cases no Rowan-tree-gad in the drivers hands, of course – then the nearest Witchwood-tree was resorted to and a stick cut to flog the horses with, to the discomfiture of the malevolent witch who had caused the stoppage.
A Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect
Rev J C Atkinson