Öskuhús is the combination of two Icelandic words:
Ösku: which is ash
Hús; which is house or home.
And there you have it, quite simply Öskuhús translates as the home of all things ash!
You’d be forgiven for thinking that by ash we’re referring to the big ash cloud of 2010, that following the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull caused huge disruptions to air travellers across Europe, but no, we’re in fact referring to the wonderful ash tree! Or as its better known in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil.
Yggdrasil or ‘The Tree of Life’, is commonly said to be an ash tree in Old Norse literature and housed all the Viking legend gods such as Thor, Odin, Frigg, Loki.
Gods lived at the top, humans at the bottom, with evil kinds resting their hollow souls in the roots. The gossip squirrel would run up and down the trunk spreading stories between all the worlds!
The ‘curse striker’ Níðhöggur, a snake/dragon would eat Yggdrasil’s roots, and therefore many human Vikings believed they had to worship him on the front of their Viking ships so that he would not let them sail (fall?) overboard and die an empty shallow death.
Trees are sparse in Iceland and Oddný, the founder of Öskuhús, took to climbing trees as a child. When she could not be found, for sure she was hiding in the climbable branches available in Iceland, and for that matter in England when she would visit.
Oddný has always been passionate about anything made from trees and the benefits they have to offer. While learning about Norse mythology as a child in Iceland, her teacher Þórhallur (Thorhallur) would captivate the whole class room with his invigorating story telling. She could imagine this magical home to all the gods and humans and it made life sparkle a little bit more!
This passion did not fade as Oddný grew up. If anything, her intrigue and hunger to learn about trees continued to grow. She would develop expertise in identifying trees but more importantly, she researched how each species of tree can be utilised in everyday life. For example, as you may already know, the birch can be tapped to provide water, Beach used for gin infusions, elderflowers can be used for drink, food or decorations. The list goes on…
Oddný continues to experiment with trees and their various uses, however after having her own restaurant she was able to really branch out. It was at this time that she discovered just how edible the ash tree is. She spent two years reaching out to foragers but to no avail.
It wasn’t until she discovered books from the 1960’s that spoke about the Ash tree’s historical use for medicinal purposes that she was able to expand her research. Then a miracle happened! Oddný met John Wright, author of many forager’s guides for the River Cottage Handbook series. John kindly and patiently spent lots of time with Oddný and helped her acquire the correct research material and reports to confirm that the Ash tree was edible.
Then the door opened even further when she spoke to the owner of Bristol Botanicals, further confirming that the ash tree was indeed all edible, super rich in anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties and that regardless of the ash dieback, we can safely eat and drink all aspects of the tree.
Knowing of the danger of ash dieback, and with Estonia’s ash trees already completely wiped out by this disease, Oddný knew that she had to do something to raise awareness of the huge threat faced by this incredible tree, one so rich in history and medicinal values.
With a rich background in cooking and judging at the Guild of Fine Food Oddný began to experiment with the ash tree and discover the flavours and medicinal benefits it brings. Et Voila – she knew she had to spread the knowledge in product form and release all the products made with ash tree under the name Öskuhús.
After all the ash tree was the home to all living things in Norse mythology, and now armed with the information of just how rich it is in medicinal benefits we can all understand why it was called The Tree of Life!