The Crab Apple tree is the wild version of our more modern cultivated varieties and has been held in great reverence since earliest times. There are equivalents to our word "apple" in all Celtic and other early European languages showing that at the very least the fruit was of sufficient importance to possess a distinct name long before the separation of the peoples of Northern Europe. The word "crab" is a more recent addition thought to come from the Lowland Scottish word scrab, itself derived from Anglo Saxon scrobb meaning a shrub.
The apple grows wild in most of Europe as well as western Asia, China and Japan and usually appears as a small tree with crooked and knotty branches. If allowed the space, the apple will grow as a spreading tree with a head that is greater in diameter than its height. In spring it forms a mass of white fragrant blossom beautifully tinted or streaked with pink and in autumn forms small round fruit that are sour to taste due to an abundance of Malic acid. The juice of the crab, called verjuice, is a valuable cure for scalds and sprains and was also used to make wine, cider and vinegar. The fruit, stewed and pressed through muslin and boiled with sugar makes the delicious, red-coloured Crab Apple Jelly.
The Druids held the apple in high esteem not least due to its being frequently clothed in mistletoe. Mistletoe (also called druadlas meaning "druid's plant") was regarded as especially sacred by the druids because it grew without touching the earth making it a plant "between worlds". It had deep symbolism and was used as a powerful protection against lightning, fires, disease and misfortune. Mistletoe berries are symbolic of divine semen and it is therefore linked to male fertility. The apple is linked to female fertility and so an apple tree adorned with mistletoe was a powerful tree for newly wed couples to consummate their marriage beneath.
There were many rituals and ceremonies to honour the apple tree and to assure a good crop of fruit and some are still observed in Celtic Britain today. These include throwing roasted crabs, toast or cider from the wassail-bowl to their roots accompanied by singing, dancing and the lighting of fires. The apple is sacred to the goddess of love and motherhood and the fruit when cut reveals her symbol- the five-pointed star. The apple is also strongly associated with Samhain (October 31st) the Celtic New Year when the spirits of the ancestors were honoured. Samhain was a time for journeying to the Celtic Otherworld and the Halloween tradition of "apple-bobbing" is said to symbolise the journey into the Underworld (perhaps sometimes facilitated by copious amounts of cider!). The apple was a great source of love divinations especially using the peel or pips. One simple divination involved peeling a fresh apple and tossing the peel over your shoulder. If the fallen peel formed a letter, this was meant to be the initial of your future lover. At one time crab apples were used for making dolls' heads for children. Over time the apple would shrivel turning the doll's appearance from a maiden to an old crone.