Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
A lot of people recognise gorse, some confuse it with broom, in the Western Isles gorse is the one you are most likely to see. Gorse is also is the one with spines all over!
- Gorse is a bushy, dense evergreen spiny shrub
- Gorse grows up to 2 metres tall although usually to approximately a metre high in the Western Isles
- Gorse usually flowers a little throughout the year, and then abundantly in spring
- Gorse flowers are bright yellow and similar to pea flowers, they smell of coconut and are up to 2cm across
- Gorse flowers are either solitary or in pairs and situated along the spines.
- Gorse leaves are tiny and fall off the plant early in its growth. (The spines are the leaves of the mature gorse plant ). Gorse spines are up to 2.5cm long, and have furrows.
Gorse is a fairly common wildflower in the Western Isles
In hot sunny weather in April and May the seed-cases of gorse burst open with a crackling, popping noise, scattering the small dark and round seed sup to 30 feet in all directions.
- Gorse can live up to 30 years, the older plants often have a lot of dead material
- Gorse seeds can be dormant in the soil for 40 years and still germinate
This perennial wildflower likes heath, poor grassland and mainly acid soil, it prefers the drier areas.
Plant Herbal History
- Gorse seeds have been soaked, then used as flea- repellant.
- In older times a decotion was made from gorse flowers which was used for its purging effect, treatments for scarlet fever, jaundice, ailments of the spleen and kidney stones, There are however, herbs which are much more effective to use for those complaints.
- Gorse flower buds are reputed to make a fine pickle.
Gorse bark and flowers produce a yellow dye.
- Gorse flowers have been used to add extra flavour and colour to beer in Denmark, whisky in Eire, and wine and tea in Britain.
- Gorse wine, is said to be a lovely greenish yellow wine which tastes very refreshing.
Gorse Wine Recipe
| (thank-you Donald Mckee of Coll in the Western Isles)
1.5 litres fresh gorse flowers (not pressed down)
Juice of a lemon
1 cup black tea
Pick your gorse flowers on a fine sunny day.
Boil these flowers in two litres of water for fifteen minutes and sieve the resulting liquor into a demijohn.
Add the tea, sugar and lemon juice then make up to one gallon with water.
Stir well, until the sugar has dissolved then add the yeast.
Fit an airlock then leave the demijohn in a warm place.
|Once the density has reached 1.000 you can stop the fermentation and then clear the wine. When bottled it should be ready to drink after three months, but gorse wine can keep a lot longer. It should o be about 11% ABV or 19% proof. Serve the wine chilled.
by tradition when the gorse is out of bloom, kissing is also out of season. Gorse appears to bloom most of the year, but there are three different species of gorse that have different flowering times.
A bridal bouquet often includes a sprig of gorse flowers.
Gorse has been often been used as animal fodder. Some grazing animals can strip off and eat the leaves direct from the plant, but it was usual to bruise the plants by hitting them with a wooden mallet or otherwise bruise them The resulting crushed matter needing to be eaten quickly so it would not fement.
Note that the variety of gorse which widely grows wild in the Western Isles is one of the tougher varieties, and is also growing in conditions that make it a very rough plant indeed!
It is said that sprinkling gorse sprigs and holly leaves in a seed row will help deter small creatures such as voles and mice from digging up your seeds.
Gorse has long been harvested as a fuel. The very high concentration of oil in it's branches, makes it easy to ignite, and also burn well, it is reputed to give off almost as much heat as charcoal!
When harvested for fuel gorse is usually cut down to ground level, as a three year rotation.
The alkali rich ashes produced from burning gorse have been for soap-making in solution as lye which was mixed with animal fat.
Alkali ashes also are very enriching to the soil, so in the past gorse was often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, that also caused new growth which grazing stock could eat. However, burning the oil rich gorse can be a hazard in dry weather as the moorland fires race out of control causing enormous enviromental and financial damage.
Meadow Pipits and many other small birds nest in gorse in the Western Isles, they gain gives them protection from mammals, and an escape route from the larger predator birds like the Hawks and Eagles.
Gorse is one of the first plants in flower here, so is an important source of pollen to the early emerging bees.
Gorse and Tree Planting
One of the current most important uses for Gorse in the Western Isles is in helping establish new woodland.
Gorse scrub and birch are often the some of the first larger plants naturally coming in as woodland re-establishes itself, the gorse can act as a nurse-plant sheltering young trees from the brunt of the wind, it is particulary useful in the oceanic climate of the Western isles in that it grows well near the sea and it is the salt laden winds that we are so often challenged by.
Gorse needs to be kept fairly weed free for a year or two until well rooted in.
Like peas and beans gorse is member of the legume famlily, and so it has nodules in the root system occupied by colonies of bacteria that which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is in the soil, and make it available to the gorse plant. Coppicing the gorse releases some of the nitrogen making it available to other plants near the roots space.
Although gorse looks a real toughie, it is not very hardy, and is often damaged or killed by hard frosts.
Gorse seed can be collected in May to July, then stored in a sealed container, to be sown in the following Spring.
To grow the strongest shrubs, collect gorse seeds from plants growing in a similar climate challenge to where you intend to put your plants.
Related Wildflowers found in the Western Isles
Common Gorse is a member of the pea family and related to clover, vetch and bird's foot trefoil, other wildflowers some of which also have herbal uses and grow abundantly in the Western Isles.
Names Associated With this Plant
This wild plant is sometimes called golden gorse, Genista spinosa, furze, fyrs, gorst, whin, aiteann, prickly broom, ruffet, frey, and goss but usually just gorse.
Gorse has also been known as broom, but these days that usually means a different spineless shrub which is uncommon in the Western Isles.
The word gorse comes from the Anglo -Saxon word gorst, and the word furze comes from the Anglo-Saxon word fyrs, which means ‘a waste’ perhaps suggesting the moorlands where it is often found.
The gaelic name for gorse is Aiteann.
Brandon is an old English name meaning gorse hill.
The name "Bram" is a shortened version of "Bramble" a Scottish and Irish gaelic name for a thicket of wild gorse.
Gorse as a Bach Flower Remedy, and in homeopathy, helps those who have lost hope, who feel that nothing will ever be better, or that they will never be well again, to have faith in their own inner resources and in a positive outcome.
Evergreen and flowering all the year, gorse visually reminds us of the returning strength of the sun, encouraging and lifting our spirits after the short days of sunlight of the Western Isles winter.
A balm to the heart.
Please email the webmaster if you have any more lore or identification tips that we can add to this, or if you spot any inaccuracies.