Gorse

Ulex europaeus - L.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers.

Edible Uses: Tea.

The flower buds are pickled in vinegar and then used like capers in salads. A tea is made from the flowers and shoot tips. A wine is made out of the flowers.

Medicinal Uses

Flowers have been used in the treatment of jaundice and as a treatment for scarlet fever particularly in children. The seed is said to be astringent and has been used in the treatment of diarrhea and stones. They have some astringent property, containing tannin. Also soaked with honey, it clears the mouth and it is good against snake-bite.

Alkaloids are found in Gorse, particularly in the seeds. One of them, "Ulexine" is identical with the alkaloid "Cytisine" which is found in Broom, a closely related plant. This alkaloid is thought to be responsible for action which Broom has on the circulatory system and the heart (can help to correct arrhythmia and relief cardiac oedema, however it also tends to raise blood pressure).

Other Uses

Dye; Fertilizer; Fuel; Hedge; Insecticide; Pioneer; Soap making; Soil stabilization.

A beautiful orange or yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. Gorse is very tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be used as a windbreak hedge in the most exposed positions, making an impenetrable barrier with its vicious thorns. Planted for soil stabilization on sandy substrates, it is very good for stabilizing roadside banks on poor soils. Gorse is an excellent pioneer species for poor soils and areas with maritime exposure. It is fast-growing, feeds the soil with nitrogen and provides good conditions for woodland trees to become established. These trees will eventually out-compete the gorse, which is unable to reproduce well in the shady conditions and will thus gradually die out. The plant has an old reputation as a pesticide, the soaked seed being used against fleas. The wood burns very well, it was much used in the past for kindling, heating bakers ovens etc. The ashes from the burnt wood are rich in potassium and can be used in making soap. This soap can be made by mixing the ashes with a vegetable oil, or mixing them with clay and forming them into balls. The ashes are also an excellent fertilizer.

Reproduction is mainly by seed, with each seed having a hard water resistant coat that prevents immediate germination, with seeds remaining dormant for up to 30 years. Seed dispersal is by ejection from the pod in warm weather when a distinctive "cracking" sound will be heard.

The prickly branches were once used to harrow crops, as a chimney brush to loosen the creosote and soot, and to hang the washing on so it could not blow away on exposed sites. A bed of the cut branches was also useful as a damp proof course to keep haystacks off the ground.

Wood: The size of the gorse branches is not large enough for many purposes, but the wood still played a useful role in rural life. Examples are: roofing outhouses and sheds, making hammer handles, etc.

Fuel: Cut Gorse is an excellent and hot fuel and in places where it grew in abundance it was a favourite source of firewood for bread baking. Another use for its hot burning wood was in Limekilns. Usually the practice was to cut it down once every 3 years. Since Gorse is an evergreen plant, the best time to do this is after flowering. The plant will grow with renewed vigor.
Dead gorse branches have always been highly appreciated by travelers for the fact that they will often burn even when wet and thus offer a good chance to get a fire going in damp weather.

Fertiliser: In places where the Gorse is not burned as fuel, the needle-like spiny leaves of the lower branches create a thick carpet on the ground and make excellent topsoil. The ashes can be also used as a valuable Fertiliser.

Animal food: The soft young shoots of Gorse can be eaten by cattle and sheep. In former days Gorse was often especially planted as a valuable source of winter feed for stock.
"In some parts of England, it is usual to put the Furze bushes into a mill to crush the thorns and then to feed horses and cows with the branches. When finely cut or crushed, sheep will readily eat it. The bruised shoots form a very nutritious fodder and when well bruised are eaten with much relish by horses, and cows are said to give good milk upon this food alone. When crushed, it is necessary to use it quickly, as the mass soon ferments."

Soap source: The ashes of burned Gorse are rich in alkali, and they were formerly sometimes used for washing, either in the form of a solution or lye, or mixed with clay and made into balls, as a substitute for soap. Another association with washing is that many people used to like to grow a few Gorse bushes near their homesteads, so they could lay their washing on the thorny branches without fear of it blowing away.

Hedges and Protection: Gorse makes an excellent, impenetrable and stock-proof hedge when it is kept closely cut. It is liable to hard frost, so such hedges are best planted in the milder climate of South Britain or sheltered situations.
Where Gorse grows naturally it makes a good protective nursemaid crop for larger trees and we can of course copy this pattern by sowing it to protect seed plantations.
Small bits of the prickly branches have been used to protect peas and bean seeds from attacks by hungry birds and mice, by adding them to the drills in which the seeds are sown. (Warning; Gorse is a very obnoxious weed!!!)

Perfume source: The flowers exude a lovely smell, reminiscent of coconut, which fills the air when the bushes are full of blooms. The monks of Caldy Island (an isle just off the coast near Tenby in South Pembrokeshire) make a famous perfume from the flowers.

Dye: The golden flowers yield an excellent natural yellow dye.

Tea substitute: The leaf-buds of gorse make a substitute for tea.