The Gorse bush is a Spirit Tree
In Celtic Tree Lore the gorse is an important ‘spirit tree’ and its time is now, the Spring Equinox or Alban Eilier. The gorse’s sunny golden-yellow reminds us of the energy of spring.
According to tradition and Alan Bleakley’s Fruits of the Moon Tree, the gorse can be thought of as the “young solar hero, or Prince.” With all this going for the attractive but very prickly gorse, I thought I would do a wee bit of research and share my findings with you all.
Referring to its flowering habits, which are all year round an old saying informs us that:
“When Gorse is out of bloom,
Kissing is out of season.”
Gorse or Furze
The gorse (Ulex europeaus) is at its best in March and April too but continues on throughout the summer and into early autumn but it is always possible to find bushes that are still flowering later, right into the depths of winter. The flowers give out a fragrant perfume that hangs in the air and is one of the joys of our countryside.
Gorse, also known as furze and prickly broom, is a common plant of heaths, commons and hillsides but although it looks very sturdy with its woody branches, prickly spines and evergreen habit, it is vulnerable to severe frosts and is not as hardy as it appears.
Having said that, it usually tends to grow back and is tough enough to have established its range from Denmark to Italy and the Canary Isles, as well as all parts of Britain. Helping its distribution the tiny pea-like seeds burst explosively from the pods in hot weather and scatter the gorse widely.
Although, it is not thought of by many people as a useful plant (especially perhaps by those put off by its formidable spines) the gorse does have a very wide range of applications of benefit to us. In Surrey and other counties it was once cultivated and cut down to provide burnable fuel for bakers’ ovens.
The ashes left after it has been set on fire yield a generous amount of alkali and have been utilized for washing purposes after first being mixed with clay and rolled into balls to form a primitive soap. The ashes also make an excellent manure and with this in mind, it has been often burned to the ground to improve the land’s fertility as well as providing fresh new sprouting shoots for cattle-feed.
The leaf-buds of gorse make a substitute for tea and the golden flowers yield an excellent natural yellow dye. The flowers are edible.
Gorse bushes have been cultivated as a shelter for young saplings in plantations as well as providing cover for game birds. Professor Henslow in Uses of British Plants, 1905, reported that gorse “has also been used chopped up into small pieces and sown in drills with Peas, proving a good defence against the attacks of birds and mice.”
Writers of old inform us that “sodden with honey, it clears the mouth” and also, that it is “good against snake-bite.” If this last bit of information is correct it would be an example of Mother Nature providing for our needs with something tailored specifically from the local environment. The only poisonous snake in Britain, the adder or viper, tends to live in the same habitats as the gorse.
An old tradition claims that gorse makes a good insecticide too: “Against fleas, take this wort, with its seed sodden; sprinkle it into the house; it killeth the fleas.”
Gorse in herbalism
Medicinally and in herbalism it has not been anywhere near as important as its cousin the broom although the herbalist Gerard states “the seeds are employed in medicines against the stone and staying of the laske” (bowel laxness). The tannin in the shrub gives it astringent properties too.
An infusion of the flowers was once used as a remedy for scarlet-fever in children and Parkinson reports that “some have used the flowers against the jaundice.”
In 1886, as reported in The Pharmaceutical Journal, August 7, 1886, A.W.Gerrard discovered an alkaloid in the seeds more powerful as a purgative than sparteine, the drug used in herbal medicine, which was extracted from broom.
This alkaloid became known as “ulexine.” However, in 1890, the German research scientist Kobert, after much investigation, declared that the alkaloid from gorse was the same as that from the broom. He also found evidence of a second alkaloid. This matter resulted in a lot of debate but whatever the case may be, it appears that gorse, like broom, can be the source of a drug used to treat cardiac complaints.
Copyright © 2013 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
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