Foraging 101: Foraging Gorse

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Gorse, also known as furze pas, whin, and prickly broom, has edible flowers that are traditionally used to make a light and refreshing cordial and wine. It’s native to much of Europe and northwest Africa, and has been naturalized across North America. A member of the pea family, this grow-anywhere, scruffy plant blooms all year round. It’s not at all fussy and grows well in heat or cold, and it’s one of the few plants with flowers available in the winter months. However, hard frosts or particularly arid climates can kill off the flowers.

Common gorse, Ulex europaeus, is the most common, and can be found in almost any terrain, but tends to thrive in hedgerows, coastal areas, wastelands, plains, and along forest edges. Gorse has unmistakeable bright yellow flowers nestled among long, sharp spines. So, if you decide to harvest yourself some tasty gorse, I cannot stress this enough: Wear tough leather gloves and be careful.

While you can eat the flowers, which have a mild coconut-almond flavor, right off the plant, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t eat too many, as they contain mildly toxic alkaloids. Also note: no other parts of the plant is edible – it’s only the flowers that are edible. However, you can soak the seeds and use the mixture as a potent flea repellent.

Identifying Gorse

It’s an evergreen shrub that commonly reaches six feet in height, but can be found growing up to 10 feet tall. The scraggly bushes frequently form dense thickets. Young seedlings have trifoliate leaves, but as the plants reach maturity, leaves are replaced by 0.4 to 1.4-inch spines. The flowers are bright yellow with egg-shaped bracts typical of the pea family. Pods are long and a dark purplish-brown and contain up to three seeds.

Common Uses for Gorse

There are quite a few gorse flower recipes, including wine, cordial, and tea. Interestingly, the flowers and roots are also used as a traditional dye for clothing and fabric, producing a vivid yellow color. They can also be used to dye Easter eggs.

The branches can be cut and placed around young the base of small fruit trees and bushes to deter deer and other herbivorous pests. It has the added bonus of releasing nitrogen into the soil as it decomposes, fuelling growth and improving soil condition.

The branches were commonly used as fuel for baker’s ovens and, because of their high alkali content, the ashes are prized as a soil dressing. The ashes were also used as a detergent, mixed with water as a solution, or added to clay and formed into balls or bars as a soap substitute.

Read our article on why we should forage!

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