Yellow Gorse / Whin – (onn) – Ulex europaeus
Here at fifesmallholder we like to keep our gorse, whereas next door the farmer annually cuts it back or burns it. He probably does this to control the growth and spread of the gorse because it reduces his grazing and can cause health issues with his sheep (Orf can be caused through the wounds inflicted by eating gorse and other prickly vegetation).
Why do I keep it?
- the deer will stamp on it and eat it in the winter (the stamping reduces the threat of the thorns or prickles)
- it is a safe habitat for some wild animals (e.g. hares or small birds)
- the bees, insects and pollinators love the pollen in the spring
- dry gorse is a good fire lighter
- a gorse branch can be used to fill a hole in the fence or hedge
- I love the smell of coconut when it is in full bloom and will make gorse wine from the flowers (you can download a recipe here)
What is gorse?
Gorse is a bushy, dense evergreen spiny shrub and will grow up to 2 meters tall. It’s a prickly shrub, which can almost always be found in flower somewhere, all twelve months of the year, and this means it has many positive connotations in folklore. It prefers poor grassland, mainly acid soil, and drier ground. It can grow in nutritionally poor soil, is drought and salt spray tolerant, preferring a full sun position. In leaf all year and flowering all year, the seeds also ripen all year, however a burst of flowers occur in the UK between February to May.
Gorse is closely related to Broom and both are members of the pea family. It has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs from Broom in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season. 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. Reproduction is mainly by seed, with each seed having a hard water resistant coat that prevents immediate germination. Gorse seeds can be dormant in the soil for 40 years and still germinate. Gorse can live up to 30 years.
Can gorse be used as animal fodder?
Gorse provides excellent food for goats, cattle, horses and sheep (it has half the protein of oats) and it is said increases the milk yield of cattle. It gives peak fodder production from the end of November to the end of February arriving just in time to replace exhausted autum pastures (cut right to the ground but harvested only once every 2 years, only the top of the plant is used for fodder). However it is not advisable to use without treatment such as being crushed or rolled first. Or dried and hung in the stable/barn to supplement Winter fodder.
What other uses are there for gorse?
- It’s bark produces a green dye and flowers a yellow dye. Add a bucket of urine and wait 3 hours.
- its roots for basket weaving
- chimney sweeping
- green manure – gorse is member of the legume famlily, and so it has nodules in the root system that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Coppicing the gorse releases some of the nitrogen making it available to other plants near the roots space.
- 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 ashes were used to make lye for cleaning linen (the alkali rich ashes produced from burning gorse have been for soap-making in solution as lye which was mixed with animal fat).
- Gorse seeds have been soaked, then used as flea- repellant
- Gorse flower buds are reputed to make a fine pickle in vinegar and then used like capers in salads
- Gorse flowers have been used to add extra flavour and colour to beer, whisky, wine and tea
- 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
- 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
- walking sticks canbe made from the gnarled branches
- Gorse is a good windbreak and a gorse bush is the best place to dry washing – it naturally pins it in place.
- Gorse protects against witches.
- Planted for soil stabilisation in sandy areas with maritime exposure, it is fast growing, puts nitrogen back into the soil and provides conditions for woodland trees to become established.
links to websites used in the making of this post