Gorse – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Gorse is a pretty, fragrant shrub of the pea family. The native species to the British Isles is considered to be U. gallii, although U. europaeus is considered to be most common in England.

While today the plant is considered a nuisance by some, it was once a valued source of fuel, fodder, and many other ethnobotanical uses.

Scientific name

Ulex europaeus

Family

Fabaceae

Botanical description

The small, bright, yellow flowers of gorse have the butterfly shape of the pea family to which they belong and a strong, sweet coconut smell with hints of orange or pineapple. The hairy stems form a dense, stunted, prickly shrub with spiny branches and the small leaves tend to fall off to become thread-like spines. The elastic seed vessels burst in hot weather with a crackling noise and scatter everywhere.

Status

Evergreen. Introduced to Britain and Ireland, originally from Europe.

Habitat and distribution

Grows in waste places, heathlands, fields, mountains, marshes and bogs, and gardens.

Parts used for food

Flowers and flower buds.

Harvest time

An evergreen perennial, gorse bushes may flower all year round.

Food uses of gorse

There are few uses for prickly gorse as a wild edible. People once used gorse flowers to make wine and tea, and the leaf buds were used as a substitute for tea. The flower buds can be pickled in vinegar and added to salads for a tangy taste or pickled and eaten like capers.

Gorse recipes

Nutritional profile

There is little information about the nutritional value of gorse.

Herbal medicine uses of gorse

In Irish folk medicine, it was widely used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, consumption (tuberculosis), asthma, heartburn, hiccups, jaundice, heart problems, dermatitis, ringworm, swellings, and as a general tonic.

Other uses

The plant has often been grown for hedging. The dense-growing shrub creates an effective barrier.

Safety note

There is little information about gorse’s safety as a plant in food and medicine, and it is seldom used today for either.

Illustrations

ulex europaeus gorse
ulex europaeus gorse

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References

Couplan, F. (1998) The encyclopedia of edible plants of North America. New Canaan: Keats Pub.

Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: a source book of edible plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.

Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s generous nature: the past and present uses of wild plants in Ireland. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.