Heather

Latin Name: Calluna vulgaris

Flowering in England. Image by Kingsbraegarden

Flowering in England. Image by Kingsbraegarden

Origin: Native of Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

Family: Ericaceae.

Known Hazards: None known.

Habitat: Acid soils in open woodlands, moors and marshy ground. Often the dominant plant on well-drained acid moors and heaths.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 2 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Evergreen perennial shrub to 50 (rarely 100) cm high. Branches many, initially hairy, hairless with age. Leaves linear to triangular, hairless or hairy, in 4 rows, those on short non-flowering shoots overlapping. Fruit enclosed by persistent corolla. Seeds 0.5–0.7 mm long, numerous, strongly network-patterned.
Flowers:Solitary, axillary, in leafy racemes; sepals and petals purple to white. Flowers summer and autumn.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies), wind. It is noted for attracting wildlife.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by opposite sessile leaves 1.5–3.5 mm long; 4 petal-like sepals 2–4 mm long, petals joined in a bell-shaped corolla and shorter than the sepals; stamens 8; fruit an almost spherical densely hairy capsule, 2–2.5 mm wide, that opens along the seams.

Flowering fields, UK, by Roger BDispersal: Spread by seed and vegetatively.

Dispersal: Seeds that are often spread in mud on vehicles and animals.

Edible Uses

A tea is made from the flowering stems. A kind of mead was once brewed from the flowers and the young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer.

Medicinal Uses

Antiseptic; Bach; Cholagogue; Depurative; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Expectorant; Sedative; Vasoconstrictor. Heather has a long history of medicinal use in folk medicine. In particular it is a good urinary antiseptic and diuretic, disinfecting the urinary tract and mildly increasing urine production. The flowering shoots are antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, mildly sedative and vasoconstrictor. The plant is often macerated and made into a liniment for treating rheumatism and arthritis, whilst a hot poultice is a traditional remedy for chilblains. An infusion of the flowering shoots is used in the treatment of coughs, colds, bladder and kidney disorders, cystitis etc. A cleansing and detoxifying plant, it has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. The flowering stems are harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Self-centredness’ and ‘Self-concern’. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh branches. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and insomnia.

heather

Other Uses

Basketry; Besom; Dye; Fuel; Ground cover; Hedge; Insulation; Musical; Tannin; Thatching. The branches have many uses, including in thatching, as a bedding or a stuffing for mattresses, for insulation, basketry, rope making and for making brooms. The dried branches are a good fuel. The rootstock can be made into musical pipes. A yellow dye is obtained from the plant. The bark is a source of tannin. Heather can be grown as a low hedge and is quite useful as an edging to beds. It is fairly amenable to trimming. A useful ground cover plant for covering dry banks. The cultivar ‘White Lawn’ has been recommended. All except the very dwarf cultivars will need trimming each spring in order to keep them compact.

Notes: In its native range it grows on acid soils, which are generally low in nutrients. A major weed in Tongariro National Park and neighbouring areas in New Zealand, where it displaces native plants in tussock grassland and shrub land communities. Escape from cultivation in Tasmania. Seed can persist in soil for at least 33 years. Many varieties are grown in cultivation. Biological control of heather is being attempted in New Zealand using the heather beetle,Lochnea suturalis.

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