Latin Name: Ulex europaeus
Alternative Name(s): Furze.
Known Hazards: None known.
Habitat: Moors, commons and heaths, preferring dry soils.
Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)
Medicinal Rating: 1 (1-5)
Physical Characteristics: Shrub to 2.5 (rarely to 4) m high. Stems longitudinally striate, green when young, brown when older. Leaves consisting of 3 leaflets on seedlings but are reduced to spines to 3 cm long on older plants. Seeds green to brown, usually 2–6 per seedpod.
Flowers: Produced all year round but mainly late winter to spring and in autumn.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, beetles. It can fix Nitrogen. It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Distinguishing features: Distinguished by spines instead of leaves on mature plants; yellow pea-like flowers, 1.5–2.5 cm long; seedpods densely hairy, 1–2 cm long.
Dispersal: Spread by seed.
The flower buds are pickled in vinegar and then used like capers in salads. A tea is made from the shoot tips.
Gorse has never played much of a role in herbal medicine, though its flowers have been used in the treatment of jaundice and as a treatment for scarlet fever in children. The seed is said to be astringent and has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and stones. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Hopelessness’ and ‘Despair’.
Dye; Fertilizer; Fuel; Hedge; Insecticide; Pioneer; Soap making; Soil stabilization. A beautiful yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. It is orange according to another report. Gorse is very tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be used as a windbreak hedge in the most exposed positions, making an impenetrable barrier with its vicious thorns. Planted for soil stabilization on sandy substrates, it is very good for stabilizing roadside banks on poor soils. Gorse is an excellent pioneer species for poor soils and areas with maritime exposure. It is fast-growing, feeds the soil with nitrogen and provides good conditions for woodland trees to become established. These trees will eventually out-compete the gorse, which is unable to reproduce well in the shady conditions and will thus gradually die out. The plant has an old reputation as a pesticide, the soaked seed being used against fleas. The wood burns very well, it was much used in the past for kindling, heating bakers ovens etc. The ashes from the burnt wood are rich in potassium and can be used in making soap. This soap can be made by mixing the ashes with a vegetable oil, or mixing them with clay and forming them into balls. The ashes are also an excellent fertilizer.
Notes: Only a small proportion of seeds germinate at any time. Up to 10,000 seeds per square metre have been recorded in soil below Gorse bushes. Seedlings are not spiny and are grazed by stock. Gorse thickets provide cover for rabbits and prevent stock grazing infested areas. Gorse is a major forestry weed in New Zealand. Dense stands are highly flammable. Fire breaks seed dormancy and produces a thick crop of seedlings. Gorse is regarded as a major weed in New Zealand, Chile and the western states of the USA. Gorse has been used as a hedge plant. Biological control agents have been introduced for Gorse control in Australia.