Heather

Every August, the Scottish hillsides burst into colour as the heather comes into blossom. Heather is such a versatile plant and over the centuries it’s been used for a multitude of household purposes, including:

  • tying bunches together to form brushes, brooms and pot scourers
  • weaving stems together to make attractive baskets and thick hedges
  • stuffing the whole plant into mattresses to create a soft and fragrant bed
  • weaving the tough, wiry stems into ropes for securing animals and boats
  • providing a rustic thatched roof which can last up to a hundred years!

Heather can also be eaten (as a seasoning) and drunk (as tea, beer or ale). We recently tried our hand at brewing heather ale – we boiled heather flowers in water for an hour, then added yeast, hops, honey and ginger – and managed to produce a deliciously refreshing drink with a dark red colour.

Our first attempt at making heather ale produced a delicious, dark red brew

In terms of its medicinal qualities, heather has been used in the treatment of mild urinary diseases and it also helps prevent kidney stones. A traditional remedy for arthritis, gout and rheumatism is to make strong herbal tea from heather and add it to bath water. And the antiseptic power of heather can be used as a mouthwash to relieve aching teeth and gums, as well as to treat minor skin wounds and eczema.

Heather is also an important habitat for wildlife, with birds feeding on its seeds, mammals grazing its young shoots, and nectar-loving bees making dark heather honey.

References
A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests, edited by Fi Martynoga (Saraband, 2019)

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