Gorse, GoldenBotanical Name: Ulex europaeus (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Leguminosae
Synonyms: Furze. Broom. Whin. Prickly Broom. Ruffet. Frey. Goss.
Parts Used: Flowers, seed.
Habitat: It is found from Denmark to Italy, the Canaries and Azores, and in every part of Great Britain, though it is rarer in the north. There is probably hardly a heath in the country which lacks a patch, however small, of the dry-soil-loving Furze.
The Golden Gorse (Ulex Europaeus, Linn.) is conspicuous in waste places and on commons throughout Great Britain, from its spiny branches and bright yellow flowers, situated on the spines, either solitary or in pairs. It is thought to be the Scorpius of Theophrastus and the Ulex of Pliny. By botanists before Linnaeus, it was known as a Broom and called Genista spinosa. Linnaeus restored to it the name of Ulex, by which it has ever since been recognized. Although it looks so sturdy, it is not very hardy. Severe frosts are liable to injure it, and during some exceptionally severe winters whole tracts of it on open commons have perished. Linnaeus, we are told in Johnson's Useful Plants of Great Britain: 'lamented that he could not keep Furze alive in Sweden, even in a greenhouse. It was one of his favourite plants, though the wellknown story of his falling on his knees when first seeing it in this country and thanking Heaven for having created a flower so beautiful is of rather doubtful authenticity as it is likewise related of Dillenius.' Description: The plant is a dense, muchbranched, stunted shrub, rarely attaining a height of more than 6 feet. It is evergreen, but the leaves are very minute and fall off early, not being present in the older stages, when they take the form of long, thread-like spines, which are straight and furrowed, or branching. The stem is hairy and spreading. The golden-yellow, papilionaceous flowers have a powerful scent, perfuming the air. They open from early spring right up to August, or even later, but the bushes are to be found in blossom, here and there practically all the year round, hence the old saying: 'When Gorse is out of bloom, Kissing's out of season,' and an old custom in some parts of the country of inserting a spray of Gorse in the bridal bouquet, is an allusion to this. The following reference to its continuous flowering appeared in the Chemist and Druggist of January 15, 1921. The writer says: 'Sir, The impression that is prevalent concerning the perennial flowering of the common Furze is a very natural, although a mistaken one.
'The ordinary furze, U. Europaeus, begins to flower in December, is in full bloom in March and April, and continues sometimes in a desultory manner as late as June. Then the Dwarf Furze begins to flower, and is in lull bloom in August. When mixed with the heather - then in blossom - it forms gorgeous purple and gold carpets wherever, as in Jersey, it is abundant. U. Gallii then takes up the tale, and from August to November blossoms freely. U. Europaeus is rarely less than 2 ft. high when it begins to flower: the U. Nanus has a decumbent habit, and is rarely more than 1 1/2 ft. high, and the flowers are paler and do not expand the wings widely. U. Gallii is easily recognized by the larger lateral spines of the branches being decurved, and the flowers more of an orange tint. But an ordinary observer would discount these differences, if noticed at all, and merely regard the other species as more or less dwarf plants. U. Gallii is sometimes as short as U. nanus, and sometimes as tall as U. Europaeus, but may always be recognized by the stout spines curved backwards. .......'Yours truly, .......'SEMPERVIRENS.' Its elastic seed-vessels, like those of the Broom, burst with a crackling noise in hot weather and scatter the seeds on all sides.
The Gorse has not as many uses as the Broom, nor is it of such importance medicinally.
'In France,' to quote Syme and Sowerby, British Botany, 1864, 'it is used for burning, being cut down every few years, in places where it grows naturally. In Surrey and other counties, it is used largely as fuel, especially by bakers in their ovens and is cultivated for that purpose and cut down every three years. When burned, it yields a quantity of ashes rich in alkali, which are sometimes used for washing, either in the form of a solution or lye, or mixed with clay and made into balls, as a substitute for soap. The ashes form an excellent manure and it is not uncommon where the ground is covered with Furze bushes to burn them down to improve the land and to secure a crop of young shoots, which are readily eaten by cattle. In some parts of England, it is usual to put the Furze bushes into a mill to crush the thorns and then to feed horses and cows with the branches. When finely cut or crushed, sheep will readily eat it.'
The bruised shoots form a very nutritious fodder and when well bruised are eaten with much relish by horses, and cows are said to give good milk upon this food alone. When crushed, it is necessary to use it quickly, as the mass soon ferments. The variety of Furze found in the west of England and in Ireland, called U. strictus, is the best for this purpose, its shoots being softer and more succulent. It has terminal bunches of flowers.
Professor Henslow (Uses of British Plants, 1905) states that Furze 'has also been used chopped up into small pieces and sown in drills with Peas, proving a good defence against the attack of birds and mice.'
The leaf-buds have been used as a substitute for tea and the flowers yield a beautiful yellow dye.
The seeds are said to be nutritious, but do not appear to have been used for cattle feeding, though in earlier days they were sometimes employed medicinally.
Goldsmith calls the Furze 'unprofitably gay,' but Furze is not 'unprofitable.' It is usually cut once in three years, and its ashes, after burning, yield a serviceable dressing for the land.
Gorse is frequently sown as a shelter to very young trees in plantations and as a cover for game and makes excellent hedges when kept closely cut, but is only to be recommended for this purpose in mild climates or sheltered situations, as it is always liable to be cut off by hard frost. Wherever sown, it requires to be kept free from weeds during the first year or two. Like Broom, it grows well near the sea.
The name Ulex was given it by Pliny, but its signification is unknown. He states that the plant was used in the collection of gold, being laid down in water to catch any golddust brought down by the water.
The word Furze is derived from the AngloSaxon name fyrs, while Gorse is also from the A.-S. gorst (a waste), a reference to the open moorlands on which it is found.
Medicinal Action and Uses: The plant has never played an important part in herbal medicine.
Parkinson tells us that 'some have used the flowers against the jaundice.' An infusion of the blossoms used to be given to children to drink in scarlet-fever.
Gerard states: 'the seeds are employed in medicines against the stone and staying of the laske' (laxness of the bowels). They have some astringent property, containing tannin.
Old writers also tell-us that 'sodden with honey, it clears the mouth' and that it 'is good against snake-bite.'
It had an old reputation as an insecticide: 'Against fleas, take this same wort, with its seed, sodden; sprinkle it into the house; it killeth the fleas.'
In 1886 A. W. Gerrard discovered an alkaloid in the seeds, more powerful as a purgative than the Sparteine obtained from Cytisus scoparius (Link) (Pharm. Journal, Aug. 7, 1886). This was named Ulexine. In 1890 the German scientist Kobert, as the result of much investigation, came to the conclusion that Ulexine and Cytisine are identical. He also found indication of a second alkaloid. The suggestion gave rise to a considerable chemico-physiological discussion (see Pharm. Journal, Feb. 1891). Ulexine has been used in cardiac dropsy, the dose being from 1/15 to 1/20, of a grain.