31 August 2021
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!
In fact, we were so taken with the beauty and versatility of heather, that we themed one of the rooms in our B&B around this ingenuous plant (the other two rooms are called Rose and Willow).
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.
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. We recently discovered in our garden a nest of bees, who are sure to be feasting on the local heather, and we have in fact toyed with the idea of getting a bee hive someday. When we do get around to doing that, we can’t wait to taste the heather honey they’ll hopefully produce.
A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests, edited by Fi Martynoga (Saraband, 2019)