Heather may be the quintessence of heatharum-hothurum, couthy
postcard Scottish-ness but like thistles, we do have a lot of
it. It is therefore not surprising it might be used for fuel to
cook the dinner, flavouring for it, a drink (alcoholic or not)
afterwards. Then a pipe to play a tune, a brush to clean the dishes
with, another to sweep the floor with, a bed to lie on after,
the roof above to keep the rain out and the ropes to hold the
roof on against the gale.
I remember being at a roup, at an old croft on the
moss with heather thatched buildings, it was pouring with rain
and we did not get wet, so it works. My grandma was fond of the
saying "use what you have and you'll never want" but
it would seem to me just as important that the knowledge of how
to find survival and comfort in the flora and fauna of our environment
is a guard of liberty against a total enslavement by commerce
The Robert Louis Stevenson story of the Pictish
king having his son thrown of the cliff to protect the secret
of heather ale is tongue in cheek, especially in light of the
fact that the product is still on the market! The extent to which
white mutations are regarded as lucky is in part a result of Victorian
'Balmorality'. White heather's luck appears originally to have
been associated mainly with battles; in 1544 Clan Ranald attributed
a victory to the fact they had worn white heather in their bonnets,
and Cluny of Clan MacPherson attributed his escape after Culloden
to the fact that searchers had overlooked him whilst he slept
on a patch of white heather.
Non-medical uses of heathers
A tea can be made from the flowering stems
(Robert Burn's favourite 'moorlan tea' also included the leaves
of bilberry, bramble, speedwell, thyme and wild strawberry) and
of course the famous heather ale, it has also been used as a condiment.
Heather was used for thatching, basket making, brushes and besoms,
for rope making and also for bedding, with the roots downwards
and the tops to lie on. It is also used for fuel and wattle. The
green tops and flowers were the source of a orange/yellow dye.
On Skye, Raasay and Rum, a decoction was used in the tanning of
leather. It can also be used for thermal insulation and the rootstock
for making (musical) pipes, and sgian dubh and dirk handles.
A company called Heathergems make jewellery from compressed heather
stems. This same company made heather and beech floor tiles after
WW2 but stopped that activity because it was not economically
Medicinal uses of heathers
Particularly used for urinary infections.
Listed for Calluna vulgaris
Antiseptic, Cholagogue, Depurative, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant,
of medical actions
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.
Plants For A Future,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/,
Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic
Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and
sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions
The Really WILD Food Guide, www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/index.htm
Commercial producers of Heather Ale and other historic ales. http://www.fraoch.com/index.htm