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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
The image for heathers
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Heathers: Erica cinerea L. Purple Heather, Bell Heather, Fine-leaved heath, Fraoch a' Bhadain, Fraoch an dearrasain (heath that makes a rustling or buzzing), Fraoch bhadhain (tufted heath), She-heather
The other common Scottish Heathers are: Calluna vulgaris L. synonym Erica vulgaris L. Heather, Ling, Dog heather, Fraoch, Hadder, Hather, Hedder, He-heather. Also Erica tetralix L. Bog heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Fraoch Frangach, Fraoch an ruinnse (rinsing heath), He-heather


Heather,  Erica cinerea L.
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 and authority.

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 viable.

Medicinal uses of heathers
Erica cinerea
Diuretic, Antiseptic
Particularly used for urinary infections.

Listed for Calluna vulgaris
Antiseptic, Cholagogue, Depurative, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant, Sedative, Vasoconstrictor.

Definitons 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.

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,
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 of Europe.
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

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