Foraging for gorse flowers is a great way to connect with nature and add a unique flavour to your every day food preparation. The bright yellow gorse blooms have a subtle coconut and vanilla aroma and can be used to make a fragrant syrup, an aromatic tea, or simply to brighten up a salad.
The blooming season is stretching from January to June, which means that you can enjoy gorse flowers most of the year.
The botanical name for the gorse plant is Ulex europaeus. It belongs to the plant family Fabaceae. Common names for this plant include common gorse, European gorse, furze, and whin.
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Where to find gorse in the UK
In the UK, gorse can be found in a variety of habitats including coastal areas, heathlands, wasteland, and forest edges. It thrives on poor soils where there is little competition, such as shingle banks and sandy soils, and is common across the country. The plant is widespread and can also be found in towns and gardens.
gorse flowering season
Gorse flowers are known for their extended flowering season, as they can bloom at various times throughout the year. Common gorse generally flowers from January to June, although it may flower sporadically all year round. In contrast, Western gorse and Dwarf gorse typically flower from July to October. This extended blooming period leads to the saying, “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season,” implying that gorse is almost always in flower.
When it’s the best time to pick gorse flowers
The peak flowering season is April and May. During this period, the gorse flowers are most abundant and fragrant. It’s best to pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day, as this is when their aroma is strongest and they are less likely to be damp, which can lead to spoilage.
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How to identify gorse plant and flowers
- Gorse is a large, evergreen shrub that can grow up to 1-2 meters tall.
- The plant has bright yellow pea-like flowers that are often abundant and can bloom throughout the year, with a peak flowering season from January to June. The flowers have a scent reminiscent of coconut.
- Gorse has green, spiny, and needle-like leaves that are modified to reduce water loss, making them well-adapted to dry conditions.
- The shrub has very prickly stems and branches, which can make it quite impenetrable.
How to use gorse flowers in cooking
Gorse flowers can be used in lots of different ways in cooking as they have a subtle coconut and almond-like flavour which works with a lot of dishes.
- Gorse Flower Syrup: Gorse flowers can be infused with sugar and water to create a syrup that can be used in cocktails, desserts, or drizzled over pancakes and waffles. A recipe for gorse flower syrup includes gorse flowers, sugar, water, and sometimes citrus for additional flavour.
- Gorse Flower Cordial: Similar to syrup, a cordial is a sweet, concentrated liquid that can be diluted. It’s made with gorse flowers, sugar, water, and often lemon juice and zest of an orange.
- Gorse Flower Ice Cream: The flowers can be infused into cream to make a uniquely flavored ice cream, capturing the essence of gorse’s coconut scent
- Gorse Flower Tea: Gorse flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a fragrant tea. This can be enjoyed on its own or blended with other herbs.
- Salads: Fresh gorse flowers can be sprinkled over salads to add color and a slight nutty taste.
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How to safely forage for gorse flowers
- Bring the right equipment: Gorse is a very spiny plant, and care should be taken to avoid being pricked when picking the flowers. It’s advisable to wear gloves and use scissors or secateurs to snip the flowers from the plant.
- Be careful if you have allergies: As with any wild plant, individuals may have allergies to gorse flowers. It’s important to try a small amount first to ensure there is no adverse reaction.
- Only harvest the flowers: The seeds and green parts of the gorse plant are considered toxic due to the presence of alkaloids. Only the yellow flowers should be consumed, and even these should be eaten in moderation as they can have a mild diuretic effect.
- Pick gorse flowers free of pesticides and pollutants: Ensure that the area where you are foraging is free from pesticides, herbicides, and other contaminants. Avoid foraging near busy roads or industrial areas where plants may have absorbed harmful substances.
- Legality and conservation: Make sure that foraging is permitted in the area you are in, and practice sustainable foraging by taking only what you need and leaving plenty for wildlife and regrowth.
- Prepare the flowers before eating: Proper preparation is important when using gorse in cooking. The flowers should be clean and free from insects or debris.
How to use gorse flowers as a herb
Gorse has been traditionally used in folk medicine for various ailments. In Irish folk medicine, gorse was used to treat conditions like coughs, colds, sore throats, tuberculosis, asthma, heartburn, hiccups, jaundice, and heart problems. However, it’s important to note that while gorse has been used in traditional remedies, there is limited scientific research to support these uses. Modern herbalists may not commonly use gorse, and it should be approached with caution due to the lack of substantial evidence supporting its medicinal properties.
Always consult with a healthcare provider before trying any new treatment, especially those involving wild plants, as they can have adverse effects and interact with other medications.
This blog post was originally written on 10 February 2024 and last updated on 10 February 2024