Foraging for Gorse

(Ulex Europaeus)

Common gorse is a large, evergreen shrub and a member of the pea family. Providing a glorious pop of colour throughout the darkest winter months with it’s beaming yellow flowers, we love to make the most of their coconut-y aroma.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Edible Flowers
Foraging for Gorse (

How to Identify

Gorse is a rather dense, prickly bush (up to 2m tall) with sunshine yellow pea flowers, making it a relatively easy plant to identify.  When in bloom, its petals have a coconut / vanilla aroma. It’s sharp needle-like leaves mean it’s often overlooked and considered a mighty weed – however it reaps delicious, yet occasionally painful rewards.

 

Leaves

Tough, green thorn like needles

 

Flower

Golden yellow, similar to a pea flower. The petals are encased by a hairy, yellow casing when in bud.

 

Seed

When gorse goes to seed, the seed pods are very much like a small pea pod, a dark purple/brown with tiny white hairs and 3-4 seeds inside. They are known to pop open throughout the summer (you can even hear them popping on a hot summer’s day!)

When and Where

Gorse is commonly found growing on heathland and by the coast, generally in full sunlight. It’s prickly leaves mean it’s sensible to wear thick gloves when picking!

 

There’s an old saying that “when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion”! It’s worth noting that there are three types of Gorse here in the UK, which means you can generally find a Gorse bush that’s flowering all year round!

 

Common Gorse (ulex europaeus)
Found throughout the UK – flowers Jan- June

 

Western Gorse (ulex gallu)
Found in Wales / West England – flowers July to November

 

Dwarf Gorse (ulex minor)
Found in the South East of England – flowers July to November.

 

To best capture the scent, we recommend picking on a bright sunny day and using as quickly as possible.

Flavour and How to Use

The flowers and the buds are edible only (in small quantities). The peas and their pods are toxic.

 

Here are a few ideas on how to feature gorse in your kitchen larder:

 

  • With their coconut/floral/vanilla flavours, the flower petals can be infused in liqueurs, enjoyed as a tea or used to make syrups and cordials.
  • The flowers are best used fresh, and bear in mind the petals don’t survive considerable heating! The addition of citrus peel to your infusions is recommended to bring out the flavour. Gorse infusions result in a brilliant yellow liquid.
  • The petals can also be added to breads and cakes, giving off brilliantly vibrant yellow flecks throughout your bakes.
  • The petals can be dried and made into a flavoured sugar.
  • When infused in fat (such as cream), the flavour is wonderful – for example in an ice-cream or pannacotta pudding.
  • The buds can be pickled in vinegar as a great alternative to a caper.
  • Use the petals fresh in salads and as a pretty garnish.

Medicinal Properties

Unlike most wild ingredients, there appears to be little research into the medicinal properties and potential benefits of Gorse. Saying that, Gorse is one of the plants used in Bach flower remedies – to support ‘Hopelessness’ and ‘Despair’.

History and Folklore

Long used as an effective hedging solution, creating a solid, rather spiky barrier. Traditionally, common gorse was foraged for a multitude of reasons including fodder for livestock, fuel for fires and kilns, as a traditional dye for clothing, and bound together to make floor and chimney sweeping brushes.

 

In folklore, Gorse is celebrated as a symbol of the power of the sun, with its brilliant yellow flowers often being one of the only bright colours adorning the winter landscape.

Things to Note

In large quantities, it’s worth noting that gorse contains small quantities of toxic alkaloids that can affect blood pressure, therefore it’s recommended to consume in moderation.

 

If picking during the winter months, the flavour is said to be a little more subdued.

 

The petals are encased by a hairy, yellow casing (called a calyx), which can be a little bitter. When picking, always ensure to pick the open buds as the bud casing are rather ‘furry’ and can be unpleasant to swallow!

 

It’s recommended to only infuse the petals for 24-36 hours. Whilst not essential for infusions, removing as many of the calyxs is generally a good idea if you have the patience, to reduce the bitterness.

 

Always check the buds for tiny white maggots before using in the kitchen.

 

As a dense, prickly evergreen – the gorse bush is an incredible source of food and shelter for wildlife, particularly during the colder winter months. Burnt gorse ashes are also said to be an incredible fertiliser, also used combined with vegetable oil to make a natural based soap. The pods and the seeds, whilst not fit for human consumption, are said to be a very effective flea repellent when soaked.

Possible Confusions

Broom is also a large, deciduous shrub, similar in appearance to gorse with bright yellow blooms, but without the spiky spines.

Broom Flowers possible confusion for Gorse Flowers
Broom

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

All of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.

 

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.