Gorse / Onn / Teine


This prickly little bush is hardly a tree, but it’s linked to the letter O in the Gaelic alphabet, and deserves its place if for no other reason than its year-round golden flowers. As the Scottish saying goes, ‘if gorse is not in flower, kissing’s not in season’!

It is at its wildest and most highly scented in May – is it coconut, that scent, or pineapple, or vanilla? It’s exotic, anyway.  It grows on many otherwise bare hillsides in Scotland, originally probably planted for fodder for animals, and you can see sheep screwing up their eyes to munch on it, despite its prickles.

The gorse is out behind Glencanisp

The hill is a blaze of rapefield yellow,

formica kitchen table yellow,

angry bawling teenage drumkit yellow

though honey biscuit sweet

with pale primroses at its feet

a demure cuckoo across the glen

and dandelions and tormentils below

all yellow, yellow, yellow.

Mandy Haggith

Here’s a lovely burst of summer gorse, from Sheree Mack, who was poet in residence in Dunbar during July (see her blog here) and came to visit us on Gorse day!

As I Drive North

The fierce fire of furze
greets me from the motorway embankment. It is difficult to keep
my eyes away from the glowing blooms and focus on the road ahead.

The tarmac sings under my wheels
as I crack the window. Rich heavy laden coconut and vanilla air invades my metal cage reminding me to smile. To breathe.

To stop a while and warm my soul by this jaundiced blaze would be enough to sustain me in days to come when I am lost in a concrete maze of demands and distractions.

I continue my journey knowing the barbed spikes will prick my inward eye like tears, allowing my heart to be warmed once  more by the golden gorse.

Sheree Mack

And another gorse poem, by Billy McKirdy from Craigmillar.


A yellow green gorse
Clothing and dressing the slopes
A sight, a haven

Thick, deep and densely
Protecting, embracing life
Within it’s cover

A perfume, so sweet
Tantalising and lovely
Pleasing the senses

Eternally here
Even in fiery death
It lives on again

We see it and smile
Its beauty and its presence
This yellow green gorse

Billy McKirdy

Titbits of folklore

Gorse is the 14th letter of the Gaelic tree alphabet, for O – in old Gaelic it was onn or oir (gold). In Modern Gaelic it’s conasg.

Conasg (Gaelic for gorse) means prickly or armed, appropriately enough as it’s the spiniest plant around.

As gorse’s branches, twigs and leaves are all spiny, which reduces water loss, it can survive extreme exposure to wind and salt.

Other regional names for gorse are whin or furze. In latin, it’s Ulex europaeus.

Gorse bears yellow flowers all year round, and as they say, ‘When gorse is in bloom, kissing is in season.’

Gorse is a symbol of the sun god Lugh, as it carries a spark of sun all year.

Bees love gorse and it’s a good source of food for them on warm winter days and in early spring.

In late spring, gorse flowers smell of coconut and vanilla.

Here’s a poem from me, The Gorse is out behind Glencanisp. Audio too. http://www.pankmagazine.com/the-gorse-is-out-behind-glencanisp/

A decoction of gorse flowers counters jaundice.

Gorse seed pods explode in hot sun.

Gorse fixes nitrogen due to symbiosis with a bacterium in the roots.

Horses that eat gorse don’t catch colds (but presumably end up with perforated gums…)

The fierce fire of furze is ideal for baking.

Gorse boughs were used for creel-making. Ouch.

Gorse is a good windbreak and a gorse bush is the best place to dry washing – it naturally pins it in place.

A bundle of gorse is excellent for sweeping chimneys.

Here’s a recipe for gorse flower wine. http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/brewing/fetch-recipe.php?rid=gorse-flower-wine

Gorse flowers give yellow and green dyes.

Gorse bark gives a dark green dye. Add a bucket of urine and wait 3 hours.

Gorse lifts the spirits of the downhearted, and restores faith.

Festival of the Golden Gorse is celebrated on 1 August (Lughnasa).

Gorse protects against witches.

Gorse’s magic is good for bringing a piece of work, a project, a relationship or a troublesome thing to a complete and final end.

Gorse symbolises joy.

Remember the nitrogen-fixing? Grow gorse for 7 years and the ground will be excellent for corn.

In 1778 a gorse crushing mill was set up in Perth. One acre of crushed gorse bushes will keep 6 horses in fodder for 4 months.

Bring gorse into the house in May to ‘bring in the summer’.

Giving someone gorse flowers is unlucky, for both giver and receiver. Best keep them for yourself!

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