Ulex europaeus / Gaspeldoorn / Common Gorse
Gorse has never played much of a role in herbal medicine, though its flowers have been used in the treatment of jaundice and as a treatment for scarlet fever in children. The seed is said to be astringent and has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and stones. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Hopelessness' and 'Despair'.
Dye; Fertilizer; Fuel; Hedge; Hedge; Insecticide; Pioneer; Soap making; Soil stabilization.
A beautiful yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. It is orange according to another report. Gorse is very tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be used as a windbreak hedge in the most exposed positions, making an impenetrable barrier with its vicious thorns. Planted for soil stabilization on sandy substrates, it is very good for stabilizing roadside banks on poor soils. Gorse is an excellent pioneer species for poor soils and areas with maritime exposure. It is fast-growing, feeds the soil with nitrogen and provides good conditions for woodland trees to become established. These trees will eventually out-compete the gorse, which is unable to reproduce well in the shady conditions and will thus gradually die out[K]. The plant has an old reputation as a pesticide, the soaked seed being used against fleas. The wood burns very well, it was much used in the past for kindling, heating bakers ovens etc. The ashes from the burnt wood are rich in potassium and can be used in making soap. This soap can be made by mixing the ashes with a vegetable oil, or mixing them with clay and forming them into balls. The ashes are also an excellent fertilizer.
There are lots of good things to say about Gorse used for hedging - it's native, evergreen, very very prickly and has a terrifically long flowering season from very early Spring (even when it still feels like Winter) until mid Summer. There's an old country saying "when Gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion!".
It's flowers are pea-like as Gorse is from the legume family - and they're the colour of egg yolks and very fragrant.
Gorse is particularly good on poor soils (even sandy soils or rocks) as long as it's well drained and it has nitrogen fixing capacit so it can improve the soil for the benefit of other plants.
It's not a fast grower (15-30cm pa) but will grow to 2.5m and is particularly recommended for intruder-proof hedging because its spines are so vicious. It's also very good for windy, exposed, coastal sites and historically was used as a windbreak which could be cut to provide animal feed. Its dense prickly nature provides good wildlife shelter. Whilst Gorse will tolerate alkaline soils, it's particularly good on acid soils.