I’m a passionate forager – who doesn’t love something for free and wild organic food at that! Throughout the winter the outside larder here at Reuthes is more limited to the herb fat hen, wild mustard, winter purslane and hemlock pine needles that we use for smoking fish and vegetables. But we are approaching Springtime here at The Lost Gardens and our pantry options are starting to emerge from their winter slumbers. The most vibrant of them being the gorse bushes with their vibrant yellow flowers that love our sandy Greensand Ridge soil conditions.
While you can eat the flowers, which have a mild coconut-almond flavour, right off the plant, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t eat too many, as they contain mildly toxic alkaloids.
There are quite a few gorse flower recipes, including wine, cordial, and tea. Interestingly, the flowers and roots are also used as a traditional dye for clothing and fabric, producing a vivid yellow colour. They can also be used to dye Easter eggs.
The branches can be cut and placed around young the base of small fruit trees and bushes to deter deer and other herbivorous pests. It has the added bonus of releasing nitrogen into the soil as it decomposes, fuelling growth and improving soil condition.
The branches were commonly used as fuel for baker’s ovens and, because of their high alkali content, the ashes are prized as a soil dressing. The ashes were also used as a detergent, mixed with water as a solution, or added to clay and formed into balls or bars as a soap substitute.
Also note: no other parts of the plant is edible – it’s only the flowers that are edible. However, you can soak the seeds and use the mixture as a potent flea repellent.
I’m drying our gorse blooms so that I can incorporate them into a special gin-based cocktail to serve at our Eats ‘n Drinks Festival 7th-9th May. Our limited edition Reuthes Gin that incorporates botanicals foraged from The Lost Gardens is available to buy at our Basecamp Café or online at https://reuthes.com/products/limited-edition-reuthes-gin