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Gorse Ulex europaeus

other names: Prickly Broom (not to be confused with Broom Cytisus Scoparius), Furze, Whin.

Gorse, an alternative source of proteinToday we’ll be teaching you how to make good use of a widespread, albeit overlooked and potentially irritating shrub. Despite causing considerable trouble through excessive thorns, Gorse can be something of a saviour to a hungry traveller, makes for nutritious animal fodder, and is an easy to identify plant well worth knowing if you’re ever unlucky enough to find yourself in a survival scenario!

Why we love it.

The main point of interest to us as foragers would be the high protein content of the flowers since, without chasing down an animal anyway, protein is a tricky nutrient to find in the wild. Especially important is that Gorse flowers continue throughout most of the year, meaning you can access the nutrients at even the otherwise hungry months of winter – hence my post today! Most petals are a good source of vitamin C, an important antioxidant that works to support many body processes.

Gorse has been used throughout the centuries as a source of natural dye and for adding flavour to smoked fish and game. If warmth is in order Gorse burns hot and fast, apparently enjoying a good wild fire; despite being consumed itself the root systems are hardy and will re-sprout, and the seed pods release after a fire for the next generation to begin.

Even if the shrub had no edible use, it would still be the hero for beautifying an otherwise scarred waste area or wind-battered patch of coastal scrub-land with it’s attractive bright yellow flowers, and it helps to fix nitrogen into the soil for other plants to make use of, improving the land.

Nature also benefits from having a prickly refuge from the elements and predators, keep an eye out for snakes if you’re in the right area in Spring and Summer - which I understand can be a positive or negative experience depending on your fear level so hopefully I haven’t put you off! An old method of protecting young saplings from rabbit and deer nibbling is to surround them with a barrier of cut gorse (which goes on to feed the tree as it decomposes!), frankly 100 times better in my opinion than the horrid plastic jackets that are left behind to serve no-one...

Lastly the winter flowers give any out-of-hibernation bees and other insects a bit of support when they need it most, an important reason to never strip away all of the available flowers if you can help it when gathering. There’s a rather lovely saying that you should kiss your loved ones while Gorse is in bloom, so all year round then! Ah ♥ :)


Gorse, an alternative source of protein. Gathering Method detail & tips.

When gathering Gorse one must beware of the spines, pop on a pair of gloves if you need to though I don’t figure them as brutal as some other prickly plants can be (from a gathering perspective anyway, I wouldn’t want to attempt to walk through a patch!). As irritating as the spines are to work around, they are a valuable identification marker - as mentioned above, do not confuse Gorse with Broom which is poisonous and has no spines. As always, care should be taken when foraging to ensure that you are still picking from the correct plant, and not a lookalike growing in the same location.


Where do you find it & what does it look like?

You’ll find Gorse almost anywhere on high ground but most notably in places with sandy or poor quality soil; the coast, heath areas, scrub land and roadside embankments. It’s other name Furze refers to its preferred habitat of waste ground.


Gorse is an evergreen, reaching heights of up to 10 feet in some places, its colour coming from the tough modified-leaf spines rather than the trifoliate leaves it starts life with which quickly die back as it arms itself. The seeds and seed pods are inedible.

The prolific yellow flowers are a similar shape to that of the pea and smell of coconut, sometimes likened to vanilla, appearing in early spring. They reach their peak of flowering around April and May, sometimes to the extent that hardly a spine can be seen through the mass of yellow, and continue in lesser quantities throughout most of the year.

The weather may play a part in the strength of the scent as there are times when I can hardly smell anything of a picked bloom, other times having been stopped in my tracks by the inviting perfume flowing from the bushes.

There’s a rather lovely saying that you should kiss your loved ones while Gorse is in bloom, so all year round then!

European or Common Gorse is the most commonly occurring variety to be found around the UK, though there are other smaller variations (Dwarf and Western Gorse) in other areas. It really doesn’t matter which version you have, as long as it’s Gorse and not Broom...


So what do you do with it?

You can eat the flowers and buds raw just as they are, which is always the best way to get the most nutrients for your gathering effort. Graze on them as you tread, ancestor-style, or scatter them prettily over a salad – the latter sure to impress!

Gorse flowers in a salad. #Wildfood #alternativesourceofprotein #edibleflowers

 Gorse flowers in a salad. #edibleflowers #alternativesourceofprotein #wildfood


Gorse flowers have been used for centuries to flavour wine or beer and apparently also make a nice tea. Eat The Weeds has a recipe for Gorse Wine, and I remember River Cottage making an inspired version of Pina Colada in one of their episodes.

If you want them in the cupboard for later, the flower buds can be pickled and supposedly make a good substitute for capers.

Susan Clark at the Ecologist I’d say wins the internet with her recipe for Gorse-infused home made Ice Cream and Jelly!


Warning! Although the flowers of Gorse are edible, like many wild foods they shouldn’t be eaten in overly large or regular quantities due to the presence of slightly toxic compounds that can build up in the system over time.


What do you think? Have you tried Gorse, or had a run in with its spines? ;) We’d love to hear from you so leave us a comment below!


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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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