Other names: Furze, Whin Latin name: Ulex europaeus
Habitat: Roadsides, heath and moorland, the edges golf courses, cliffs and fields
Distribution: Common across the UK and much of Europe from Ireland to Ukraine. Considered to be an invasive pest on the Southern tip of Australia and both the East and West coast of the US.
Just down from where I live, near a gym that only allows men with very wide necks to become members, there are a bunch of gorse bushes growing wild. Although they are framed by the drooping branches of a paper birch and just beyond them are the green hills that surrounds Bristol they are definitely in the city. Yet, when I stop to forage the gorse flowers I’m in another world. The noise of the traffic disappears as I zone into picking the flowers two or three at a time whilst desperately trying not to get pricked by the sharp needles of the gorse bush. I always fail – a small price to pay for such a delicious drink and I’m sure the practice means that one day my technique will improve and my fingers will no doubt thank me.
‘When Gorse is not in bloom, kissing is out of fashion’, goes the old country saying meaning that you can normally find some flowers during any month. That said your fingers will thank you for picking during late winter to early spring as gorse bushes are full of flowers during this time and there will be much less during the rest of the year.
If you are foraging in an urban area try not to totally decimate a bush (if you see just one on its own), as they are a precious source of nectar for the bees when not much else is growing. In the countryside you can be less conservative with your picking as they often grow in abundance. From my experience on walks around the Lake District I doubt even if all of the foragers in the country could pick enough to strip the countryside bare. Especially as gorse can grow so dense that some paths become impenetrable.
It’s no laughing matter as a young Yorkshire man by the name of Dean Bowen found out after a heavy night out at his local on the edge of the North York moors National Park. He was cycling home looking for an old BMX track that he used as a child when he entered what has been described as a gorse cave. 10ft high plants of impenetrable spikes. Once in he couldn’t get out and he ended up spending seven hours in his gorse prison. He stated, “Before I knew it, it turned into the worst kind of brambles you could imagine,” Eventually, he was airlifted to safety when he managed to get the attention of passerby using his cigarette lighter as a beacon. His bike was never found, nor I assume was the BMX track! The rescue pilot was dumbfounded, he said. “He was right in the middle of the gorse. It was as if he had been dropped there by a spaceship”.