Flowering season: late summer- early autumn. (It’s just about over now but there are some flowers left in sheltered spots.)
Habitat: bog land, mountain sides, heaths and moors.
Folklore: A Country Kerry saying equates heather with poor land and poverty; “Gold under furze, silver under rushes and famine under heather.”
White heather however, is carried and gifted for luck and protection. It is believed that the white flowers only grow where the fairies have been. Whilst the purple flowers are said to be stained with blood. Indeed, it was believed purple heather grew where blood had been shed. (Given the bloodied history of this land it is no surprise then that our Glens and bog-lands are a flurry of purple each year!)
It is said that in perpetual grief heather will never grow on the graves of the Scottish clansmen killed at the battle of Culloden. And, as sprigs of white heather were carried by the Scots into battle for protection they also became a symbol of independence; interesting then that a sprig is often slipped into a bridal bouquet.
Dried it makes a great fuel/kindling however superstition states that to burn heather will bring rain.
Additionally Victorian symbolism, in its romanticism, (and perhaps in ignorance of history and Gaelic folk belief) holds that purple heather symbolises beauty or worthy admiration.
Folk uses: Heather was used for brooms, to stuff bedding, dye yarn yellow and even to brew ale.
The flowering tips of the shrub, including the leaves and stems can be brewed into a tea and used to treat various urinary tract problems including kidney stones. The tea can also be used to treat digestive issues such as diarrhoea and colic, as well as rheumatic pains. It was a treatment for a weak heart, and used to cure coughs and relieve asthma.
The same, strongly brewed tea (4 spoonfuls of heather per cup), is added to bath water or used on wounds as a healing aid and an antiseptic.
A heather bath can also be used to treat arthritis and gout.
The tea can also act as a mild sedative but is also a diuretic so don’t take too much before bed.
*N.B: These are folk remedies and are recounted for informative purposes only, please consult a doctor or other qualified medical professional if you suffer from any of the mentioned conditions!*