Gorse (Urex Europaeus)
Have you ever tasted gorse flowers? They have an interesting slight coconut / vanilla flavor with floral hints which you wouldn't expect. Gorse flowers can be used in wild brewing, cordials, syrups and all sorts of wild drinks. It apparently makes a great wine, and can be added to herbal teas (the dried flowers look gorgeous in your homegrown herbal tea blends).
However it takes soooo long to pick each flower, and it's a scratchy, uncomfortable business, so you might want to start small with your experiments! Lately I've been picking some of the gorgeous yellow flowers to dehydrate, powder and roll my bliss balls in.
Apparently the flowers yield a yellow dye which I'd like to experiment with.
Gorse (Urex europaeus) is part of the pea/legume family. It's for that reason that Gorse was loved by the early British and originally brought over to New Zealand (where it went wild and is now considered a pest).
In Britain Gorse was planted in mass to enrich the soil (legume family plants are all nitrogen fixers, fixing nitrogen into the soil via their roots). It was planted in agricultural areas to improve & enrich the soil. Every part of the plant was valued, to the point that laws were passed to ensure that it wasn't overharvested (can you believe it!). The plant was well managed to prevent spreading, the young shoots were used to feed livestock, the oil rich wood as firewood, the ashes to make soaps & as a rich source of potassium to be used as a fertiliser. The roots were used to stabilise loose soil & prevent erosion.
Gorse flowers provide valuable nectar and food for bees during winter when not many other plants are flowering, and in fact it can be found flowering most of the year.
Gorse is a valued medicine in the Bach flower essences, used for those feeling hopeless to encourage hope & faith.
It's such a shame that this plant has taken off in New Zealand and is now considered such a pest. But this is the case with most so called 'weeds'.
Whilst our ancestors highly valued ('weeds' & 'pests') for food/medicine/firewood etc, we now see them as weeds and shun them, to our own detriment.
The good news is that despite popular belief, Gorse can sometimes act as a great nurse crop for NZ native plants & regenerating forest (in well managed, long term situations). They shelter and nurture the young natives, protecting them from wind & sun and trampling (from deer, goats & pigs), and then when the native gets tall enough to shade out the gorse, it dies back & feeds and enriches the soil.
This is the life of many 'weeds', who actually provide great nursery settings for trees then feed the soil (although not all 'weeds').
I do think that if we learnt more about our plants history, and the plants use by our ancestors, we could make friends with and appreciate so many plants that are growing ABUNDANTLY at our fingertips. (which would in turn reduce reliance on pharmaceutical companies & expensive imported exotic 'superfoods'.)
Please note that I do not encourage or endorse the introduction of exotic plants into New Zealand, or their planting or spreading. Foreign species often have a way of taking over and all too often endangering our native species (eg possums). However, if the plant is already here and growing abundantly, then I think it's worthwhile exploring it's many uses, how to manage effectively and making the most of it.
You won't have to look to hard to find gorse in NZ, as unfortunately it is a pest in many regions and you'll find hillsides covered in it. However given it's often a pest it's usually heavily sprayed, so be careful when picking for consumption. Always pick flowers on a warm sunny day, on the sun facing side of the plant (the damp flowers will decompose very quickly).
Gorse features in my Winter Foraging Guide, which can be downloaded under 'Foraging Guides'. Lots more detailed information, photos, comprehensive ID, nutritional + medicinal properties, how to prepare, recipes, folklore & history.