Tag Archives: herbology







Ulex europaeus or common names: Gorse, furze, furse, or whin

Taxonomy: Kingdom: Plantae; Division: Magnoliophyta; Class: Magnoliopsida; Order: Fabales; Family: Fabaceae; Subfamily: Faboideae; Genus: Ulex; Species: U. europaeus; Binomial name: Ulex europaeus L.

Gorse is a common name for the Ulex europaeus, a genus of roughly 20 species of spiny evergreen shrubs that are native to Western Europe and Northwest Africa. It is closely related to the ‘Broom’ Family hosting green stems with small leaves. The plant is extremely dry in its branches and leaves – making it a severe fire hazard with an explosive burst with wildland fires. Because of the quick fire explosions and passing on of the waves of flames – gorse is very good at withstanding fire damage and spreads its seed pods best when torched by wildfire. Burnt stumps will sprout new growth from the roots. The branches host extreme spininess with shoots branching out 1-4 cms long. It can grow up to 2-3 meters tall (7-10 feet). Leaves of younger plants are trifoliate resembling a small clover leaf before they evolve into scales or small spines. All of the species host yellow flowers. Many of these species grow in sunny sites in dry, sandy soils. Flowers bloom from late autumn throughout the winter season with flowers strongest in the spring. Some gorse is always in flower and host a coconut-like scent. Gorse is the perfect environment for wildlife nesting and protecting its inhabitants from predators due to the dense thorny cover.
Culinary: The flowers are edible and often used in salads, tea, and in the manufacture of a non-grape based wine. It is high in protein and commonly used to feed livestock as fodder.
Common uses: Used as livestock fodder. Bundles of gorse used to fire traditional bread ovens. According to Jasmine ( jasmine@archaeosophia.co.uk / http://www.archaeosophia.co.uk ) “Gorse may also used in the vitrification of Iron Age hill-forts in Scotland; experimental archaeology has shown that the temperatures it can reach are high enough to turn rock to glass. The fires would have to be kept burning for about a week to maintain the process… In 1934, Vere Gordon Childe and his colleague designed a test wall that was 12 feet long, six feet wide and six feet high, which was built for them at Plean Colliery in Stirlingshire. “They used old fireclay bricks for the faces and pit props as timber, and filled the cavity between the walls with small cubes of basalt rubble. They covered the top with turf and then piled about four tons of scrap timber and brushwood against the walls and set fire to them. Because of a snowstorm in progress, a strong wind fanned the blazing mixture of wood and stone so that the inner core did attain some vitrification of the rock”. Modern foresters can attest to gorse fires raging across hillsides well in excess of 800 degrees centigrade on open ground – a covered, stoked fire fed over time would be capable of vitrification and gorse not only freely covers most Scottish hillsides, but is one species which seems to actively flourish after fires – the perfect renewable resource.” [Thanks Jasmine!]
Folklore: ‘When gorse is in flower, kissing is in fashion” is a common rhyme.




The Curraugh, Kildare, Ireland

Our Official Page on Gorse is now located at: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/gorse/.

Our Official Page on “Foxglove” is located at http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/foxglove/.

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Foxglove: Digitalis L.

In the field at Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall, England


Digitalis L.; common names: ‘Witches’ Gloves’, ‘Fairy’s Glove’, ‘Gloves of Our Lady’, ‘Virgin’s Glove’, ‘Fairy Caps’, ‘Folk’s Glove’, ‘Fairy Thimbles’, ‘fairy-folks-fingers’, ‘lambs-tongue-leaves’, ‘bloody fingers’, ‘deadman’s bells’.

Taxonomy: Kingdom: Plantae; Angiosperms; Eudicots; Asterids; Lamiales; Plantaginaceae; Digitalis L.; several species including: Digitalis cariensis; Digitalis ciliata; Digitalis davisiana; Digitalis dubia; Digitalis ferruginea; Digitalis grandiflora; Digitalis laevigata; Digitalis lanata; Digitalis leucophaea; Digitalis lutea; Digitalis obscura; Digitalis parviflora; Digitalis purpurea; Digitalis thapsi; Digitalis trojana; Digitalis viridiflora.

This beautiful plant has meant a lot to me through my life – mainly because it saved my daughter’s life. As my daughter was born premature, her heart didn’t close/form properly before arrival – and the first part of her life she had to take dijoxin which is formulated from the Foxglove plant. What a wonderful essence on this planet. Digitalis or Foxglove, is over 20 species of herbaceous perennials, biennials, and shrubs that are native to western Europe, western/central Asia, and northwestern Africa. Leaves are spirally arranged, simple 10-35 cm long/5-12 cm broad grey-green downy with fine toothed margins forming a tight rosette during the first year of the plant’s life. Second year plants are typically 1-2 m tall with showy, terminal, elongated cluster leaves with tubular, pendant, and colorful flowers that are spotted within the flower tube’s bottom. The numerous tubular flowers bloom off a spike ranging in color from purple to white during the summer months. Flowering occurs usually early summer with some flower stems developing later in the season. “Digitalis” means “finger-like” describing to the ease with which one of its flowers can be fitted over a fingertip. The folk name “fox glove” may come from its similar shape and appearance to the ‘foxes glew’, a historic instrument that consisted of a ring of bells hung on an arched support. Its tubular flowers blossom off a tall spike. The colors of the flowers vary from purple to pink, white, and yellow. Digitalis purpurea, aka “Common Foxglove” is the most common species that is grown often as an ornamental plant. Common foxglove produces only a stem with long basal leaves. It grows in acidic soils under partial sunlight to deep shade, found commonly along roadsides, open woods, woodland clearings, moorlands, bogs, heath margins, sea-cliffs, rocky mountain slopes, and hedge banks.

Foxglove prefers partial shade in a well-drained acidic soil that is rich in humus. Established plants will tolerate dry shade. The plant is susceptible to crown rot and needs adequate drainage.

Common uses:
Foxglove is common to gardens for its flowers and appeal.

Medicinal: Digitalis is the main ingredient in the cardiac glycoside “digoxin”. ‘Digitalin’ is also a group of cardiac medicines extracted from foxglove. These are used to treat heart conditions by increasing cardiac contractility and as an antiarrhythmic agent to control the heart rate, particularly in irregular or fast atrial fibrillation. Some use digitalis as a weight loss aid even though this is proven unsafe. Folklorists have also suggested its success with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Historically used for heart treatment. It has also been employed in the treatment of internal hemorrhage, in inflammatory diseases, in delirium tremors, in epilepsy, in acute mania and various other diseases, with real or supposed benefits. It is also a powerful diuretic and valuable remedy for dropsy. County Cork, Ireland it was found to be handy in taking the soft leaves at the plant’s center to utilize for healing cuts. It is for strengthening the heart and regulating heartbeat.


Safety: Very toxic, those suffering an overdose of digitalis may experience anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometime xanthopsia (jaundiced or yellow vision) with the appearance of halos or blurred outlines. Bradycardia can also occur. Depending on the species, it may contain several deadly physiological and chemically related cardiac and steroidal glycosides which lead to the folk names “Dead Man’s Bells” and “Witches Gloves”. The entire plant is toxic including roots and seeds. A nibble can be enough to cause death. Symptoms include but are not limited to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, wild hallucinations, delirium, severe headache, irregular and slow pulse, tremors, various cerebral disturbances, especially of a visual nature, convulsions, and deadly disturbances of the heart. The plant is toxic to animals including all classes of livestock and poultry, as well as felids and canids.
Other uses: Ornamental plant found in gardens. Development of poison through history. Domestic use of the leaves to darken the lines engraved on stone floors creating a mosaic like appearance. 19th century Dubliners dried the leaves and used it as snuff by old women.
Folklore: Northern legends stating that bad fairies gave these blossoms to the fox so that s/he might put them onto their toes to soften tread when prowling among the roosts. Other legends state that the blossoms are to mark where the elves had placed their fingers or that they were warning signs for the baneful juices secreted by the plant as in Ireland’s name for it as “Dead Man’s Thimbles”. Irish folklore considered it unlucky to bring into the home. The Latin “Digitalis” translates to “measuring a finger’s breadth”. It was named after “Fox glove” after “folk’s glove” whereas folk referred to woodland faeries and believed to be their gloves that they wore during raids on chicken coops blaming the thefts on thieves.

Foxglove near Lanyon Quiot, Cornwall, England

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