There is an old saying “when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion”, as it seems the plant is thought to be always in bloom. No matter whether it is a hot summer or a frozen winter, there is always a bush in bloom.
Its golden yellow flowers open from early spring right up to the end of summer. However, the shrubs are to be found in blossom pretty much all the year round, including December! Their pea-like flowers have a noticeable coconut scented perfume that fills the air on hot summer days.
Description and species
Gorse (Ulex sp), also known as prickly broom, furze or whin, is a genus of spiny evergreen shrubs with yellow flowers in the pea family (Fabaceae). They are related to brooms (Genisteae sp) and are very similar, but the last are not prickly.
The genus Ulex comprises about 20 species, but only 3 can be found in the UK: common gorse (Ulex europaeus), western gorse (Ulex gallii) and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor). All of them are edible and very similar in taste.
This dense shabby-looking shrub is covered in lethal looking spikes that protect the bright yellow florets that will follow by slender black pods. These noisy buggers explode like mad, scattering seeds at long distances.
Notes on edibility
The only edible part of the plant is the flower, which has a slight coconut aroma that apparently not everybody experiences with the same profusion. The flavour is more almondy, some say pea-shoot taste, depending on the bush being exposed to sun or not.
Do not over eat the flowers, as the plant contains slightly toxic alkaloids. The long pods and dark seeds are not edible, either raw or cooked, so please avoid.
Foraging on season
Gorse is an evergreen that blooms all year round. It flowers from late autumn, through the winter and displaying its best bloom profusion in Spring, when is at its best. On the other hand, its close relatives western and dwarf gorse bloom during Summer and Autumn.
Common gorse is widespread and can be seen in all kind of habitats: coastal, heathlands, wasteland and forest edges. It thrives in rocky soils and other poor growing areas and can grow in shade and drought conditions.
Western gorse is mainly found in exposed Atlantic coastal heathland and montane habitats in western areas of Britain, whereas dwarf gorse replaces the former in eastern parts of the UK, being only about 30cm tall.
Gorse flower season is quite broad, flowering pretty much all year round. Generally speaking, is at its best in early spring, when many plants are still dormant.
When harvesting flowers, wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands from the sharp spikes and don’t go in a rush – you need to carefully pluck flowers one at a time, pinching them out from their base. They are best to pick on a warm and sunny day because they will preserve most of the scent and flavour.
Store and processing
Remove all spines and bugs before using and use as soon as you get home, because gorse flowers do not store very well.
Flowers are best used fresh, but can be preserved in alcohol to infuse their flavour. Additionally, the buds can be pickled like capers. They are also good to make natural dyeing.
Culinary uses and recipes
Gorse flowers have an almondy flavour with a slight coconut aroma, fully developed late in the season and picked on a warm sunny day. They are a good trail-side nibble.
Its bright yellow blooms look stunning as an edible decoration. In fact, it is a great addition to the winter floral menu. Throw them in a salad and play with colours. That way, it can be also used in puddings, crystalized flowers, ice cream and jellies.
They are good infusing liquids. Stuff handfuls into a bag and make a floral tea, create ‘gorsewater’ to flavour delicate desserts and infuse buds in vinegar to make gorse-capers. Make cordials and infuse vodkas. There is a world of possibilities.
Gorse flowers have been used to add some notes to Danish beer, Irish whisky and country wine in the UK. They can be added at the last minute in posh cocktails.