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Ulex europaeus - L.

Common Name Gorse, Common gorse
Family Fabaceae or Leguminosae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Moors, commons and heaths, preferring dry soils[4, 11].
Range Western Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia to Spain.
Edibility Rating    (1 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (1 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Ulex europaeus Gorse, Common gorse

(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future
Ulex europaeus Gorse, Common gorse


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Ulex europaeus is a deciduous Shrub growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1.5 m (5ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower all year, and the seeds ripen all year. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, beetles.
It can fix Nitrogen.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Shoots
Edible Uses: Tea

The flower buds are pickled in vinegar and then used like capers in salads[183]. A tea is made from the shoot tips[177, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Gorse has never played much of a role in herbal medicine, though its flowers have been used in the treatment of jaundice and as a treatment for scarlet fever in children[4]. The seed is said to be astringent and has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and stones[4]. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Hopelessness' and 'Despair'[209].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
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Other Uses

Dye  Fertilizer  Fuel  Hedge  Hedge  Insecticide  Pioneer  Soap making  Soil stabilization

A beautiful yellow dye is obtained from the flowers[4]. It is orange according to another report[168]. Gorse is very tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be used as a windbreak hedge in the most exposed positions, making an impenetrable barrier with its vicious thorns[4, 49, 75, 200]. Planted for soil stabilization on sandy substrates[200], it is very good for stabilizing roadside banks on poor soils[186]. Gorse is an excellent pioneer species for poor soils and areas with maritime exposure. It is fast-growing, feeds the soil with nitrogen and provides good conditions for woodland trees to become established. These trees will eventually out-compete the gorse, which is unable to reproduce well in the shady conditions and will thus gradually die out[K]. The plant has an old reputation as a pesticide, the soaked seed being used against fleas[4]. The wood burns very well, it was much used in the past for kindling, heating bakers ovens etc[11, 66]. The ashes from the burnt wood are rich in potassium and can be used in making soap[4, 115]. This soap can be made by mixing the ashes with a vegetable oil, or mixing them with clay and forming them into balls[4]. The ashes are also an excellent fertilizer[4, 115].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Hedge  Hedge  Nitrogen Fixer  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, it requires a poor soil and a sunny position to be at its best[11]. It does well on dry sunny banks or in poor gravelly soils[11]. It is intolerant of shade, nor does it do well on rich soils[11, 182]. Prefers a neutral to slightly acid soil[200], disliking alkaline soils[17]. Plants are very intolerant of root disturbance[11]. Very tolerant of maritime exposure and, once established, drought[75, 186, 200]. Although native to Britain and said to be hardy to about -20°c[184], gorse often suffers badly in severe winters[4, 17], but the plants usually recover[186]. They often accumulate dry dead spines at their centre, this can be a fire risk in dry summers[186, 200]. The plants often resprout from the base after a fire[200] and, even if killed, numerous seedlings will soon spring up to replace the dead plants[186]. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[200]. The flowers are strongly scented of coconut[K]. Another report says that the flowers have a smell of vanilla with undertones of orange or pineapple[245]. It is one of the most refreshing of all flower scents[245]. A food plant for the caterpillars of several lepidoptera species[30]. Plants often form dense thickets and these are ideal nesting areas for many species of birds[186]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200]. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is suckering with new plants from underground runners away from the plant [2-1].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak 24 hours in hot water and sow in individual pots in a greenhouse in late winter to early spring. Germination should take place within 2 weeks. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Plants are very intolerant of root disturbance and so should be planted into their permanent positions as soon as possible, though not until after the last expected frosts[78]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up in spring as soon as rooting commences and plant out into their permanent positions as soon as possible[78].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Ulex parviflorus Shrub1.5 6-9 FLMHNDM003

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

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Readers comment

david N   Tue Jul 4 09:23:43 2000

An old guy at a pub in Wellington, New Zealand told me he and others used to make Gorse wine and a book called "Simply Living A Gatherers Guide to New Zealand's feilds, forests and shores by Gwen Skinner gives 2 recipies for Gorse wine. I've heard of it elsewhere as well I think.

This is probably the most feared and hated weed in new zealand but native forest revegatators value it highly as a nursery plant.

I think and hope the flowers are edilbe raw, I've nibbled them raw for years and today (10 hours ago) took a large mouthful and swallowed it, it's aroma is actually quite impressive. After doing this I went back to my books to check my souces, only to find they all only refer to pickled flower buds, It is possible I read years ago they are edible raw but can't recall where. They taste pretty good I think. If anyone knows if pickling is essential for safety I'd really like to Know. I feel fine.

Klaus Dichtel   Tue Dec 25 16:16:31 2001

I wonder how the description of the propagation (book 80) with its demand for a cold frame fits to the quotation of book 186 (which is from Britain)about cultivation details, that says numerous seedlings spring up and replace burnt plants

R White   Thu Jan 18 2007

i live in northumberlan where gorse grows quite alot and i have been told that you can eat the yellow flowers rawi have done so in the past . i first heard this whilst as a young boy on a school trip in the countryside a guide told us we could pick them and try them if we liked

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Sat Jan 20 2007

A number of people have tried eating the flowers of this plant raw. The flowers certainly have an interesting aroma, very similar to coconut, but we have never been able to find an authenticated account of them being safe to eat. It is quite possible that they are a wholesome food, but it is also possible that the flowers contain small quantities of alkaloids or other potentially harmful substances (many members of this genus do). There are some members of this plant family (I'm particularly thinking of the disease Lathyrism obtained from eating the seeds of certain Lathyrus spp), that contain toxins that can build up in the system if the plant is eaten in large quantities or regularly over a period of time. Therefore, until such time as we obtain evidence one way or the other, we do have to advise people to be careful about eating the flowers, and if you do decide to try them, restrict yourself to just a few.

DC Wilson   Sun Jul 6 2008

I see Gorse mentioned on lists of potential oil producing plants for making biodiesel, but I never see any stories about actually making biodiesel from gorse. Please post links about gorse being used to make biodiesel.

Colin Mann   Thu Apr 2 2009

Any info about gorse wood? It seems to be very strong, I have seasoned a stem to make a walking stick.

Stephen   Tue May 26 2009

If grown from seed how many years before they will flower?

Bartek Splawski   Tue Sep 8 2009

I live in Ireland and this fabulous plant is very popular here, in fact it's my favourite plant and I am sad to see it often referred to as a weed. Certainly it's quite an invasive plant and once it sets on fire it will be very hard to put out because of its oily content. This makes gorse a great fuel. I heard it used to be a sacred plant here because of its perseverance, and many uses. E.g. Young shoots can be ground or crushed and fed to horses and kettle. My friend mentioned a whole book about the uses of gorse and I am hoping to have a look at it soon.

Gorse facts

Manoel   Wed Jan 6 2010

At least here in Galicia (NW Spain) this plant can grow taller than maximum indicated. I guess 2 meters and even 3 (maybe only some local sub-species?).

   Mar 9 2016 12:00AM

Does anyone recall an article mentioning someone germinating a gorse seed from the mortar of a 600 year old Scottish castle?

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Subject : Ulex europaeus  
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