Heather (Calluna Vulgaris)
Heather (Calluna Vulgaris) Formerly heather was used to dye wool yellow and to tan leather. With malt, heather is an ingredient in gruit, a mixture of flavourings used in the brewing of heather-beer during the Middle Ages before the use of hops. Thomas Pennant wrote in A Tour in Scotland (1769) that on the Scottish island of Islay "ale is frequently made of the young tops of heath, mixing two thirds of that plant with one of malt, sometimes adding hops". The use of heather in the brewing of modern heather beer is carefully regulated. By law, the heather must be cleaned carefully before brewing. From time immemorial heather has been used for making besoms, a practice recorded in Buy Broom Buzzems a song probably written by William Purvis (Blind Willie) (1752–1832) from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Heather honey is a highly valued product in moorland and heathland areas, with many beehives being moved there in late summer. Not always as valued as it is today, it was dismissed as mel improbum by Dioscurides. Heather honey has a characteristic strong taste, and an unusual texture, for it is thixotropic, being a jelly until stirred, when it becomes a syrup like other honey, but then sets again to a jelly. This makes the extraction of the honey from the comb difficult, and it is therefore often sold as comb honey. White heather is regarded in Scotland as being lucky, a tradition brought from Balmoral to England by Queen Victoria and sprigs of it are often sold as a charm and worked into bridal bouquets.