Gorse, The Unsung Hero of our Hedgerows
Restoring my neglected hedgerow, I found gorse to be a most formidable plant, due to its compact growing habit and prickly form. However, after observation, a bit of additional research and the acquisition of some very sharp tweezers, I came to admire and respect this spiky shrub. There are 3 species of gorse in Britain.
The most familiar and widespread is 'Ulex Europaeus', the second Ulex gallil frequenting the west and the third 'Ulex minor' is 'uncommonly' found in both central southern and eastern Britain (RSPB 2020).
Gorse is a great addition to any hedge. It is a nitrogen fixer, so beneficial for other tree species and an excellent plant for pollinators. Flowering in January until December, it provides valuable nectar and pollen throughout the year, bridging the pollinator's 'hunger gap' (Crawford, 2010). Compact gorse also provides ideal habitat for a range of nesting, heathland, downland and farmland birds, as its dense structure provides refuge in the harshest of weathers. Residents include the Dartford warbler, Stonechat, Linnet and Yellowhammer. If you're thinking twice about whether or not to include gorse in your existing hedgerow or new hedge plantings, the RSPB have some excellent advice and guidance available to download.
The multi-purpose nature of gorse means that it is useful for a range of creatures, including us. Gorse wine, described by C.J.J Berry in his book 'First Steps in Wine Making', as “one of the most agreeable social wines”. Mr Berry 'hit the nail on the head' with his description. The floral, coconut scent of the flowers is transferred into this extremely 'drinkable' wine. Best to harvest the flowers using supple but thick leather gloves.
Mr Berry's recipe for Gorse wine...(Berry, 2002, p147)
Gorse Flowers, enough to 'fill' a 4.5 litre tub (1 gallon),
Sugar 1.5 kilos (3 lb),
Grape Tannin 1 teaspoon,
Water 4.5 litres (1 gallon),
Yeast and nutrient 1 teaspoon.
Put your flowers into a 'netting bag', put them into the water and simmer for 15 minutes,
Remove the bag and squeeze it well to extract the juice. Top up the water to the original quantity (if needed),
Dissolve the sugar into the liquid,
Add the juice of the lemons and oranges as well as their skins, but not the pith,
Allow the liquid to cool to 21°C, then add the tannin, either general purpose wine yeast or a level teaspoon of granulated yeast and add the yeast nutrient,
Keep the liquid in a warm place, between 17 & 21°C and cover.
Leave for three days stirring once daily,
After 3 days, strain the liquid into a fermenting jar, fit an airlock and put it into a 'slightly' cooler place, between 15 and 16°C,
After three months, siphon the wine off the 'lees' (the yeast and deposited solids found at the bottom of the fermenting jar), or when the top third has cleared,
Repeat this process three months later and put in a place which is around 13°C, The wine will be ready to drink approximately 8 months after this date.
Berry, C, (2002) First Steps in Winemaking, 9th Ed, Poole, Special Interest Model Books Ltd,
Crawford, M, (2010) Creating a Forest Garden; Working With Nature to Grow Edible Crops, Cambridge, Greenbooks,
RSPB, 2020, Managing Gorse for Wildlife, https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/advice/conservation-land-management-advice/managing-gorse-for-wildlife/. 20th April 2020.