Gorse flowers were used to make tea and a fruit wine. Gorse was used for brushes, fuel and animal feed. Its high heat made it especially valuable for bread ovens. Cut Gorse was used for stock fencing – its prickles deterred animals from pushing through it!
Gorse forms part of the heraldic badges of the Scottish MacLennan and Sinclair clans. As Gorse is a legume it is able to capture or ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air so that the plant can use it. Both Broom and Gorse are ‘fire climax’ plants. This means that they are well adapted to cope with periodic fires; in fact these help the plants to prosper.
Gorse provides a secure location for bird nests. In the UK it is closely associated with the areas where the Dartford Warbler survives. Gorse is a food plant for a small number of moth caterpillars and the Green Hairstreak, Silver-studded Blue and Common Blue butterflies. Ants eat the seeds.
The sap of Spurges has been used to treat warts. It can also be used as a (potentially violent) purgative – but with care. Some chemicals are extracted for use by the modern day pharmaceutical industry. Supposedly Spurge sap was used by men to perform a comparable role to that of Viagara today. The Caper Spurge is sometimes grown in gardens because it is believed to repel moles The acrid nature of the sap gained it a reputation as Devil’s Milk and an association with evil.
Dog’s mercury is one of the most reliable indicators of ancient woodland. It does not like acidic soils or soils that are too wet, and it prefers deep shade. The highly poisonous nature of Dog’s mercury meant that it was not eaten. Most sources say that Dog’s mercury has no medicinal value, although a few refer to it being used as an external treatment for warts and sores. A blue dye could be obtained from the leaves.
Individual plants of colonies of Dog’s mercury, that have expanded through spreading roots, will all share the same variation in how they look, such as a distinctive leaf shape.