Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is a European native common to fields, ditches and waste areas in the cooler areas of Europe and the British Isles, especially in the heathland habitats where it is an important food source for grazing animals.
Heather is a sprawling evergreen shrub with hairy gray stems that spread out about three feet wide and one to two feet tall. The long, thin leaves are grayish-green. Flowers are tiny, bell-shaped and any color between pink and purple or white and appear on branching spikes in the late summer and early autumn. There are many varieties and are easily confused with Heath.
History and Folklore
The word Calluna is derived from the Greek meaning “to sweep”
Heather (along with thistle) is the national flower of Scotland.
In Scotland, farmers carried torches of burning heather around their fields before midsummer to insure good crops and around their cattle to ensure their fertility.
Other Names Scot’s heather, Heath, Froach, Ling, Scotch heather
Heather will do best in zones 4-8, it prefers a bright area with acidic soil and good drainage. There are a few varieties who will tolerate some shade, but not many. Young heather should be watered regularly, but established plants shouldn’t need extra water unless threatened with drought.
It takes 2-3 years to reach its full size. Do not fertilize, as this plant prefers poor soil. Peat or pine needle mulch can be used. Heather should not be pruned, as this causes it to dry out faster. It does well in a container as well as in the garden.
The seeds are tiny and take up to two months to germinate. They require sunlight (don’t cover them) and moisture, and cold treatment before planting is very helpful. You can sow it in the fall, or in containers at midwinter.
Deer and other grazing animals love to nibble on heather, as do the heather beetle and many butterflies and moth larvae. This makes in a wonderful addition to a butterfly or nature garden, but rather high maintenance for use as an ornamental. It is also susceptible to root rot where drainage is not sufficient.
Heather releases a chemical that prevents other plants from growing near it. Keep this in mind when planning your garden.
Harvesting & Storage
Cut flowering stems in autumn. They don’t like being cut, so it’s best to do it at the end of the growing season and hang to dry for later use.
Heather is feminine in nature and ruled by Venus and the element of water. It is also associated with Gemini and, accordingly, Mercury.
It is represented by the Ogham letter Ura. It is associated with the God Nechtan Mac Labraid, the Cupbearer of the Tuatha De Dannan, guardian of the sacred well of Segais and husband of Boane, after whom the river Boyne in Ireland is named. Also, Isis, Osiris, Venus, Aphrodite.
Heather can be used in spells relating to new beginnings and self-discovery, enhancing physical beauty and bringing a peaceful resolution to any conflict. It is also used at initiations.
Keeping heather about the house will attract friendly spirits and will bring peace to the household. Carrying heather will attract positive energies, general good luck and protect against rape and other violent assaults, making it useful for traveling sachets.
Burning heather together with fern will aid in magic designed to bring rain. The two plants can also be bundled together and used to sprinkle water on the ground for the same purpose.
Heather helps in summoning spirits and attracts faeries to the garden.
Heather is a good plant to use to make besoms and can be added to midsummer fires to ensure the fertility of the attendants.
Heather is said to be stained with the blood of war in Scotland, thus, white heather is the luckiest and the best for use in magic.
Heather should be part of a bridal bouquet or the decorations to ensure good luck to the couple and peace and cooperation in their household.sp
Heather dries well and can be used in many crafts. The branches can be woven into wreaths, baskets, mats, and are traditionally used to make brooms.
The roots can be made into musical pipes.
Heather yields a yellow dye.
Heather is useful for ailments of the genitourinary systems, including stones, kidney and bladder infections, vaginal discharge, enlarged prostate, and menstrual and menopausal symptoms. It stimulates the flow of bile and urine, making it useful in cleansing and purifying teas.
It is also a soothing herb and is good for spasmodic complaints in any system, including stomach and intestinal cramping and spasmodic coughs. Its soothing nature also makes it good for nervousness and insomnia.
It can also be added to salves for gout and rheumatism and to soothing skin preparations.
Heather may raise blood pressure slightly, and should not be used by people with blood pressure issues.
A recipe for heather beer was found on pre-Pict potsherds dating back to 2000 BC. Heather ale remains a popular beverage in Scotland. It also makes a pleasant tea.