Ling Heather, Calluna vulgaris & Bell Heather, Erica cinerea
Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris), also called Common Heather, is a low-growing, evergreen flowering shrub growing to 50 centimetres tall, found widely in Europe on acidic soils in both open sunny areas and moderate shade. It has minuscule, small-scale leaves that are 2-3 mm long, and arranged in opposite pairs, and produces tiny, four-petalled mauve (and occasionally white) flowers in late summer.
It is the dominant plant in most Heathland and Moorland areas in Europe, and regenerates following occasional burning, which is often how it is managed in nature reserves and grouse moors. Heather is a very important plant with many traditional uses. It is an important food source for sheep, deer and grouse, as well beetle larva and caterpillars, and was traditionally used to dye wool yellow, to make honey, to tan leather, and make Gruit, a type of heather-beer. Heather has also traditionally been used for making brooms, a practice recorded in "Buy Broom Buzzems", a song written by "Blind Willie", a Geordie from Newcastle, in the 1700s.
Heather is synonymous with Scotland, and white heather in particular, is regarded in Scotland as being very lucky, a tradition believed to have been brought from Balmoral to England by Queen Victoria. As such, sprigs of it are often sold as a charm, or worked into bridal bouquets. As an edible, the flowers are mainly used in the creation of alcoholic drinks, such as beer or wine, or used to create Moorland Tea, which is our primary use for it. Arthur enjoys our trips to the Moors to gather Heather, mostly because he gets to gorge himself on another Moorland plant, the Bilberry!
Bell heather is found in a variety of habitats, including heathland, open woodland and even coastal areas. It particularly likes acidic, dry, well-drained soils. The dark purple-pink, bell-shaped flowers appear between July and September, carpeting heathlands and bringing them to life with the buzzing of nectar-loving bees and insects. Bell heather has very distinctive, dark purple-pink bell-shaped flowers which form clusters up the stem and has short, dark green, needle-like leaves that sit in whorls of three. Bell heather flowers are edible and are mostly used in the creation of beverages and teas.
🐝 Moorland, including heaths and grouse moors.
🌲 Coniferous Woodland.
🌞🍂 July - September
☘️ Ling Heather: tiny, small-scale leaves that are 2-3 mm long, and arranged in opposite pairs.
☘️ Bell Heather: tiny, short, dark green, needle-like leaves sit in whorls of three.
🌷 Ling Heather: Tiny, four-petalled mauve (and occasionally white) flowers in late summer.
🌷 Bell Heather: Very distinctive, dark purple-pink bell-shaped flowers forming clusters up the stem.
🌱 Both Ling and Bell Heathers have inedible tough, woody stems. Only the flowers are used.
Aroma / Taste
👃 The flowers are a mixture of floral and earthy notes, with a herb-like undertone.
👅 The flowers are said to have a pleasant and floral taste when raw.
🟩 ID Difficulty - Beginner
👀 The flowers are a key identifier of both Ling and Bell Heather.
🤚 The soft needle like leaves of both Ling and Bell Heather are key identifiers.
☕️ Beverage - Can be used to make teas or other drinks.
💊 Herbal Remedy - Is often used medicinally.