Gorse Dyeing – (And other Uses)

Gorse Dyeing is something that’s been on the list to try. Another natural dye making adventure.

At this time of year nature’s bounty for dye stuffs aren’t so plentiful. But as they say ‘When Gorse is out of bloom kissing’s out of fashion’ and the bright yellow blooms are all over the hills, hedges, heaths and wild places of Dorset.’

Common gorse (Ulex europaeus), furze or whin was a popular dye stuff used for tartans – so time to give it a go.

Picking the flowers is a tricky business – all those spikes! And gathering enough for dye making takes some determination.

The first session yielded just 80g. Under the recommended 1:1 ratio for a 100g skein of yarn. But worth a go as an initial trial. The flowers were boiled, cooled, strained and the resulting dye bath produced, not a vivid yellow, but a pleasant pale primrose. Not so bad.

The second flower picking session and second pair of hands were roped in. With a little healthy competition this produced 280g. And the yarn was indeed a shade or two more yellow.

Gorse bark can also be used. Gathering this wasn’t much easier than the flowers – crawling about under spiky bushes has it’s hazards. 260g of the stuff yielded less of a yellow, more a subtle straw – but still with a definite yellowish tinge. More than you’d expect looking at the raw material.

Here are the results: side by side for comparison.

Very nice socks they’ll make too!

And Dye isn’t it’s only use. It might be seen a just a scrubby wild shrub these days, but in the past it was much used. In some places it was deliberately cultivated.

Here are just some of it’s other uses:

  •  Pickle the flower buds in vinegar and eat like capers or use raw in salads.
  • The flowers can add flavour to beer or wine.
  • Make tea with the flower buds.
  • The flowers were once used to treat jaundice, scarlet fever, diarrhoea and kidney stones (perhaps best not try this at home).
  • Soak the seeds and use as flea repellent.
  • Gorse is highly flammable and burns very hot leaving little ash – often used to fire traditional bread ovens.
  • The wood is good for spoons and other implement whittling.
  • As highly nutritious animals fodder, especially for horse. It needs to be chopped to a mossy consistency –  this was done in ‘whinmills’ in parts of Wales.
  • Handy bushes near the house are good for laying washing out to dry – held fast on the spiney branches.
  • Bound together with heather to make besoms.
  • The very alkali ashes useful for washing, to make lye for soap.
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