Bell Heather is the plant badge of Clan MacDougall.
Heather, the name most commonly used for this plant, is of Scottish origin, presumably derived from the Scots word HAEDDRE. Haeddre has been recorded as far back as the fourteenth century, and it is this word which seems always to have been associated with ericaceous plants.
The origination however is obscure, and the variations are many. Hader is found in Old Scottish from 1399, heddir from 1410, hathar from 1597 (although this form of the word may also be seen in place names dating back to 1094) and finally heather from 1584.
The botanical name for the Heath family is Ericaceae, which is derived from the Greek 'Ereike’, meaning heather or heath. The name is generally, and more properly reserved for the most widespread of the Heath family Calluna vulgaris, (Calluna from the Greek ‘Kallune’ - to clean or brush as the twigs were used for making brooms and vulgaris from Latin, meaning common.)
However the plant is sometimes also referred to as Ling - derived either from the old Norse ‘Lyng’ or from the Anglo Saxon ‘Lig’ meaning fire and referring to use as a fuel.
Whatever the exact origin, one thing is certain. Heather moors cover a vast amount of Scottish countryside. With approximately 2 to 3 million acres of Heather Moors in the East and only slightly fewer in the South and West, Heather is without doubt one of Scotland’s most prolific and abundant plants.
A Taste of Heather
HEATHER ALE - A Galloway Legend
"From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink Lang Syne
Was sweeter far than honey
Was stronger far than wine."
Heather has been used over the years to flavour many different foods and drinks. Little is actually known about the early beverages of Scotland. However, many tales are told of brewing ales and wines from heather flowers. One such brew was known as "Heather Crap Ale". A modern brew that is available in select locations today is known as Fraoch (Heather) Ale.
TRADITIONAL RECIPE FOR HEATHER ALE
Ingredients: Heather, hops, barm, syrup, ginger and water. ‘Crop the heather when it is in full bloom, enough to fill a large pot. Cover the croppings with water and set to boil for one hour Then strain into a clean tub. Measure the liquid and for every dozen bottles add one ounce of ground ginger, half an ounce of hops and one pound of golden syrup. Bring to the boil again and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean cask. Let it stand until milk-warm and then add a teacupful of good barm. Cover with a coarse cloth and let it stand till next day Skim carefully and pour the liquid gently into a clean tub so that the barm is left at the bottom of the cask. Bottle and cork tightly The ale will be ready for use in 2 or 3 days and makes a very refreshing and wholesome drink as there is a good deal of spirit in heather’
As recently as 1993, an Alba brewery went into production of Heather Ale using an ancient recipe.
TRADITIONAL RECIPE FOR HEATHER WINE
1 ½ lbs. Heather Tips (in full bloom)
1 Gallon water
3-4 lbs. Sugar (according to sweetness desired)
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
Cover heather with the water and boil for one hour. Strain off liquid and measure. Restore to one gallon, and add sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. When the temperature drops to 70F, add yeast and nutrient. Leave for 14 days. Then strain into fermentation jar, and when fermentation ceases, strain and bottle. Keep for at least six months!
The Healing Properties of Heather
The healing properties of heather have been recorded as far back as the middle ages, with books on other herbs and their uses dating even further back to the seventh century.
Since 1930, Heather, referred to by the medical profession as Herba Callunae, has been acknowledged by many doctors and chemists as effective against arthritis, spleen complaints, formation of stones, stomach and back ache, even paralysis and tuberculosis. This remarkable plant, which is quite safe for use by diabetics, is also known to be good for sore throats, gout, catarrh and coughs. Some say it even cleanses the blood getting rid of exzema and fevers.
Medical herbalists, to this day, use Calluna vulgaris in the treatment of certain disorders. Containing tannin and several other components, it is used particularly in the treatment of cystitis (bladder infection), as its action is diuretic and antimicrobial.
In the mountain regions of Europe the plant is still used to make a liniment for arthritis and rheumatism by softening the herb in alcohol.