Herb: Heather

Latin name: Calluna vulgaris

Synonyms: Erica vulgaris

Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Medicinal use of Heather:

Heather has a long history of medicinal use in folk medicine. In particular it is a good urinary antiseptic and diuretic, disinfecting the urinary tract and mildly increasing urine production. The flowering shoots are antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, mildly sedative and vasoconstrictor. The plant is often macerated and made into a liniment for treating rheumatism and arthritis, whilst a hot poultice is a traditional remedy for chilblains. An infusion of the flowering shoots is used in the treatment of coughs, colds, bladder and kidney disorders, cystitis etc. A cleansing and detoxifying plant, it has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. The flowering stems are harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are "Self-centredness" and "Self-concern". A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh branches. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and insomnia.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Acid soils in open woodlands, moors and marshy ground. Often the dominant plant on well-drained acid moors and heaths.

Edible parts of Heather:

A tea is made from the flowering stems. A kind of mead was once brewed from the flowers and the young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer.

Other uses of the herb:

The branches have many uses, including in thatching, as a bedding or a stuffing for mattresses, for insulation, basketry, rope making and for making brooms. The dried branches are a good fuel. The rootstock can be made into musical pipes. A yellow dye is obtained from the plant. The bark is a source of tannin. Heather can be grown as a low hedge and is quite useful as an edging to beds. It is fairly amenable to trimming. A useful ground cover plant for covering dry banks. The cultivar "White Lawn" has been recommended. All except the very dwarf cultivars will need trimming each spring in order to keep them compact.

Propagation of Heather:

Seed - sow as soon as it is ripe or in February in a shaded part of the greenhouse. Surface sow or only just cover the seed. Cold stratification for 4 - 20 weeks aids germination. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 2 months at 20C. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter, planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood 4 - 5cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Good percentage. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 5 - 7cm with a heel, October/November in a frame. Good percentage. Layering in autumn. Division in spring. Dig up the plant 12 months prior to division and replant it 15 - 30cm deeper in the soil in order to encourage rooting along the stems. When ready to take the divisions, it is just a matter of digging up the plant and cutting off sections of stem with roots on them. These are best potted up and kept in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are well rooted before planting them out in the summer or following spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Acid soils in open woodlands, moors and marshy ground. Often the dominant plant on well-drained acid moors and heaths.

Known hazards of Calluna vulgaris:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.