Heather is an evergreen shrub, also known as Calluna vulgaris, that has been a symbol of Scotland for centuries. It usually blooms twice a year there, in early and late summer, and is at its peak in August. If you want to see fields of heather in Scotland, one of the best places to visit is located just outside of Edinburgh: Pentland Hills Regional park. This flowering bush is often found in the moors and hills of the country, where its bright pinkish-purple blossoms are visible from miles away. As it grows on as much as five million acres of Scottish moorland, glens and hills, heather is seen as an iconic symbol of Scotland and its presence in the Highlands is revered.
Scottish heather is also known as “Ling heather, referring the to the old Norse word Lyng, meaning “light in weight.” It comes in many varieties and colours, ranging from white to pink to deep purple.
WHAT IS HEATHER USED FOR?
Heather has many uses, both practical and symbolic. Medicinal uses for heather include treating coughs, colds, digestive problems and insomnia. Scottish heather honey is rich in minerals and was traditionally used in medicinal drinks and potions.
Heather’s bright colour makes it perfect for dying wool and linen fabrics, and even today “heather” is a popular colour in traditional Scottish clothing and tartans. Its strong scent can be used to make essential oils for soaps, candles and perfumes. In the time of the Vikings it was even used to make heather ale, whose highly secretive recipe is the stuff of legends. In Scotland, heather is also used for landscaping, and especially on Scotland's islands, heather played a major role in building construction. It was used in walls and thatched roofs, and for ropes, brooms and as a filling for bouncy, fragrant mattresses called “heather beds,” for which the flowers we positioned near the sleeper’s head. Heather’s dense structure also provides a home to small animals like birds and rabbits in the fields.