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Calluna vulgaris engraving Calluna vulgaris
True (Scotch) Heather
This plant is said to open portals between this and the fairy world, and the Fae of this flower are especially attracted to shy people. In Scotland, heather is said to be stained with the blood of clan wars; thus, white is the luckiest heather and protects against violent assault, especially rape. Sleeping on a pillow stuffed with this magick herb can bring dreams foretelling good fortune. Burned outside with fern, it brings rain, and in Ireland, it has been used to conjure the spirits of the dead. It is also important in shapeshifting, being both protective against shifters and helpful to the witch taking on other forms. In the Ogham alphabet, heather is U, Ura, and represents midsummer. In Scotland before Midsummer, farmers would carry a torch made from this plant clockwise around their fields to ensure a good crop and around their cows to make sure they would be fertile. In Wales, heather was considered a very lucky plant to have in the bridal bouquet. It makes a great besom for ritual, and because it is Mercury, it goes with all sorts of purposes and correspondences. Its sign is Gemini. Top

Calluna vulgaris leaf Brewing. Picts brewed heather ale in Scotland as long ago as 325 BC, but fermented drinks have been made with this herb for almost 4000 years. It is possible to use dried heather in brewing, but traditionally, the fresh plant was preferred. It is told that whiskey was discovered by a clan boiling heather ale in a stone-roofed cottage; the steam condensed on the stones and dripped into a cup. After Scotland was forcibly incorporated into the UK in the early 1700s, the making of ale with anything other than hops was outlawed, so the art of brewing heather ale was lost among all but homebrewers. It has since been revived. Top

Calluna vulgaris closeup Herbology. A tea is made from the flowering stems that is good for bladder infections. The herb is often made into into a liniment for rheumatism and arthritis. In the Bach flower remedies, heather is for self-centeredness and self-concern (how to make a flower essence). This plant has many other uses as well: its branches have been used as thatch, for bedding, basketry, and making ropes; roots have been made into musical instruments, it provides a dye (bark has tannin), and it has been made a special broom used in whiskey brewing for skimming off foam during the fermentation of ale. Heather is called "calluna" (to cleanse) because it was used for making besoms. It is also named brecina, funda, ling, struikhei, and fraoch. Top

Culture. This plant has become naturalized in North American from plants brought by colonists in the northeast and parts of the upper midwest. It likes poor soil and full sun in grasslands, dry fields, clearings in pine forests and in oak woods (light semi-shade). It is also good for above the treeline for those of you high in mountains. It is nice for edging paths, in rock gardens, around the foundations of a house, and as a groundcover, but keep in mind that heather sends out a chemical to keep other plants from growing near it, so give it its own space. High fertility is not good for this plant--do not add fertilizer or compost to the soil it grows in. Too much water is also detrimental, so don't plant it in a wet spot. This herb needs an acidic soil (soil pH below 6.5), so instead of fertilizer, mix peat into the soil and use a pine needle mulch. Its flowers, which appear from July to November, are enjoyed by bees, butterflies, and moths. It is the preferred year-round food for grouse; however, hares and deer also like to snack on heather (especially heathers growing in shade, which taste better to them). The flowering stems can be harvested in autumn and dried. Prune after flowering in the fall or in early spring in cold areas. It is good to -30 F (zone 4), although it can grow farther north if it gets plenty of snowcover. It can also grow in the south. This perennial plant gets 18 in/.5 m tall. Top

How to grow heather: The best way to handle tiny seed like this is to make sure your hands are dry and take a pinch of the seed between your fingertips; gently rub your fingertips together over the planting surface to disperse the seed. Sprinkle onto wet planting surface and very gently press in. The tiny seed needs light to germinate and can't be waterlogged. Germination increases when seeds are heat-treated at temperatures of 104-176F (40-80C) for 1 minute. Cold stratification (sow and put pellets in fridge or mix seed with a tiny amount of damp sand, put in plastic bag and put in fridge) for 4-20 weeks also aids germination. The seed then usually germinates in 1-2 months at room temperature (68F/20C). Or sow on Winter Solstice (see special directions on the Solstice Sowing page). Transplant to full sun and poor soil into which peat has been worked. Mulch with pine needles--this plant needs acidic soil to live. General growing info. Top

Calluna vulgaris
100 seeds $3.50

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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Rain Magic
Fairy Magic
Celebrating Midsummer
Protection Spells
Fertility Charms
Mercury Herb

2004, 2015 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction of any part without permission.