Cytisus scoparius L (Link), synonyms Sarothamnus
scoparius - (L.)K.Koch.. Spartium scoparium - L.
Bealaidh, Bealuidh (plant that Belennos favoured? if this is etymologically
correct it fits with the season of Beltane), Bhealaidh, Scots or Scotch
Broom, Brume, Brom, Giolach sleibhe (reed/cane/ leafless twig of the
hill), Sguab (a brush made from broom), planta genista (giving the
Plantagenet family name).
"When the Broom's in season so is kissing"
With current knowledge, it would be a little reckless to ingest
this plant except in forms where the active ingredients had
been extracted and measured in a laboratory and were being prescribed
by a qualified practitioner. In the past however it was a heavy
hitter in the armoury of witch and warlock, spaewife and canny
man. In the far past the poor had to find their powerful drugs
within walking distance whatever it was they wanted them for:
to cure, kill, abort, de-louse, get rid of worms or to get stoned
out of their mind. Nobody was going to import them for them
from the other side of the globe. Broom was once much used in
both folk and orthodox medicine.
Its coming into flower at Beltane marked the time
to leave the oppressive confinement of winter quarters both
for seasonal itinerants and for those who practised the transhumance
grazing, that was for so long a part of Highland life, travelling
twice yearly between low-ground village and higher altitude
summer shieling. Nowadays it is still one of life's cheaper
treats in summer, to lie like a cat in the sun under broom losing
quotidian thought in the sky's infinite blueness getting just
a little tipsy on the scent of its blossom and listening to
its ripe seed pods exploding with a sound like distant gunfire.
Non-medical uses of broom
A fibre is obtained from the bark, it is
used in the manufacture of paper, cloth and nets. It is not
as strong as the fibre from the Spanish broom (Spartium junceum).
The fibre is also obtained from the root. The bark fibre is
used to make paper, it is 2 - 9mm long. The branches are harvested
in late summer or autumn, the leaves removed and the stems steamed
until the fibres can be stripped. The fibres are cooked for
3 hours in lye then put in a ball mill for 3 hours. The paper
is pale tan in colour. The bark is a good source of tannin.
Modern dyers report that the flowering tops of broom produce
various shades of yellow, according to the mordants used; [Alum
& Cream of Tartar = 'butter yellow']; [Tin = 'yellow'];
[Chrome = 'golden']. A yellow and a brown dye are obtained from
the bark. A yellow dye is obtained from the flowering stem.
A green dye is obtained from the leaves and young tops. The
branches are used to make baskets, brushes, brooms and besoms.
They are also sometimes used for thatching roofs and as substitutes
for reeds in making fences or screens. An essential oil from
the flowers is used in perfumery. Growing well on dry banks
and on steep slopes, it is an effective sand binder and soil
stabiliser. Broom is one of the first plants to colonize coastal
sand dunes. Like other leguminous plants it is a fixer of nitrogen.
The plant attracts insects away from nearby plants. The wood
is very hard, and beautifully veined. The plant seldom reaches
sufficient size for its wood to be of much value, but larger
specimens are valued by cabinet makers and for veneer.
Edible uses of broom
Now considered too toxic to use, contains
toxic alkaloids that can depress the hearing and nervous systems
and affect the function of the heart.
The below is included for historical interest only.
The flower buds are pickled and used as a substitute for capers.
They can also be added to salads. Some caution is advised, although
probably the safest part of the plant, see the note on toxicity.
The tender green tops of the plant have been used like hops
to give a bitter flavour to beer and to render it more intoxicating.
The roasted seed has been used as a coffee substitute.
Broom wine and beer, from the tips, seem to have once had a
reputation as a serious mind altering substance. As noted in
Allan Ramsay's (Oct 15, 1686 – Jan 7, 1758, his eldest
child was Allan Ramsay the painter 1713-84) ELEGY ON MAGGY JOHNSTON
, who died Anno 1711.
[Note: Maggy Johnston liv'd about a Mile Southward of Edinburgh,
kept a little Farm, and had a particular Art of brewing a small
Sort of Ale agreeable to the Taste, very white, clear and intoxicating,
which made People who lov'd to have a good Pennyworth for their
Money be her frequent Customers. And many others of every Station,
sometimes for Diversion, thought it no Affront to be seen in
her Barn or Yard.]:
"Some said it was
the pith of Broom,
That she stow'd in her masking- loom,
Which in our heads rais'd sic a foom;
Or some wild seed,
Which aft the chaping stoup did toom,
But fill'd our head."
Wine made from the flowers also has a reputation
for a producing a more than alcoholic intoxication.
Medicinal uses of broom
Now considered too toxic by many authorities;
expert use only, for most of its uses there are safer substitutes.
Cardiotonic, Cathartic, Diuretic, Emetic,
Insecticide, Vasoconstrictor, Vermifuge.
of medical actions
Broom is a bitter narcotic herb that depresses
the respiration and regulates heart action. It acts upon the
electrical conductivity of the heart, slowing and regulating
the transmission of the impulses. The young herbaceous tips
of flowering shoots are cardiotonic, cathartic, diuretic, emetic
and vasoconstrictor. The seeds can also be used. The plant is
used internally in the treatment of heart complaints, and is
especially used in conjunction with Convallaria majalis (Lily
of the Valley). The plant is also strongly diuretic, stimulating
urine production and thus countering fluid retention. Since
broom causes the muscles of the uterus to contract, it has been
used to prevent blood loss after childbirth. Use this herb with
caution since large doses are likely to upset the stomach. The
composition of active ingredients in the plant is very changeable,
this makes it rather unreliable medicinally and it is therefore
rarely used. This herb should not be prescribed to pregnant
women or patients with high blood pressure. Any treatment with
this plant should only be carried out under expert supervision.
The young herbaceous tips of flowering shoots are harvested
in spring, generally in May. They can be used fresh or dried.
They should not be stored for more than 12 months since the
medicinally active ingredients break down.
Historic: The most common traditional usages of
this plant seem to have been as a vermifuge for both humans
and horses, using the fresh green tips and as an insecticide
for head lice, a strong brew of twigs used as a scalp rub. The
plant also had a reputation for treating dropsy, jaundice and
expelling poisons from bites by venomous insects. In Fife, the
miners used broom tops and nettles, infused in water as a treatment
for dropsy. In Russia it had an optimistic reputation as a treatment
for Rabies. These uses are not given in more recent works, there
is now more concern about the toxicity and unpredictable level
of active ingredients of the herb than there used to be.
Plants For A Future,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/,
Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal
Botanic Garden Edinburgh,
ELEGY ON MAGGY JOHNSTON , Allan Ramsay collected
poems 1721 edition. Ramsay: The Works: a machine-readable transcript
is at http://quartet.cs.unb.ca
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