Broom (Cytisus scoparius)
Broom is a leggy dark green bush which flowers from May to July. The budlike flowers are beautiful and give a hint of its close relation to the pea family. The plant is often confused with Gorse but bears none of the nasty spikes and is far more delicate.
It was once believed to possess magical powers, able to repel witches and thought equally useful as an ingredient in many a witches spell. Bringing a bundle of broom to a country wedding was thought to bestow good luck to the happy couple. Broom was the first heraldic emblem; Geoffrey of Anjou wore a sprig of Broom for luck in battle, his descendants becoming the Plantagenet dynasty which ruled Britain for 300 years. The name Plantagenet was derived from the ancient name for Broom: Planta genista.
In everyday life Broom was used to sweep floors and the plant’s sinuous fibres were utilised to thatch rooves and to make baskets, paper and even cloth. The flowers and branches were also used to make green and yellow dye.
The flowers were once considered a delicacy and were famously added to the banquet tables at the feast to celebrate James II coronation. Even as late as WW2 pickled Broom buds were suggested as a foraged food adding interest to the meagre diet. In Vicomte De Mauduit wartime book They Can’t Rations These he offers a quick and easy recipe…
PICKLED BROOM BUDS
Rub dry a quantity of broom buds, then make a strong pickle of vinegar, salt, mustard, and stir well before standing overnight. Then put the buds in pickle jars, cover with pickle liquor, shaking frequently, and seal.
The tops of the Broom bush were used to brew beer when hops was not available and for centuries Broom also found favour as a country wine ingredient, as this recipe in Farmhouse Fare, a compilation by Farmers Weekly, illustrates…
A gallon water.
Rind and juice of 2 lemons and 2 oranges.
3lbs lump sugar.
2 tablespoons yeast.
1 gallon of broom flowers.
Boil sugar and water together with the lemon and orange rinds for ½ hour. When lukewarm pour over the flowers, picked from the stalks, add the juice of the lemons and oranges. Stir in the yeast and allow to ferment 3 days. Put into a clean dry cask and allow to work for about a week or ten days, filling up as required. Then stop up close and keep for 6 months or longer when an excellent drink will be found. This is a very old recipe given me by my grandmother, and the wine should be made during May.
From Mrs.N.Fennell, Warwickshire
These days we are more aware of the bloom’s chemical constituents, namely a toxic alkaloid which can affect the central nervous system and speed up the heart. With this in mind it is probably safest to take in very small doses or to avoid altogether.
The alkaloids which make it potentially toxic were precisely why it once proved so popular as a medicinal plant. Before mass produced and easily accessible medication a plant like Broom on the doorstep meant a wide range of ailments could be treated – as long as the practitioner was skilled and understood the subtleties of its powers.
The plant is a diuretic and in folk medicine it was used to treat dropsy (oedema), jaundice and kidney complaints. Broom was thought equally good for rheumatic pain and the flowers were added to the sufferer’s bath.
In conventional medicine it was used for centuries to clear gravel from the kidneys and also as a treatment for liver disease. Broom was used in combination with other plants to regulate heart complaints. Due to the fluctuating and unpredictable constituents within the plant it is now rarely used in herbal medicine. However it still provides sustenance for bees and insects and brings welcome colour to the bleakest landscape.
- Large doses of Broom can cause serious poisoning.
- Broom should be strictly avoided by those on kidney, liver or heart medications.
- Not to be used by people on blood pressure medication.
- Broom should be strictly avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women – the plant has been known to cause contractions.
This information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate and in the treatment of specific conditions it is always best to consult a herbalist or your GP. As stated due to conflicting information regarding this plant this article is for your interest only. Some sources say the plant is highly narcotic and can slow the heart.