II: Heather

The Scottish can't stop finding ways to use heather.

II: Heather
Heather in bloom. Photo by Lumitar / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is duodi, the 22nd of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la bruyère, a bramble that represents Scotland.

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Everything we said about honey a while back gets thrown out the window when the bees dine on heather. The nectar of this plant has chemicals that really change the character of the substance, from its flavor and color to its viscosity and water content. While most honey will start to ferment at just over 20% water content, heather honey naturally has 25% water because the bees can't squeeze much more out. But it still doesn't ferment, and it's anything but watery. Heather honey is called "thixotopic" because it sets as a thick jelly, but becomes the usual honey-like syrup once stirred. Then it sets again. This makes it so difficult to extract from the comb that's often sold comb-and-all. These properties are great news for bees – less work to make, more durable storage of nutrients – but traditionally made it a trash honey to humans, so bees were kept far from heather. Now, it's marketed as Scottish honey and is considered a flavorful delicacy, and it's also an ingredient in Drambuie.

We go from Canada's national plant to Scotland's. Heather grows wild and freely in the highlands of Great Britain, and has been a symbol and source of Scottish pride for as long as there's been a unified Scottish identity.

The word itself is Scottish, and of unknown previous origin. It's likely that "heather" just means heather. The French word means something closer to "briar" in its old forms, showing that it was only the Scots who figured out what to do with the stuff and how to use it for their health, both literally and spiritually.

How do the Scots use heather? Let us count the ways.

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