Poor old gorse (Ulex europaeus) has a reputation as a rampant, spiny thug and few people give it a second look. Yet, as these photos from Highcliffe show, it is a glorious sight every spring along our coast and the flowers give off a lovely honey scent. Few people would understand that it offered Neolithic sweeties.
I find they taste sweet and have a distinctive aftertaste. The flower pundits on the internet say they taste of coconut with an aftertaste of bitter almonds.
My pagan ancestor Zuri, in 2200BC, loved eating the flowers. Perhaps she saw them as we see sweets, colourful, pop in the mouth, gratifying and tasty. Yet, such plants are also a component of her food strategy. The gorse flower in April and this early time of year offers promise as the sun gains warmth. Yet it was a sparse time for food, for humans as well as, so the textbooks say, squirrels. Winter food stocks are exhausted yet it’s too early to harvest grain or nuts. Few edible plants are really growing and the geese and other migrant birds, another winter food source, have headed north.
Perhaps Stonehenge is fundamental to these hungry months. A ceremony here or there might have made the difference, placated the gods as it were. For certain, an appeal for warm weather or rain made them feel they were doing something positive.
Zuri lived with the seasonal challenge, of finding food day by day, month by month, and gluts and famine were the order of the day. Not for her, strawberries in January, grown in the Southern hemisphere and flown to the local supermarket. We are no longer seasonal creatures.