A short-lived shrub with erect, green, tough, spineless stems. In Spring, its large yellow flowers grow in great profusion out of the leaf angles and resemble pea flowers, like those of the sweet pea, or vetch, which share the same lineage. They produce large quantities of pollen and are attractive to bees. Not to be confused with Whin (gorse) which has the same golden-yellow flowers- Broom doesn’t have any of Whin’s sharp spines. This species grows on sunny slopes, on heaths, waste ground, in open woods, and occasionally in coastal areas. During the summer, its hairy, black seed pods 'explode' in the sun, producing an audible cracking sound and spreading their seeds.
Broom tops were once added to barley-based beer in some parts of Scotland, apparently as a flavouring agent. As a poisonous plant whose effects include suppression of the nervous system, lack of co-ordination and occasional bouts of excitement - symptoms not dissimilar to those of alcohol poisoning, its use may not come across as a complete surprise after all. 'In Breadalbane and Ross-shire this species was used for the production of a fermented drink in its own right. George Johnston, writing in 1853, maintained that it exerts an intoxicating influence on man. (Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater)
Sheep unused to eating Broom can become giddy if they eat it, most likely due to the cytisine content. This further explains the traditional use of the plant as a basis for intoxicating drinks and, more recently, the popularity of its dried flowers as a marijuana substitute. In terms of the medicinal properties, Broom was once used as a cure for dropsy, jaundice and rheumatism.
In some parts of Scotland, where large timber was scarce, people naturally turned to other sources of fuel. Broom, as well as gorse, were planted and managed in rural areas as sources of fuelwood: 'Fuel is not an expensive article. In the summer the peasantry burn only broom and furze, which they frequently have for the cutting, at all times for a small price. The light lands in the hills, after being a year or two out of tillage, are over-run with broom. Indeed, about 40 years ago, when the excessive badness of the roads rendered the transportation of fuel difficult, it was reckoned no inconsiderable improvement to sow our light lands with broom for fuel.' (sic) - First Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, Abernyte.
There were also many traditions associated with the use of the branches to make brooms (hence the common name). The specific epithet scoparius, means broom-like, which derives from the Latin word 'scopae'-a besom. It was traditionally used for clearing the scurface of the ice before curling games. In northeast Scotland, the roots of the Broom were sometimes used for cordage.
'Vickery's Folk Flora' - R. Vickery, 2019
'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013
'The Gaelic names of plants' - J.Cameron, first published 1900, 2019 re-print
'A contemplation Upon Flowers - Garden plants in myth and literature' - B.Ward, 1999