Small, branched shrub growing to 2 ft (60 cm). Has tiny leaves and white or pink to pale-purple flowers growing on spikes.
Habitat & Cultivation
Heather grows in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It is found on heaths, moors, bogs, and in open woods. The herb is gathered when in flower in late summer.
Heather contains flavonoids, arbutin, tannin, and an alkaloid, ericodin. This constituent has a strongly disinfectant effect within the bladder and urinary tubules.
History & Folklore
If the “erica” that Dioscorides discusses in his 1st century CE Materia Medica is indeed heather, as has been surmised, then the flowering tips were used in classical times to treat snake bite. Galen (131–200 CE) wrote of the plant’s ability to induce sweating. The rootstock of heather is made into musical pipes, the foliage provides mattress stuffing, and the flowers produce a delicate honey. White heather is considered very lucky, especially in Scotland.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Heather is a good urinary antiseptic and diuretic, disinfecting the urinary tract and mildly increasing urine production. Besides its role in treating cystitis and inflammatory bladder conditions, heather has been used to treat kidney and bladder stones. Cleansing and detoxifying, it is helpful for rheumatism, arthritis, and gout. A hot poultice of heather tips is a traditional remedy for chilblains and rheumatism.