Monday, April 21, 2014

Useful: Urisks & Heather

#18 in the April 2014 A to Z Blog Challenge
U: Ur, Heather in the Scottish Gaelic alphabet.

White Heather
 Heather is one of the most beloved, fabled and useful shrubs in Scotland! Also called fraoch, ling, Scottish heather, and heath, it’s a low evergreen shrub with three varieties growing in poor soil, with white or purple/red flowers in late summer/early autumn. Along with the thistle, it’s the national flower of Scotland, and has been used in many ways for centuries. Grazing deer, sheep, and cattle browse the grey stems; many butterflies, moths and bees love the flowers. Symbolizing new beginnings, it’s good luck to have in a bride’s bouquet and around the house. The branches can be woven into wreaths, mats, or cubby baskets, or carved into musical pipes. 
Old Scotswoman & Heather Besom
Twigs were often fashioned into besom brooms, or in smaller bunches, used to clean dirty pots. The finest honey is made from heather, and one of the most ancient Pictish stories about it is “The Secret to Heather Ale.” In herblore, heather’s used for ailments of the genitourinary systems, including stones, kidney and bladder infections, menstrual, and menopausal symptoms. It stimulates the flow of bile and urine, making it useful in cleansing and purifying teas. As a soothing herb, it’s good for spasmodic complaints in any system, including cramping and spasmodic coughs. Its soothing nature also makes it good for nervousness and insomnia. Many crofter and fishermen’s homes were thatched with heather, fastened with heather ropes. Some of it, with the blossoms uppermost, was used as bedding, soft as down—with the added benefit of a sweet aroma! Presented as a gift, it brings good luck to both the giver and the receiver.

Urisks were related to the broonies, except that they tended to live in remote locations. They were not a shape-shifter, although they probably wished they were; supposedly, they were solitary and shy because humans were repelled by their gnarled, hairy (although in one story the urisk was bald) appearance. Some had horns.
At times they were willing to help guard the herds 
and flocks, for the usual payment of a daily bowl of milk and perhaps some clothing, but if offended, they were loud in denunciations before flouncing off. "Cha toigh leam thu!" (I do not like you!) In some lore, they would follow travelers, but when they summoned up the courage to appear and speak, would terrify the strangers. Urisks weren’t considered to be very bright—for example, the urisk of Ben Loy often sat on a stone called Clach na h-Uruisg (“the stone of the urisk”) beside the Moraig waterfall, constantly trying to prevent the water from falling too fast over the rock.

Iain Campbell--not a urisk--
plaiting heather rope on South Uist.
I'm sure that urisks sometimes made heather ropes while watching for a traveler to speak to!

Heather on the Muir (moor)


  1. I love Scotland, will be there in June.

    Passing from the A to Z. . . . Good Luck getting to Z

  2. Lucky you! Loved it when i was there many years ago, and would love to go again--especially to the Isle of Barra.... Thanks, but there is no Z in the Scots Gaelic alphabet.....

  3. So glad I found this. I have ancestors from Scotland, but have never learned much about it. Now, I want to know more. Thanks for sharing. New follower here. I'm dropping by from the "A to Z" challenge, and I look forward to visiting again.


    1. Thanks, Sylvia! Because I'm a Celtic storyteller who specializes in Scottish and Welsh tales, lore and music, I write a lot about that part of my heritage, so please see other posts of mine. I like he format that you're using for your challenge!

  4. Those Urisks sound a bit pathetic.

    1. That is exactly the word! Not really scary, except by the unexpectedness of startling people, unlike some other faery folk!


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