What Do Heather Flowers Smell Like?
Scottish heather, the beloved flower native of Scotland, is a rugged plant well suited to that country’s terrain and climate. Also called Scotch heather, this plant is a true heather in the Ericaceae family.
While heather flowers are not widely known for their scent, Scottish heather (Calluna vulgaris, USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9) is the base for some perfumes and ales, and some say its fragrance evokes the essence of the Scottish countryside.
About Scottish Heather
While heather is not the national flower of Scotland (that title belongs to the thistle), it holds a special significance for Scots and grows abundantly throughout the country’s moorlands and hillsides. Also called ling or common heather, it’s an evergreen shrub that reaches about 24 inches high and spreads outward, sometimes creating a dense mat of foliage that is prized as a groundcover when planted in home gardens.
It grows best in full sun and acidic soil, requiring a pH lower than 6.0. It has purple or pink flowers that produce nectar that attracts bees and butterflies.
The Scots have made good use of this plant over time. Its tough fibers have been used for thatching roofs, especially in the highlands where there are few trees. It was long used for bedding and has also been brewed in teas or poultices to treat coughs, colds or rheumatism.
The Scent of Scottish Heather
Fragrance is always difficult to describe in words, so the best thing is to find some heather and bury your nose in it! Scots often refer to its fragrance, and there is even a poem (believed to have been written by John MacFarlane) titled 'When the Heather Scents the Air,' an ode to the author’s homeland of Scotland.
The fragrance of heather is often described as floral, which is so broad an adjective as to be meaningless. It is also called “gentle,” which suggests that its scent is subtle. Some say heather flowers smell like honey or lavender with smokey and earthy undertones. Some liken heather to honeysuckle.
The scent of heather flowers is often described as sweet and floral.
However difficult it is to pinpoint the fragrance of heather, it is used in soaps, potpourri and perfumes, where its floral scent is widely considered evocative of the Scottish countryside.
Heather honey has become a specialty item prized for its distinctive, earthy flavor, while heather ale is a traditional Scottish beer that uses heather as the primary ingredient, often likened to the flavor of chamomile or mint.
I garden in the Pacific North west, previously Hawaii where I had an avocado orchard. I have a Master Gardeners certificate here in Eugene, Oregon.