Heather is a shrubby plant that grows long racemes of tiny bell-like flowers in soft pinks, lavender, copper, green, gold, magenta, red and white. The common heather is Calluna vulgaris and is the only true Scots heather about which poetic Gaelic prose has been penned. The plant is found growing in acidic poor soils in its native Europe and Asia Minor and is a popular landscape plant in the United States. Heather has a long history of use as an aromatic oil, stuffing for pillows, potpourri ingredient and even as a broom. The fresh scent of heather is hard to describe because of its subtlety, but has few floral notes and is more earthy and herb-like.
Heather is a low-growing bush or shrub that only grows 4 to 24 inches tall. The plant is hardy to United States Department of Agriculture zones 4 to 6 and is drought resistant once it is established. Heather is evergreen and has several seasons of interest. Its fresh bright green new growth in spring enlivens the plant. Summer escorts in long colorful stems with a multitude of blooms. In fall, the foliage changes hue and deepens and grows richer in tone.
Heather flowers are little cup-shaped blooms flanked with more erect sepals and having a darker corona. The flowers can bloom from late spring well into fall and have a soft scent that is almost unnoticeable unless you are in a field of the plant in bloom. The stems or racemes may get anywhere from 1 to 12 inches long and new growth arises on the tips of them after the flowers are spent. The tiny flowers are less than 1/4 inch long but their massed characteristic can turn a mountainside into a palette of moving color.
Heather is described as being woody and mossy by the fragrance marketer, The Good Scents Company. A Scottish fable says God gave heather flowers the scent of honeysuckle. The light fragrance is appealing and fresh and is often blended with other aromatic oils. Heather is a scent that is often included in masculine bath and body care products, which is probably due to its very light floral tones and very heavy musky tones. Heather oil is used as an aromatic in many applications and has centuries of olfactory devotees.
Heather has a long history as a building material, tinder, cushioning and bedding, weaving fiber and light source among other uses. In traditional crafts it was used to dye fabric and in paint as well as a component of jewelry. Heather is a flavoring agent for both food and drink but it gives many beers and spirits their characteristic taste. Heather wine uses the blooming racemes of the plant in a fermented process to produce the beverage. Teas, honey and a mead-like drink are also commonly still made from heather. The scent industry has its finger on the pulse of the scented. Heather is part of many body care products including shampoos, body washes, soaps, perfumes and lotions.