The Latin Calluna is derived from the Greek kallunein meaning “to beautify, to sweep clean” and refers to the tradition of making besoms from heather twigs. Like Bog Myrtle, Heather was a traditional additive to gruit ale and the 18th century naturalist Thomas Pennant observed in his 1769 work A Tour of Scotland, that on Islay: “ale is frequently made of the young tops of heath, mixing two thirds of that plant with one of malt”. Heather ale was a favourite of the early Picts and traces of a fermented drink made of heather flowers have been found on a 3,000-year-old shard of pottery from the Isle of Rum.
Traditionally an emblem of Scotland itself, Robbie Burns frequently refers to the plant: “We’ll sing auld Coila’s plains and fells, Her moors red-brown wi’ heather bells”. So much did Queen Victoria love Scotland that a sprig of heather featured in the wedding bouquet given to her by Prince Albert. The rarer white heather is said to only grow on the graves of faeries and this is the source of the property of good luck long associated with heather in general.