Broom

Sarothamnus scoparius syn. Cytisus scoparius

Herbs gallery - Broom

Common names

  • Broom
  • Broom Flowers
  • Broom Tops
  • Common Broom
  • Genista
  • Irish Broom
  • Link
  • Scotch Broom

The broom plant is a stiff and many branched shrub that can reach ten feet when fully grown. Compound leaves are present on the lower part of the herb; the lower compound leaves are made up of three leaflets each. Leaves in the upper part of the herb are normally undivided and whole. From April to June, the broom gives out bright yellow and pea like flowers, each flower is about three fourths of an inch across. The flowers of the broom bloom singly or grow out in pairs along the branches and are subsequently followed by the production of brown and hairy seedpods, each of which is two to three inches in length.

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In medieval Europe, the typical housewife used the twigs and branches of the broom as domestic tool for sweeping the floors. A common belief in the Middle Ages was that the herb could repel witches; however, using the broom while it was in full bloom was believed to invite bad luck on the house. The prevalence of this superstition can be gauged from the words of an old English saying that states: "If you sweep the house with blossomed broom in May, you are sure to sweep the head of the house away." It can be seen that the broom had both utilitarian and superstitious uses attached to its use.

The broom is additionally linked to a long heraldic history and tradition. One tradition states that, Count Geoffrey, who was the count of Anjou from 1129 to 1149, adopted the broom as a symbolic badge and fixed it to his helmet - he may have done this to help his troops could follow him into battle with ease of identification. The broom was again chosen as a symbol a century later, when a new order of knighthood was founded by Louis IX of France; this king chose the broom as an emblem of humility. Thus, the humble broom was used as a heraldic symbol in Europe.

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Herbalist also prepared medications using the broom and the herb was believed to be of great value as a medicine. For example, in the 16th century broom was often given as a diuretic and as a purgative herb to patients. The herb was at one time a very common herbal treatment for many ailments and disorders. The distilled water of the broom flowers was reportedly drunk as a remedy for illness, by none other than the great Henry VIII - king of England. The beneficial properties attributed to the broom plant are not supported by modern research, and though several modern herbals still list broom as being a good diuretic and cathartic - strong laxative - herb, the official medical community does not recommend the use of the tops of the broom plant as the tops contain many plant toxins which can be injurious to health.

Parts used

Flowering tops.

Uses

One of the principal uses of the broom is as remedy for treating an irregular and fast heart beat rate. Cardiac nerves and the electrical conductivity cardiac tissues are affected by the broom; the herb slows down and regulates the transmission of the nerve impulses in cardiac muscles. The strongly diuretic action of the broom is another reason for its use as a medicine; the broom helps stimulate the production of urine and counters fluid retention in the body. The broom has been employed in preventing excessive blood loss following the birth of a child due to the fact that broom induces the muscles of the uterus to contract.

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The tips of tender herblike flowering shoot of the broom plant possesses cathartic, cardiotonic, emetic, diuretic as well as vasoconstrictor properties. Even the seeds of this herb are used for therapeutic purposes. Together with lily of the valley (botanical name Convallaria majalis), the broom herb is employed internally for treating problems related to the heart.

The bark of the broom plant yields an outstanding fiber that is utilized for manufacturing cloth, paper and nets. However, compared to that obtained from the Spanish broom (botanical name Spartium junceum), this fiber is not very strong. The bark fiber that is utilized for making paper is roughly anything between 2 mm and 9 mm in length. The branches of the broom plant are harvested either during the latter part of summer or in autumn, and the leaves stripped from the stems are put in lye steamed till you are able to strip the fiber. In fact, the fibers are cooked for roughly three hours and, subsequently, placed in the ball mill for another three hours. The paper produced in this process has a light tan hue. The bark of the broom plant is an excellent resource of tannin; the bark yields a yellowish as well as a brownish dye. While the flowering stem of the broom plant yields a yellow dye, the leaves and the tender tops yield a green dye.

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The slender branches of the broom are also employed for making brooms, brushes, baskets as well as besoms. Occasionally, the branches of the shrub are also utilized to make thatched roofs as well as an alternative for reeds while making screens or putting up fences. The flowers of broom yield an essential oil that is used by the perfumery industry.

Broom thrives well on dry banks of water bodies as well as on slopes that are steep. This shrub is effective in binding sand and also stabilizing soil. In fact, it is among the first plants to form a colony on sand dunes along the coasts. One striking feature of broom is that it draws insects from neighbouring plants. The wood of this shrub is extremely tough and has beautiful veins. As the herb rarely grows to an adequate height, its wood is not much valued in the form of timber. However, cabinet makers value the plants of larger varieties. Besides, its wood is also valued for making coverings.

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Culinary uses

Besides its therapeutic uses, the broom plant also has culinary uses, for instance, the flower buds of this herblike plant may be included in salads. In addition, they are pickled and also used as an alternative for capers. The plant's young green tops have been employed in the same manner as hops to provide a bitter essence to beer and also make it further intoxicating. The seeds of broom plant are roasted and used as a substitute for coffee.

Habitat and cultivation

The broom is an European plant, indigenous to continental Europe. The broom plants are a common sight on heaths, in pathways and along roadsides, and in open woodland or waste lands. The broom has been naturalized in many temperate regions of the world; this includes the US, where the plant is now quite a common sight in woodlands. From spring to the fall, the flowering tops of the broom can be collected for use in many herbal preparations. Broom plants are still used to make the traditional sweeping implements in some areas, though the practice is now mostly restricted and is a cultural rite with no functional or utilitarian ends.

The broom thrives well in nearly all types of soil, but has a preference for a reasonably good, but not very fertile soil. This herb also has a preference for poor soil, which has a proper drainage system. Broom also thrives in somewhat acidic, limy and neutral soils, but loathes thin soil on top of a chalk base. Some reports say that this plant cannot survive on calcareous soil and also finds it difficult to tolerate a pH that is very much above 6.5. The broom also has a preference for complete sunlight, but can endure some shade. When grown in open conditions, the plants do well and can tolerate exposure to maritime situations. The broom has a root system that goes deep down into the earth and this is one of the reasons why they are able to endure drought very well when they are already established. Interestingly, the broom is able to endure smoky conditions and thrives well when grown even in polluted areas. These plants are able to tolerate temperatures as low as -20°C.

Herbalists have developed several named varieties of the broom for the species ornamental worth. This herb bears new leaves in April, but soon these leaves wither away and the plant carries out photosynthesis by means of its green stems. The broom can tolerate cutting and is quick to grow again from its base. While it has been found that usually fire destroys the plants, they grow from their seeds and become established quite quickly once the fire is over. The broom is an excellent bee plant and several varieties of caterpillars find it to be a good food. The broom especially supplies food for the green hairstreak butterfly's larvae. Even ants are drawn to the seeds of broom and they sustain on the succulent attachments that bind the seeds to the pods. In fact, the ants are responsible for spoiling the seeds.

The broom does not like its roots being disturbed, particularly when the plant is established and grown over 20 cm in height. Since this species grows well in exposed conditions, it is ideal to plant the seedlings outdoors into their constant positions at the earliest. It may be mentioned that the broom shares a symbiotic association with the bacteria in the soil, which develop into nodules and fix onto the roots helping them to secure nitrogen from the atmosphere. While the growing plant utilizes a portion of the nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere, plants growing in the vicinity also use some of the remaining nitrogen.

The broom is mostly propagated by its seeds, which are best sown in a cold frame immediately when they mature in autumn. Before sowing the seeds, they should be soaked in tepid water for about 24 hours and subsequently cold stratified for about a month. Normally, it takes about four weeks for the seeds to germinate provided they are kept at 20°C. It is important to pick out the seedlings and grow them in pots at the earliest possible, because the broom plants do not like their roots to be disturbed once they are established. Ideally, you should transplant them outdoors in the latter part of the summer, provided they have grown sufficiently. Alternately, you may also plant them outdoors during the latter part of spring in the next year. The seeds of the broom can be stored for a long period because they remain viable for a considerable time. You may also sow the seeds in situ (the permanent place of the plant's growth) immediately when they mature either in the latter part of summer or in autumn.

Alternately, the broom can also be grown from semi-mature wood cuttings. The cuttings should be roughly anything between 4 cm and 7 cm in length and each have a heel. You need to plant these cuttings in a frame in August and their roots will emerge from them during spring. When the roots have developed, plant them in pots at the earliest possible. If you wish to propagate this species from mature wood, the cuttings should be done during the period October-November and put in a frame for roots to develop.

Constituents

Broom contains quinolizidine alkaloids (particularly sparteine and lupanine), phenethylamines, isoflavones, flavonoids, a volatile oil, caffeic and p-coumaric acids, tannins (pigments). Sparteine reduces the heart rate, and the isoflavones are estrogenic.

Side effects and cautions

People using any part of the broom plant for therapeutic purposes should be cautious, because taking it in excessive amounts may result in stomach disorders. It is worth mentioning that the components of the active elements of the broom plant are extremely variable and this is the main reason why this herb is somewhat undependable medicinally and, hence, it is also used rarely. In fact, this herb should not only be avoided during pregnancy, but people with hypertension (high blood pressure) should also stay away from it. Moreover, if you plan to use this herb to cure any condition you might be enduring, it is necessary to undergo the treatment under the direct supervision of an expert.

Collection and harvesting

Normally, the tender herblike tips of the flowering shoots of broom plant are harvested during spring, especially in May. These flowering shoots may be used fresh or dried up for future use. These shoots should never be stored in excess of 12 months, because the therapeutically active elements in the plant start decomposing after this period.

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