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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
The Comrade of the Heather


Let us go, lassie, go,
To the braes o' Balquither;
Where the blaeberries grow,
'Mang the bonnie blooming heather.
Tannahill.

ANY attempt to tell the story of the Heather would fall short of its purpose without some modest reference to the constant companion that sympathetically shares its solitude on the bleak hillsides; nor is it urgent to enlighten the reader who has roamed the Scottish Highlands upon the nectarine beguilement of this alluring sweet-lipped comrade; for what mischievous enchantment dwells within the luscious heart of the blaeberry, let the merry gatherers tell those whom Fate has unkindly denied their own lordly rustic festivity!

Memory unfolds upon its unfading picture-screen a group of laughing lads and lasses, lustily swinging in sun-browned hands their pails or Scotch "flagons," stachering up the heathery braes in the early autumn forenoon, scanning with eager eyes each Heather bush for those protruding branches of green, leathery leaves under which lie hidden the coveted prizes of their search—the juicy blaeberries. Now the picture changes. The sun is disappearing behind the far-off Scottish hills, and along the dusty road is seen trudging a bevy of tired toddlers, lips and cheeks besmeared, fingers dyed and "slips" and aprons almost indelibly spotted with a color rivaling in brilliancy the Tyrian purple, but withal happy in the proud possession of "flagons" brimming over with toothsome wealth, and in the greedy anticipation of a treat fit for more appreciative banqueters than the gods—when by mother's cunning skill the berries are transformed into that unsurpassed of all delicacies, blaeberrv jelly, or find brief repose in the seductive heart of a tart.

The blaeberry (blueberry) belongs to the genus Vaccinium, and is very often found in Scotland growing where the Heather occurs, especially on the mountain sides. Its fruits have at all times been valued for their utilitarian properties. Pliny says that the Gauls employed the blaeberry to produce a dye that rivaled the Tyrian purple. Doedens, Gerarde, and Parkinson state that the berries possess medicinal value, as "they be goode for a hot stomacke, they quench thirst, and allay the heat of burning agues." Parkinson adds, "With the juyce of the berries Painters doe color paper or cards, doe make a kind of purple blew colour, putting thereto some allome and Galles, whereby they can make it lighter or sadder as they please. And some poor bikes, as Tragus sheweth, doe take a potful of the juyce strained whereunto an ounce of Allome, four spoonfuls of good Wine vinegar, and a quarter of an ounce of the waste of the copper forgings, being put together, and boyled altogether, they put their cloth, wool], thred, or yarne therein, letting it lye for a good while, which being taken out and hung up to dry and afterwards washed with cold water, will leave the like Turkie blew colour, and if they would have it sadder they put thereto in the boyling an ounce of broken Galles."

In the Orkneys, it is said, a wine is made from the fruit, which there grows large. Lightfoot tells us the Scotch Highlanders eat the berries in milk and "make them into tarts and jellies, which last they mix with their whiskey to give it a relish to strangers."

It is not chiefly, however, on account of its economic value that we introduce the blaeberry here; but because of its close companionship with the Heather. Brave dwellers of the mountain side, nestling together, comrades in northland sunshine and storm, may you flourish for the sons and daughters of our beloved Scotland, twin symbols of perennial beauty—"a joy forever!"


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