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I have a fantasy kingdom set up where the landscape is mostly mountainous with rock and pine forests, like the picture below. As such, it is quite difficult to have agriculture. One plant which can grow there is gorse (which can grow almost anywhere).

Could a gorse bush provide for food?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says (s.v. Ulex): "Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make a non-grape-based fruit wine. As fodder, gorse is high in protein and may be used as feed for livestock, particularly in winter when other greenstuff is not available." What's wrong with this? Use the gorse to feed sheep, milk the sheep, make cheese, eat cheese. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 22 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'd say that's worth converting to an answer and fleshing out with more detail. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Jan 22 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilipRowlands is it? To me, this sounds like the barest amount of research that I'd expect a question like this should have covered. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 22 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilipRowlands: I'm with vlaz on this. Since it took me a few seconds to find the information, I don't consider this answer. (English is not my mother tongue, so I was curious what "gorse" was. Now I know that Ulex does not have a vernacular name in my language.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 22 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ Usually we harp on questions for being too broad. This one is too narrow. I'd rather see "what wild or cultivated plants could the residents make use of for food for themselves and their livestock?" $\endgroup$ – Cyn Jan 22 at 15:50
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Could a gorse bush provide for food?

Yes, they can not only provide food, they can provide for food. But not just that, they have the potential to support a whole culture in many ways:

  • The Tips of fresh growth contain vitamin C and other nutrients and can be used to make a refreshing tea, the flowers (available during the winter) are similarly suitable for tea.

  • References indicate that both can be pickled in vinegar and kept for long periods. A poisonous alkaloid it contains can be taken in moderate quantities, but don't eat too many in one sitting though.

its flowers have been used in the treatment of jaundice and as a treatment for scarlet fever in children. The seed is said to be astringent and has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and stones. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies

  • Both sheep and goats are used in various parts of the world to control gorse growth, goats being hardier and more suited to mountain terraine can live off gorse at a density of 35 individuals per hectaire (10,000 sq metres).

  • They would provide your peoples with milk/cheese, meat, tools (horn/bone/glue/lighting from the fat) and dung for fuel for fire/building materials or to fertilise suitable patches of rock for herbs. Goatskin and leather for clothing/bedding, and stomachs as storage bags. Fine quality thread, woven or knitted hair, as from the Cashmere or Mohair goats would present a very valuable trading resource for metal tools, medicines or alternative foods for variety.

enter image description here

An Angora Goat (Produces Mohair) Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License Wikipedia 2019

  • Don't neglect the importance to your people of beer that can be brewed from the milk (Koumiss).

it can be used as a windbreak hedge in the most exposed positions, making an impenetrable barrier with its vicious thorns.

  • Gorse contains terpenes - these highly flammable aromatic compounds have antiseptic qualities and can be used for starting fires, treating wounds. The wood ash can be used for making a lye for making soap, the flowers as a natural dye.

  • The seed can be soaked in water and used as a wash potent against fleas.

  • The thorns, well perhaps your people have a passtime of playing darts.

Information gathered from variously:

https://www.grassland.org.nz/publications/nzgrassland_publication_1218.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cashmere_wool

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohair

http://rawedibleplants.blogspot.com/2013/03/common-gorse-ulex-europeaus.html

http://www.eattheweeds.com/ulex-europaeus-edible-gorse-or-furze-pas-2/

http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/u/ulex-europaeus=gorse.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lye

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. As for the alkaloid, there are chemical processes that can remove it. One such method involves soaking them in dilute hydrochloric acid, dilute acetic acid and then water. Acetic acid should be easy enough to come by, and hydrochloric acid was discovered in 800AD so it's not out of the question they could be processed, especially if a substitute could be found for HCl. What that would do to vitamin c I'm not sure though... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jan 22 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ Since this is mountainous terrain - don't forget pigs - wild porcine species originated in swamps and mountains so the could be well suited to hunting/droving $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 23 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ And birds (I used to find robin and other wild bird nests with a few family members and harvest part of their eggs during lean times in the woods, cliffy more than mountain but same principle, near my uncle - duck eggs were best) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 23 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Just want to say that on the back of this I went picking gorse flowers and they are in fact very tasty! $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jan 26 at 13:21
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I grew up with gorse, and though yes, it's pokey, picky and unpleasant to try to move through quickly (especially if it grows thickly as it does on the cliffs of the island of my birth) part of the selective pressures making the resinous outer coating and the sharp spine-like leaves such an advantage is that the actual tissue of gorse is both liquid and nutrient rich... had it not those defences, it would get decimated by any grazers in its locale.

Which is why goats do very well with it - their mouths are tougher than many other ungulates, so they just... chomp right on through. Admittedly, even they have to be somewhat careful, but they eat gorse and sloe bushes too, which are equally hardy and even pokier!

That said, you should research specific species of gorse for your chosen conditions, as the one I'm the most familiar with (Ulex Europeaus) wouldn't do well on a higher than Tibetan plateau - though it would handle the inherent drought conditions well, and the bright sunlight, and gravelly nutritionally-poor soil as well, it doesn't handle harsh cold winters well - this is intrinsic to many plants which retain moisture via resinous coverings - they can't afford to freeze as there's just so much cell damage done when the plant's tissues retain that much water.

Guernsey Gorse
Guernsey Gorse

Sloe - Blackthorn bush
enter image description here

Hope this helps

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    $\begingroup$ Without reliable sources of vitamins, these mountainous pastoralists might do something similar to eskimos and get their share from offal and partially-digested stomach contents. It's not nearly as healthy as a better diet, but it's evidently possible. Or just trade with lowlanders... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jan 22 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not convinced by the "can't handle harsh cold winters" part. There are a few large and thriving stands of gorse in very exposed locations in the UK Peak District, where in a "worse than average" winter one side of the plants can be buried under a snowdrift for several weeks as a time. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Jan 23 at 11:18
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Collecting gorse is not called "farming". It's called "gathering" or "herding." Unfortunately, gathering doesn't provide much agricultural surplus.

Your kingdoms's population will be low due to dearth of food, and will be spread widely. Herds of sheep or goats may need to range widely to gather enough sustenance. Hunting parties to bring in wild meat will be very popular...as will livestock theft. Lack of specific dietary nutrients (like Vitamin C) will stunt growth and cause early death. Your land will have some villages, but few towns.

Low population and tough terrain means few roads. Your folks will spend most of their time fending off starvation instead of amassing wealth, going upon quests, or pondering the mysteries. The well-fed goats, however, will provide plenty of milk and cheese.

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