Espinillo and Controlled Burns in Chile

A common plant that you will see throughout Chile is Espinillo (also known as ulex, gorse, furze or whin.) This is an invasive, thorny plant that has a long flowering season. There are 20 species of this plant throughout the world, but the species that is in Chile comes from western Europe where it is native (Ulex europaeus L. - Common Gorse). Espinillo is a serious nuisance in Chile and will quickly take over any sunny spot. This problematic plant cause the land to be almost unusable wherever it grows, so the locals reclaim their land by burning the espinillo.

Although it does grow back, the controlled burns are effective at getting the espinillo down to a more manageable size and amount, so other methods can be used to maintain the newly cleared land. Here in southern Chile, the firefighter department can be hired for approximately 4000 chilean peso (around $5 US dollars) to come and help manage the controlled burn. Since espinillo grows in sunny areas, there are usually never any native trees around, so there isn't a big risk of burning a big native tree.

Uses for Espinillo:

Fuel: Espinillo bushes are highly flammable (although they produce a lot of smoke), and in many areas of the world bundles of espinillo were used to fuel traditional bread ovens.

Food: Making it not a totally useless plant, espinillo flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make wine.

Livestock Feed: Although most livestock (except wild horses) won't eat espinillo except for the occasional nibble, it was traditionally prepared before feeding to livestock. As livestock feed, espinillo is high in protein and makes a good supplement when other green vegetation is not available. Traditionally, it was used as feed for cattle, being made edible by either by crushing with hand-held mallets, or grinding with hand- or water-driven mills, or being finely chopped and mixed with straw.

Wood: Espinillo has been used to make small wooden objects and ornaments. Because it is non-toxic, it can be used to make kitchen utensils. Since it warps easily, it is not suitable for construction.

Alternative Medicine: Espinillo has been used as one of the 38 plants that are used to prepare Bach flower remedies, a kind of alternative medicine for its good effect on health.

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