hist-brewing: Gill-over-the-ground

Mills, Scott Scott.Mills at COMPAQ.com
Fri May 7 08:46:33 PDT 1999

> From Wines & Beers of Old New England by Sanborn Brown  I 
> quote from p.65
> Gill-over-the-ground, cat's foot, robin-in-the-hedge, 
> alehoof, alecost, alehove, field balm, and ground ivy 
> are all names for the common weed that was very often used 
> to give the bitter taste to beer.  The name "gill" is said 
> to come from the French guille, to ferment, and the word 
> "ale" appears in three of these names, attesting to the 
> usefulness of this little plant. Actually many other bitter 
> plants were also used in the steeping of beer, including 
> sweet mary, tansy,sage, wormwood, and sweet gale, but 
> ground ivy was the most common after hops, since it, too, 
> has preservative qualities.

I have not seen this source but I wonder how accurate it is?  It seems to
imply that Ground Ivy and Alecost are the SAME plant.  I have grown and
brewed with Alecost/Costmary and I have seen Ground Ivy /
Gill-over-the-ground and the look nothing alike and aren't really closely

Ground ivy, Alehoof, Gill-go-by-the-ground, Creeping charlie,
Gill-over-the-ground, Granny' Bonnett, Cat's-foot, Turnhoof, Haymaids,
Hedera is a member of the mint family. It is listed as a  poisonous plant,
particularly to horses. There are a number of documented cases in Canada and
England where a horse ate too much of the plant early in the spring and
died.  I can only assume that in the small quantities used in brewing it is
not a danger.

Does anyone know if this plant used as a brewing additive in Europe or is it
strictly a colonial brewing herb?  

For a photo of the plant take a look at
http://www.rce.rutgers.edu/weeddocuments/givy.htm, or on the Cornell Poison
Plant pages at  http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/groundivy.html 
and a nice illustration at

Costmary, Alecost, Bible Leaf, Mint Geranium, Balsam Herb, Costmarie, Mace,
Balsamita, (French) Herbe Sainte-Marie, Tanacetum balsamita or Chrysanthemum
balsamita  is a member of the larger composite family, which includes
daisies, dandelions, marigolds, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums.  Although it
has a very minty aroma, strictly speaking it is not a mint.

For a very nice illustration take a look at 

This I have brewed with and actually it made an ok little ale.  I started
with my typical amber base (10 lb pale, 1/2 lb crystal, 1/4 pound
chocolate), used a 1/2 oz plug of fuggles and substituted Costmary for the
rest of my hops ounce for ounce.  The next time I will use about half as
much Costmary because I think it was too bitter and slightly too minty in
aroma.  It wasn't a bad beer but it was bitter. 

This ale did NOT age well. As it aged it got a very earthy aroma to it and a
musty taste.  I am not sure if it was the product of some secondary
infection or if that is just what happens with Alecost.

Good luck on the Ground Ivy experiment.  When it is done send a longneck my


Scott Mills	 
Engineering Problem Management	 
Industry Standard Server Division	 
Scott.Mills at Compaq.Com <mailto:Scott.Mills at Compaq.Com> 	 
AKA Ld Eadric Anstapa

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