hist-brewing: Gill-over-the-ground

Mills, Scott Scott.Mills at COMPAQ.com
Fri May 7 12:27:41 PDT 1999

I'll take this a bit out of order...

> As for gill-over-the-ground being poisonous, the poison control site
> mentions an irritant oil that's a problem for horses in large 
> quantities.
> Even if it is also an irritant to humans, the quantities in 
> brewing really
> would be small.  It might not do you much good to have a 
> really big plate of
> hops, either.  (Shudder)
> I have always assumed that gill was imported by the early 
> Europeans who came
> to America, specifically so that they could use it in 
> brewing.  If not, then
> we might have a situation where the plant used in medival 
> brewing is not
> actually the same plant, though it must be closely related.  
> It is something
> I will need to look into, since the flavor of the European 
> variety might be
> quite different.

The Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System says;


"In Prince Edward Island two horses ingested large quantities of ground-ivy
in November when the ivy provided an abundance of green foliage. The horses
panted continually and died within a week. One horse would lie down and the
other horse would not. In Europe, horses have been reported to ingest large
amounts of fresh or dried ground-ivy, with subsequent poisoning. Apparently,
cattle and sheep were not poisoned after they ingested the plant (Fyles

>From this we can assume that it is the same or similar to the European plant
of the same name. They also refer to it as being an "Irritant Oil" yet buy
the descriptions of what it does to horses, it seems a little bit more than

> It doesn't surprise me at all that two totally different 
> brewing plants
> would share a common name.  The term "cost" in costmary 
> (according to my
> dictionary) originally comes form the Greek for fragrant 
> root.  If that's
> the case, then a common name like alecost means nothing more 
> than "plant
> with a fragrant root that is used in ale."  It's a good 
> reminder to all of
> us to double check latin names to be sure we have the right plant.

The references that I have indicate that Alecost or Costmary is not native
to Europe.  The Modern Herbal says;

"It is a native of the Orient, but has now become naturalized in many parts
of southern Europe and was formerly to be found in almost every garden in
this country, having been introduced into England in the sixteenth century -
Lyte, writing in 1578, said it was then 'very common in all gardens.'
Gerard, twenty years later, says 'it groweth everywhere in gardens,' and
Parkinson mentions it among other sweet herbs in his garden, but it has now
so completely gone out of favour as to have become a rarity, though it may
still occasionally be found in old gardens, especially in Lincolnshire,
where it is known as 'Mace.'"

And  "The name Costmary is derived from the Latin costus (an Oriental

Check it out at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/costm107.html

Natural Life magazine also indicates an oriental origin of the plant, see;

I have read other sources that indicate a oriental origin as is typical of
most plants in the Chrysanthemum family.  However, listed in the
'Capitulare', an edict issued by Charlemagne in the ninth century, you will
find Alecost listed as one of those plants to be grown wherever possible. So
it seems that it made its trip from the orient earlier than one might
otherwise expect.

In another interesting note, is it possible that Alecost was originally used
in brewing not for flavor, aroma, or as a preservative, but as an additive
to counteract drunkenness or hangovers?  Recent evidence shows it can do
just that.  Once again we are evidence to the wisdom of the ancients.  Take
a look at


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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