hist-brewing: Re: hist-brewing-digest V1 #711

Cindy M. Renfrow cindy at thousandeggs.com
Mon Oct 23 11:57:31 PDT 2000

Alan McLeod in PEI wrote concerning sweet gale and wormwood.

Here are some notes from the appendix to my book, "A Sip Through Time":

Artemisia Absinthium L., Compositae... Absinth.
Wormwood was used formerly as a bitter stomachic, especially in France; it
was used to make the licorice-flavored liqueur absinthe.  Wormwood contains
thujone,(McGee, p. 160.) which can cause brain damage; it is addictive,
with habitual use also causing vomiting, tremors, vertigo, hallucinations,
violent behavior, and convulsions.(Merck Index, p. 2.) Absinthe was deemed
responsible for many deaths, and has been banned in several countries since
the turn of the century.  A wormwood-free version of absinthe, called
pastis, is now popular in France."

"Sweet gale.	Myrica gale L., Myricaceae... Bog Myrtle.
The fragrant leaves of M. gale are sometimes used for tea, but they contain
a toxic oil which has been used as an abortifacient.(Grieve, v.1, p. 88.)
Sage may be used as a substitute for Sweet gale."

I wish to make a few points clear to the members of this list concerning my
views on adding herbs to homebrew.

Some ancient beers, wines, and other drinks were brewed as medicines, to be
taken by the teaspoonful, not chugged by the liter.  Only by being an
informed reader can you hope to tell the difference.

Many early recipes do not contain exact measurements, making it easy for
the homebrewer to add too much of a flavoring herb. What do I mean by too

It's said that 'the dose makes the poison', but unfortunately, some herbs
may prove fatal even in small doses; and what causes minor gastric distress
in one person might kill another, depending on the sensitivity of the
individuals, their relative weights, etc.   Also, herbs vary in strength
from one plant to the next. The age of the plant at harvest, the parts
used, the amount of rainfall the plant received, and the length of time a
dried herb remained in storage all contribute to the strength of that herb
at the time of use.  In addition, the toxic effect of some herbs (such as
Viper's Bugloss) is cumulative, with the harmful effects taking some time
to manifest themselves.

Finally*,  many pregnant women (and women who don't yet know they're
pregnant), drink homebrew.  (And there's also the category of women who are
trying to get pregnant and failing -- how many of them are unwittingly
drinking herbal teas with ingredients that are causing uterine
contractions?)  I believe it's time for home-brewers to consider *all* the
people who will be sharing the results of their efforts.

*(Of course I am aware that commercially available alcohol products come
with warnings for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, and I think the warnings
are a good idea, but many people [including some doctors] don't agree with


Cindy Renfrow
cindy at thousandeggs.com
Author & Publisher of "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing
Recipes" and "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th Century

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