hist-brewing: Gruit herbs (was: Marsh Rosemary)

Martyn Cornell atrectus at blueyonder.co.uk
Mon May 20 01:51:18 PDT 2002

I would like to take this opportunity to express an apparently heretical
proposition: I don't think medieval European brewers used marsh rosemary,
Ledum Palustre, except probably in desperation when they couldn't get hold
of sweet gale.

I know various modern reproductions of gruit ales, including the one in the
Durden Park Beer Club's book Old British Ales and How to Make Them, have
recipes that include sweet gale, marsh rosemary and yarrow together, but I
think this is a mistake: I believe it is more logical to assume these
ingredients would only have been used separately, and certainly sweet gale
and marsh rosemary would never have been used together.

The logic for this is as follows:

Sweet gale and marsh rosemary are similar-looking plants with similar
flavours growing in similar places: why use both if you can get hold of one?
If you can get sweet gale, it must be better to brew with, because marsh
rosemary has seriously more toxic side-effects than sweet gale does
(headaches? you'll have more than headaches.)

The perceived similarity of the two plants is seen in the names given to
them in German and Norwegian: Porst and pors for sweet gale, Schweineporst
and Finnmark pors for marsh rosemary

However, the German name for marsh rosemary, Schweineporst, which translates
as "pigs' gale", suggests very strongly that it was seen as a poor
substitute for true porst, rather like chestnuts and horse chestnuts in
English (I don't know if Finnmark pors, which means "gale from Finnmark
county", has derogatory overtones or not: anybody with knowledge of how
Norwegians feel about things from Finnmark? The name means "The Finnish
March", or border territory, and as you would expect it is up in Northern
Norway on the border with Finland)

Comments would be very welcome Š

Martyn Cornell

³Beer is a popular subject, and the literature abounds in unsupported
statements, misleading or inaccurate quotations and inaccurate references.²
D Gay Wilson, 1975

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