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

Martyn Cornell atrectus at blueyonder.co.uk
Tue May 28 19:21:28 PDT 2002

Thank you, Randy, that was just the sort of well-documented critique I was
after. Ledum palustre was clearly used and, in Westphalia at least, popular:
so my suggestion that it was only used in desperation falls down here. But
was it used in combination with Myrica gale, or only on its own? I am still
not convinced brewers would use two such similar herbs together. It would be
like using both mace and nutmeg in the same recipe (well, not exactly like,
as they come from the same plant, but I hope you get my meaning.)

The inventory of gruit stocks and/or acquisitions from Cologne in 1391/2,
mentioning the two herbs together, is not a recipe Š it is at least possible
the holders of the gruit stocks doled out Myrica gale until it had run out,
and then switched to Ledum palustre (or vice versa). I can believe Myrica
gale, Ledum palustre and yarrow were regularly used across continental
Europe in gruit recipes, but I can't yet sign up to the idea they were
regularly used, all three, together in the same ale. Incidentally, another
German name for Ledum palustre was Falscher Porst, false porst, again a clue
to its secondary character compared to Myrica gale.

In the Netherlands, which hasn't been mentioned in this debate yet, I think
(PBL this may be useful for you) the regular ingredients in gruit in the
early 15th century seem to have been Myrica gale ("gagel"); Echium vulgare,
viper's bugloss ("slangekruid"), a member of the borage family; bay laurel
berries (as used, of course, by the wife of the Elizabethan writer William
Harrison in her beer brewing); and something called "hars", resin, origin
and nature unspecified. My source here is a book called 'Bier: geschiedenis
van een Volksdrank', published in English in 1994 as Beer! The story of
Holland's favourite drink, which has a fascinating chapter on gruit.

Another, less scholarly (or more populist) Dutch publication from 1984,
"Bier", by Otto Holzhaus and Leo van Noppen, says gagel, Myrica gale was the
"substantial" ingredient in gruit, but was "insufficient" on its own and
came with all sorts of other herbs, including "hars" (resin ­ see above),
"serpentien" (viper's bugloss), "laurier" (bay laurel), "moeras-rozemarijn"
("swamp rosemary", Ledum palustre), "salie" (sage), "duizendblad" (yarrow)
and coriander. If this is right, then Myrica gale _was_ used in the same
brew with Ledum palustre and yarrow Š

Martyn Cornell

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