Some Brews are Recreational AND Medicinal!
Once upon a time beer and ale was much more a staple of daily life than today if you can imagine that. I’m talking about hundreds of years ago in Europe when household beer was brewed by women (the brew-wife, ale-wife or beer-wife) and commercial brewing was primarily the province of Catholic Monks.
For city dwellers in those times water wasn’t always shall we say…..reliably safe to drink. Since water was boiled in the process of brewing beer it was often considered a less risky alternative with some altogether pleasing and beneficial side effects.
What’s hard for us modern day suds-swillers to wrap our minds around is that beer was typically enjoyed by men, women and children (a weaker version called “small ale” was made for the kiddies) and wasn’t only a beverage but a food and a medicine. Before German beer purity laws beer and ale were brewed not just with barley, hops, water and yeast but with many different plants, herbs, trees and roots. Some recipes contained herbs that were psychotropic, aphrodisiacal and medicinal but first let’s talk nutrition.
Most folks aren’t aware of the fact that all grains, plants and sugars used in beer brewing gain a “biological ennoblement” from the fermentation process and that’s what helped make beer a primary nutrition source for so many of our ancestors. Yeast itself is quite high in protein and the longer a beverage is allowed to ferment, the more additional yeasts are produced. This creates a protein source where none previously existed. Yeasts also synthesize B-complex vitamins and contain some of the same essential trace minerals found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Last but not least they work with insulin to help promote more efficient glucose absorption in the body.
Healthful Herbs Make Better Beer!
Gruit is an ancient style of beer or ale that was made with various combinations of herbs depending upon what could be foraged locally. Strictly speaking Gruit is the combination of the actual plants and herbs used in the brewing process.
The following is a list of typical Gruit herbs and some of their reputed medicinal values:
1. Bog Myrtle- (also called Myrica or Sweet Gale) is an expectorant (opens bronchial passages), an antiseptic, sedative and fungistatic. Additionally it’s a stomachic (promotes appetite and digestion) and can be used in powdered form for treating skin sores and ulcerations.
2. Horehound- is good for coughs (relieves lung congestion), colds and flu as well as poor digestion. It’s a diuretic and diaphoretic (promotes urination and sweating to eliminate excess body fluids).
3. Yarrow- used for treating wounds as an analgesic, to stop bleeding (hemostatic) and promote faster healing of deep flesh penetrations from swords, spears and knives. It’s an antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, digestive aid and sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections or dysentery.
4. Wormwood- dissipates evil influences, narcotic, antimalarial, expels intestinal worms, anti-inflammatory, stimulates the liver, gallbladder and digestive juices, antifungal and diaphoretic.
5. Elder Flowers- reduces fever, helps wound healing, laxative, purgative, emetic, antiviral, immune system stimulant, anti-epileptic, used for upper respiratory infections, hay fever, a veritable panacea (cure-all)!
There were and are literally hundreds of different herbs, plants, tree barks and roots with myriad effects and benefits for the human body. I got much of the information about herbs for Gruit and their mind blowing health benefits from the book “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation” by Stephan Harrod Buhner, a brilliant writer, herbalist and historian.
Gruit Beer or Ale is difficult to find these days but not impossible. More common in the Northern and North Eastern States and Canada and predominantly brewed by small micro and nano breweries on a seasonal basis.
It may be the perfect libation for toasting to “Good Health”!
Published by Bill Hoover