By Dan Newman, HB
12 September 1999
(Reprinted with permission from
the Barley Bandits Newsletter The Brew-Ha-Ha)
What follows is a compendium of herbs which over the centuries have been
used in the brewing of beer. Many of these herbs are no longer used, having
been supplanted by hops. Most of them, however, are still available through
herb specialty shops or may be grown in Southern California gardens.
When trying an unfamiliar herb, it is often best to add it at bottling,
adjusting the amount used by tasting. When doing this, you can either make a
strong tea or use an alcohol based infusion. In regards to the later, vodka
makes an excellent medium: soak the herb in vodka for two weeks prior to
bottling. Then, when bottling add a little at a time until the desired flavor
is achieved.In the listing below, each herb's common name is first given,
followed by its Latin botanical name in parentheses. Following that, the
portion of the plant which constitutes the herb is given.
Note that some of the herbs listed below are not considered safe for human
consumption; for instance, Comfrey and Wormwood.
Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria). Leaves. Very delicate aroma with
a faint sweet smell. Try 1 to 2 ounces per 5 gallons dry-hopped for one week.
Alecost, Costmany (Chrysanthemum balsamita, formerly Tanacetum
balsamita). Leaves. A spicy mint and camphor flavor that is also bitter.
The plant itself has a sweet scent. Alecost was the most popular flavoring for
ale during the Middle Ages. It also gives body and head to ale, and was thought
to aid in the parturition of ales (i.e., to expedite maturation). Use fresh or
dried in place of hops. See also Tansy
Alehoof, Cat's Foot, Gill over the Ground, Ground Ivy, Tunhoof (Glechoma
hederacea, formerly Nepeta hederacea). Leaves and stems. Alehoof is
a small creeping mint with a bitter principal. Used to flavor, clarify, and
improve the keeping quality of ale. Use dry as you would use hops
Anise (Pimpinella anisum). Seeds. Distinctly licorice-like
smell and taste. While occasionally called for in spiced beer recipes, it is
more commonly used for anise flavored liqueurs and aperitifs.
Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica, formerly Myrica
caroliniensis). Leaves and berries. Small deciduous or partly evergreen
shrub, native to the eastern US. Used in the US to flavor ale and to make
Betony (Stachys officinalis). Leaves. Salty, bitter flavor.
Leaves must be dried for use -- do not use fresh leaves. Use 1/2 to 1 ounce
dried herb per 5 gallons.
Bogbean, Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). Leaves. An aquatic,
perennial herb with a pleasant bitter taste. Used to improve the taste of ale.
Provides an excellant flavor for unhopped beer. As a flavoring agent, use 1/2
ounce herb per 5 gallons.
Bog Myrtle, Sweet Gale (Myrica gale). Leaves and branches.
Used in England in place of hops to brew Gale ale. A small, deciduous shrub
with a resinously aromatic principal.
Buckbean. See Bogbean.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Seed. Sweet aromatic odor,
characteristic of the ginger family. Second most expensive spice after saffron.
Used to give "strength" to ale, its pungent taste seems to provide
warmth. Boil 5 to 8 crushed seed pods per 5 gallons for 1/2 hour. Or steep pods
in a small amount of vodka for two weeks and then use to flavor at bottling.
Green cardamom pods are preferred. White cardamom is bleached green
cardamom; brown cardamom is not true cardamom.
Cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum). Bark. Similar to but not as
good as cinnamon. (It is, however, often sold as "cinnamon" by
American spice distributors.) The buds are sometimes also used; you can
sometimes find them in Chinese markets.
Cat's Foot. See Alehoof.
Cat's Valerian, Common Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, Valerian (Valerian
officinalis). Root. Has a sharp, bitter taste that brings out and livens
apple flavors. Try with chamomile. Use sparingly -- 1/4 to 1/2 ounce root
boiled 25 minutes per 5 gallons.
Checkerberry, Teaberry, Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).
Leaves. Used as a flavoring agent. Oil of wintergreen -- menthyl salicylate for
the most part -- is made synthetically or taken from young birch trees (Betula
lenta). To get the flavor, wintergreen leaves must be allowed to sit 3 to 4
days until they naturally begin to ferment, then added to the brew. Boil 1/2
gallon of water, pour over 1 to 2 ounces wintergreen leaves, cover, and allow
to stand until fermentation begins. Strain and use to flavor 5 gallons.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum). Bark. Used for spiced wassails.
The leaves taste like camphor -- not too surprising given that, aside from Cinnamomum
aromaticum, the other members of the Cinnamomum genus are referred
to as "camphor" trees and Cinnamomum camphora is used in the
production of camphor.
Chamomile (Chamamelum nobile, formerly Anthemis nobilis).
Leaves, stocks, and flowers. Has an apple-like fragrance and hence the
reference "apple on the ground". The flowers upon blooming are bitter
and warming. Especially good in lighter ales. Any combination of leaves,
stalks, and flowers -- fresh or dried. Try 1 ounce dried flowers or 3 ounces
fresh per 5 gallons (hopped or unhopped). Note that modern Chamomile teas often
use the stronger, more flavorful flowers of Matricaria recutita
(formerly, Matricaria chamomilla) which, unfortunately for the author,
have overtones of pineapple.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius). Entire mushroom.
Chanterelles are trumpet-shaped, yellow-orange mushrooms with frilly caps and
little stems. Best to use fresh. Avoid canned. Varieties of chanterelles grow wild
in Oregon and Washington. Soak a pound of chopped chanterelles in a fifth of
vodka for two weeks and then use the vodka to flavor a simple pale ale at
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, formerly Eugenia caryophyllus).
Buds. Cloves have an assertive, dark aroma that is warm and rich. Used to
flavor ales. Best added at bottling by using a strong clove tea.
Look for cloves that are bright, reddish-brown color on the stem and lighter
on the crown. They should be rough to the touch and snap cleanly. Good cloves
will exude a small amount of oil if pressed with the fingernail.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Flower. Used to flavor ales.
Still popular in herbal teas. Note that the leaves, once considered edible, are
now know to contain a poison, pyrrolizidine, and should not be eaten. Should be
avoided by individuals with liver disease.
Common Valerian. See Cat's
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum). Seeds. The seeds have a mild, sweet,
and slightly burning flavor with a clear hint of orange peel. Used in spiced
ales. Making a vodka infusion and flavoring at bottling time works best. The
leaves, known as Cilantro or Chinese Parsley, are a common ingredient in South
& Central American as well as Asian cooking.
Costmany. See Alecost.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Entire plant. All parts of
the dandelion have been used in the production of ale. The leaves alone are
used to brew dandelion ale. Dandelion provides a unique bitterness, which is
increased if the sepals are not removed when the flowers are used. Simmer 1
gallon loosely packed flowers with sepals for 20 minutes per 5 gallons.
Elecampane, Scabwort (Inula helenium). Root. Bitter, yet with
a strong violet and camphor odor. It is strongly antibacterial, preventing
"sick" ale. Boil the fresh rootstock, 1 to 20 ounces for 30 to 40
minutes per 5 gallons.
Elder (Sambucus). Uncooked, it's poisonous. But when boiled,
its flowers and berries were used to flavor ale. The flowers and berries are
also used in England to make the very light and delicate elder flower and elder
Garden Heliotrope. See Cat's
Garden Sage (Salvia officinales). Leaves, flowers, and seeds.
A warm, bitter, and spicy taste. Used to dry hop ale. Used to produce a popular
brew called Sage Ale. Dry hop with 1/2 to 1 ounce of herb per 5 gallons.
Gentian Root (Gentiana lutea). Root. Extremely bitter. Use
with discretion. Boil 1/8 to 1/4 ounce rootstock per 5 gallons. Be careful.
Germander, Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia). Leaves and
flowers. Has a faint smell of garlic. Very similar to hops and thus it was
commonly used as a substitute for hops. Use in the same manner as hops. Should
be avoided by individuals with liver disease.
Gill over the Ground. See Alehoof.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Root. Warm aroma with a fresh,
woody note and sweet, rich undertones. Its flavor is hot and slightly biting.
Try boiling 1/2 to 2 ounces fresh root for 20 minutes per 5 gallons.
Grains of Paradise (Aframomum melegueta). Seed. Related to
cardamom; their odor is similar. The grains taste pungently hot and peppery,
without the camphor element that some cardamoms have. Sometimes used as a
substitute for pepper. Steep in vodka for two weeks and then use the vodka as a
flavoring at bottling. Try in a Saisson-style Belgian beer.
Ground Ivy. See Alehoof.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). Leaves and young shoots. Has a
mint-camphor odor, and is extremely bitter. Use in place of or with hops.
Indian Borage (Coleus amboinicus). Leaves. Strong bitter
flavor and aroma. Substituted for hops in India. Also used to flavor wine.
Juniper (Juniperus communis). Berries. Pleasant bitter-sweet
aroma which smells unmistakeably like gin. Berries taste sweet with a hint of pine
and turpentine. They produce a slight burning sensation in the mouth. Primarily
used to flavor gin and other spirits and cordials. Berries grown in warmer
latitudes have more flavor. Avoid juniper in pregnancy or if you have a kidney
disorder or hypoglycemia.
Lemon Balm, Sweet Balm (Melissa officinalis). Leaves. Minty,
lemon flavor with a bitter taste. Imparts a pleasing aroma with a subtle
flavor. Used to clarify ale. Use only fresh leaves, 2 to 4 ounces per 5
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabara). Root. Used in the flavoring of
ale and to promote headiness. Root contains glycyrrhizin which is 50 times
sweeter than sucrose. A small piece of root, broken into small pieces, boiled
20 minutes per 5 gallons. Excellent countertaste to malt's sweetness.Note that
licorice can have an adverse effect on pregnant women and individuals with
Lovage (Levisticum officinale). Stems and seeds.
Celery-flavored leaves, seeds, and stems. Used in ales to add flavor and
Mace (Myristica fragrans). Seed aril. Mace is the lacey
covering -- aril -- of the nutmeg seed. Used in spiced beers. Mace has a
stronger aroma than nutmeg but is more bitter. [The author's wife thinks that
the author has the mace/nutmeg bitterness comparison backwards.]
Meadowsweet, Meadwort (Filipendula ulmaria). Leaves. Commonly
called meadwort because of its use as a flavor in mead. The leaves have a
pleasant wintergreen flavor. Found to contain salicylic acid (aspirin). Use as
a flavoring agent in ales. Dry hop with 1/2 ounce dried leaves per 5 gallons.
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris). Leaves. Once used to flavor and
clear ale. Contains absinthin, a bitter principal. It will impart a pleasing
bittersweet taste and aroma. Used in place of hops. Not to be confused with
Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium). Should be avoided by pregnant women.
Nettle (Urtica dioica and Urtica pilulifera). The
nettle is a cousin of the hop family. Used to add bitterness to ales. Note that
the botanical name, Urtica, is derived from the Latin word
"uro" meaning "I burn". Use young fresh leaves. Boil to
destroy stinging hairs.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). Seed. Usage similar to that of
Mace. Note that nutmeg is the ground seed itself; mace is the aril covering the
Scabwort. See Elecampane.
Southernwood (Artemesia abratanum). Young shoots. Sweet lemon
fragrance with a strong bitter flavor. Added to ales for its flavor.
Spruce (Picea). Young twigs or new tips. Only the Norway, red,
and black species are used in brewing. Provides resins that preserve ales.
Commercially available as essence of spruce. Use 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons.
For fresh stems and needles, use 1 to 4 cups per 5 gallons.
Star anise (Illicium verum). Fruit. Star anise is the dried fruit
of a small evergreen tree of the magnolia family. Although not related to anise
or fennel, it has a very similar taste albeit with a distinct sweet note.
Sweet Balm. See Lemon Balm.
Sweet Gale. See Bog Myrtle.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Although now considered a problem
weed, in medieval England it was prized for the bitterness it added to ale.
Very closely related to Alecost above. Note that the name "Tansy" is
used as the common name of a wide variety of different plants, some of which
Teaberry. See Checkerberry.
Tunhoof. See Alehoof.
Valerian. See Cat's
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia). Seed pods. Rich, mellow,
perfumed tobacco-like aroma matched by a mellow, fragrant, sweet taste.
Synthetic vanilla -- vanillin -- has a more heavy aroma and a disagreeable
aftertaste. Used to flavor beers. It's easiest to use vanilla extract or
essence, both of which are prepared by soaking the beans in alcohol. Note that
vanilla essence tends to be more concentrated and sometimes has added syrup. Be
warned that the oils from the pods can interfere with head retention. Note also
that vanilla is an orchid.
Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare). Entire herb. Has a balsamic
fragrance. Used to flavor ales. Try 1/2 ounce hopped or dry hopped per 5
Wintergreen. See Checkerberry.
Wood Sage. See Germander.
Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium). Leaves and stems. Very bitter.
Used in England and elsewhere as a bittering agent prior to the introduction of
hops. Sam Piper's experiences suggest using far less than one ounce per 5
gallons. Banned for human consumption in many countries including the US as
brain lesions have been attributed to the consumption of absinthe. Should in
particular be avoided by pregnant women and individuals with liver disease.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Leaves and flowers. Has a
bitter, astringent taste with a mild aroma. Used in place of hops. Flowers have
a stronger aroma and bitterness than the leaves. Reported to improve taste,
headiness, and "intoxicating quality". Try 2 ounces dried herb boiled
for 30 minutes per 5 gallons.
- Daniels, Ray & Parker,
Jim, Brown Ale, Classic Ale Styles Series No. 14, Brewer's
Publications, Boulder, 1998.
- Carlin, Gary, "A
Brewer's Herbal: Returning to Forgotten Flavors", Zymurgy,
Vol. 10, No. 2, 1987.
- Mosher, Randy,
"Potions!", Zymurgy, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1994.
- Mosher, Randy, The
Brewer's Companion, Alephenalia Publications, Seattle, 1995.
- Norman, Jill, The Complete
Book of Spices, Viking Studio Books, New York, 1991.
- Page, Susan & Olds,
Margaret, managing editors, Botanica, Welcome Rain Publisher, New
- Von Welanetz, Diana &
Paul, The Von Welanetz Guide to Ethnic Ingredients, Warner Books,
New York, 1987.