Beer is obviously infused into our culture here in the Northwest. And it seems that every label has reached full tilt in terms of hops potency, not being satisfied until it tastes like sparkling grapefruit juice. But I am here to reclaim the traditional ingredients of beer. Let’s revisit the full spectrum of flavors enjoyed by our early ancestors. For example, residues of hawthorne, jujube, sweet clover, jasmine, and hemp have been found on brewing vessels made of clay in China. Archaeologists have also uncovered medical prescriptions written on papyrus from 1600 B.C. which included herbal beers as therapy. The ancient Egyptians were using tree resins such as frankincense, myrrh, pine, and fir, along with herbs such as coriander, cumin, mandrake, and wormwood.
These brews provided much needed nutrition for the intense, hard labor of that time, and everyone drank them, even children. Of course, the alcohol content of early brews was often much lower than modern beer, because the focus was not always inebriation. Early beers served as a safe means of hydration, when water itself was often tainted with harmful bacteria. Beer was also an effective sedative, analgesic, and disinfectant. It’s mind altering effects were used in religious and funerary ceremonies. But most importantly, the flavor profiles you can achieve leave hoppy beers flat.
Making herbal beers adds adventure and complexity to each bottle. If you already brew, my advice is to brew a tea of your chosen herbal blend before making it into a beer. If you like the blend as a tea, it will make great beer. I tend to gravitate toward the earthy roots and barks for darker beers, and flowers and leaves for the lighter ales. If you aren’t already a homebrewer, but might want to experiment, I have written a simple book that requires no special equipment, called Brew Your Medicine. It shows you step by step how to make beer from items you probably already have. A couple of gallon jugs and some balloons would suffice. A trip to Homebrew Heaven on 12th street for your yeast and barley, then to Hawthorne’s on State Street for your herbs, and for about $15, you can have yourself a couple gallons of healing homebrew.
Kristi Shapla will be writing monthly columns related to alternative health and natural living. She has a degree in molecular biology, is a graduate of East West School of Planetary Herbology, is a licensed massage therapist, and is the president of the Oregon Chapter of the American Herbalist Guild. You can visit her in her new shop where she works as a clinical herbalist and massage therapist downtown at Hawthorne’s, 329 State Street.