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Herbal Beers

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Another Leaf on the Vine
OK, this came up on another thread, but to avoid derailing that one, I'll start a new one here...

It's the right time of year, certainly in the N. Hemisphere anyway, to try this if you're interested.

Everything I have learned so far has come from "Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers" by Stephen Harrod Buhner, a favourite author of mine, and quite a few others here I imagine.


In summary, it's 500 pages, with 120 recipes, and a wealth of historical and herbal lore. The recipes are mostly simple, provided you can obtain the basic ingredients. There is little mention of temperatures and sterilisation procedures, which brewing-enthusiasts are likely to find reckless and unconscionable, but just a persistent emphasis on cleanliness and common-sense. Y'know, like how people used to get by...

One of Buhner's abiding ideas is that the best herbs for you to use are likely to be in your backyard. In particular, the invasive, stinging, thorny types...so for me that's like nettles and brambles. I know Travsha at least has worked with both of these plants too, in ceremony, with apparently good results.

Most of the recipes are for what were formerly called "small beer" i.e. not very alcoholic ones. This is because a typical recipe will call for, say, one pound of plants/leaves to a gallon of water, with a pound of sugar. I expect this tea-like wort has far fewer carbohydrates than a modern grain-based wort, and so generates far less alcohol during fermentation. But what nettle-beer lacks in booze, it more than makes up for in flavour, fizz and refreshment. The section on nettles includes five different recipes, from ancient to modern, with a few pages of notes on the nutritional & medicinal properties of nettle, which are principally tonic for the joints, and anti-arthritic, neither of which I am in a position to verify myself... But it tastes and feels good, and crucially, develops relations between you and your green neighbors.

A minority of recipes allude to various psychoactive properties, henbane beer being a notable example, but most do not.

The recipes are easy enough to follow with just a stock pot. So far, I've resisted the temptation to start splurging on dedicated brewing equipment... Starting in the pan/bucket, and bottling (into plastic) a few days later has served me fine, with no contams so far.

If you're interested, I urge to do your research, especially on plant ID. I found a couple of little hemlocks hiding in my local nettle patch, and I definitely didn't want those in my brew! You should also be confident that any plants you harvest haven't been sprayed. To give you an idea, a loosely-packed pound of nettle-tops comes to about 1.5 gallons.

A pressure-cooker is good (but not essential) for maximal extraction of whole leaves/stems etc. Avoid reaching for the stick-blender, as that will just make soup.

It says in that book that yarrow is more intoxicating when brewed in conjunction with some other stuff, i ink tansy and something else, we tried it with elderflower....

It works. Very mellow but not to the point of incapacitation/ not as sedating as hops. Good book, that one.

(Too bad he didnt try mustard:twisted: )
Thank you dreamer! A friend was raving about this book not long ago so it's good to be able to give it a read over. So interesting to learn of the plants that were used in beers before the 'beer purity laws' that I've heard basically still exist all over the European world today, although I could be wrong on that one. I read that in Witchcraft Medicine by Storl, Ebeling, Ratsch but can't recall their reference.
Your post inspired me to make some nettle beer. Found a big patch under some trees that was still fresh and green, whereas most of them have started going to seed. I felt like a tea plantation worker, picking only the finest tips!

I used malt extract instead of sugar to make it more beery. Should be healthy too, with the B vitamins from the malt and iron from the nettles. Bramble tips looked promising too, but didnt have good enough gloves. Elderflowers should be ready soon too.

Lovvvvve buhner. Discovered him around a month ago and have about 8 of his books, some of which I've already mostly reread :p don't have this one though. I've largely avoided alcohol as my last few attempts ended miserably. Are these beers still wheat based? Or does herbal beer refer to something entirely different?
Only eight? Tsk-tsk! 😁

These are all wheat (and hop) free. Basically, herbs + sugar + yeast, in water...
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