Sunday, 7 October 2012

My beer can heal you

The history behind my ale.  

Agrimony.  Latin name: Agrimonia eupatoria


Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupatoria) was named after Mithradates Eupator, King of Pontus, 134 BC – 63 BC.   He is credited for discovering many of the medicinal remedies we still use today.  The legend goes that the King would test poisons and their antidotes on his unfortunate prisoners.  After much trial and error with his expendable captives, he then began daily poisoning and curing himself, with his newly discovered antidotes, he hoped to build an immunity in a bid to make himself invincible from a death by poisoning – as was the fate of his father.

This backfired fired on him rather spectacularly, when his army was defeated by Pompey and he faced imminent capture by Rome, which was to him a fate worse than death.  He lovingly dispatched of his family by poisoning the lot of them and then attempted to poison himself - only to find that he had strengthened his constitution rather too efficiently.   Now merely weakened by the poison, he attempted to kill himself using a sword but when he also failed in this endeavour he was forced to request that his closest bodyguard finish him off properly.

Despite his rather extreme drug trialling methods, Mithradates did a lot for the progression of medicine.  Agrimony was just one of the plants he apparently used in his experiments and was used globally by Native Americans, ancient Greeks, Anglo Saxons and many more.  

Below is a list of ailments Nicholas Culpeper, a 16th century herbalist, believed would be benefitted by Agrimony.

Skin Sores
Cleanser of the liver, gall bladder and kidneys
Beneficial to the bowels and for chesty coughs and colic
Antidote to snake bites
Beneficial to cold sores, cancers and ulcers
Draws out splinters or anything that has got into the flesh
Helps with hearing and the treatment of tinnitus
Healing wounds
Purifier of the blood

As you can see Agrimony was historically used in the treatment of numerous illnesses but modern research would disregard it as useful for most of these ailments! 

More recently Agrimony has been prescribed as a cure for athlete’s foot and in herbal medicine is used for its’ mild astringent properties- useful in the treatment of coughs and as a natural diuretic.

Meadowsweet. Latin Name: Previously Spirea ulmaria, Now Filipendula ulmaria. Other Names: Dolloff, Meadsweet, Lady of the Meadow, Queen of the Meadow, and Bridewort.

It is believed that Meadowsweet was a highly sacred plant to the druids.  Meadowsweet pollen has been found in graves and barrows dating back 4000+ years – potentially given as a burial offering.  According to druid lore, King Arthur’s lady of the lake taught the early healers of Meadowsweets medicinal properties.

Unlike Agrimony, many of the historical medicinal uses of Meadowsweet remain the same today.  It’s use in pain relief has long been understood.  It contains salicylic acid – which has now been synthesised to create aspirin and other painkillers.  The latin name for Meadowsweet was previously Spirea ulmaria (now Filipendula ulmaria) which is where ‘a-spirin’ derived from.

Unfortunately, the way modern Aspirin has been produced – extracting only the salicylic acid - has neglected the natural tannins and astringent properties of Meadowsweet, meaning that it can have an adverse affect on the stomach lining. So from now on I plant to munch on some Meadowsweet when I’ve got a headache.

Meadowsweet is also used in other medicine, which thins the blood, and in antacids.  I would check with your doctor before tucking into Meadowsweet yourself, as it may not mix well with other medicines.   

Having read about all the positive properties of both Meadowsweet and Agrimony (not to mention their fascinating histories and taste!), I decided to make an ale to cure EVERYTHING and possibly drink myself under the table in the process. 

500g white granulated sugar
250g Meadowsweet leaf and flower
250g Agrimony leaf and flower
40 pts water
1 teaspoon champagne yeast

Firstly boil the water and add the leaves and flowers and boil for half an hour - you can do this in batches if needed, I did.  Allow to cool, then strain out the plant matter, stir in the sugar until fully dissolved allow to cool to blood temperature and then add the yeast – allow this to sit on the surface of the water (wort) for 15 minutes and then stir in.  Loosely cover and allow to stand for 12 hours in a warm place.

Next, strain the liquid into a pressure barrel, if you’re brave you can use bottles but I wouldn’t advise it, these can be rather explosive! Keep in a cool dark place and leave for 14 days and then taste. In the end I left mine for a full 6 weeks, this was partly because I forgot about it and partly because when I got round to trying it was a little sweet and needed more time.  You may wish to leave it longer too, depending on your sweet tooth!

A lovely bunch of Meadosweet and Agrimony
The finished article