The Wild & Wondrous history of Herbal Beer

Last year I had the honor of collaborating with Jeffrey Green of Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland, Colorado on a recipe for beer using wormwood. All artemisias (wormwood being artemisia absynthia) are very astringent and bitter – and the Very Nice Caribou-Ya! Anniversary Ale with a medicinal dose of this “magykal herbe” was exceptional in bringing out these qualities, with the curious addition of a dry, cheek-puckering grapefruit finish. If I can say anything about using artemesia (an old school “hopping” herb, by the way) it created an unforgettable libation.


I am proud and very pleased to say this years’ foray into the wild and wondrous world of herbal beers is exceptional for a different reason – it’s smooth at the top, sweet in the middle, and finishes like a bouquet of wildflowers blooming on your tongue.

Here’s why: 

Jeffrey threw in heaping amounts of lemon balm, pineapple weed and rose petals and buds at the last boil, allowing the hoppy-malty brew to thoroughly embrace the extract of each herb. The decoction cooled and the herbs were strained out before setting aside to ferment.

For the lay-brewer, or beginning herbalist, it’s like making a strong decoction with your favorite herbs, and then adding yeast and sugar and letting it ferment. Of course, Jeffrey’s process is sterile, controlled, and a bit more complicated than that – but that’s the basic idea. Fermentation is said to accentuate certain qualities of the herbs you are working with, and the alcohol brings the medicinal energy directly into the meridians.

Lemon Balm

Melissa Officinalis is a sweet, minty plant with delicate, tiny purple flowers. She is a hardy, voracious perennial in your garden and an unexpected angel in deserted, overgrown fields. She is known to open the heart chakra, circulate heart qi, and is an excellent sedative and anti-depressant. Her flavor is mint and lemon, her essential oils persist.

Lemon Balm has an extensive history of topical applications and is recommended in the bath, or infused in wine to soothe rashes and relieve itching from bug bites. (Click here to read Mountain Rose Herb’s extant description of the history and uses of this delightful herb!)

Speaking of relaxing baths, Susan Green, co-founder and proprietress of Very Nice Brewing Company, has made a beer soap with the Very Nice Summertime Ale – what a beautiful way to relax and cleanse inside and out! (You can buy her beer soaps at the Very Nice Taproom in Nederland)

Rose Petals and Buds

Wild roses are blooming all over the mountains this time of year. I never have enough time to forage for all of them – and leave enough for the bees, and snack on the soft petals while I’m out in the forest.

Topically, rose petals and buds are cleansing and softening, and are often found in face creams or skin toning products. Homemade rosewater is one of the easiest and most accessible must-have remedies in your herbal kitchen: gather a jar full of rose petals (no pesticides, please!), throw in a pot with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn heat off ad let sit for at least an hour. The water should have absorbed the color and fragrance of the petals and buds. Strain and save in the fridge up to one month.

Use your homemade rose water in face washes and creams (by adding a little witch hazel or coconut oil), and also make traditional Indian desserts (like rosewater lassi) that uplift and clarify body and mind. (From my desktop Reader’s Digest Home Handbook of Herbs edited by Lesley Bremness, copyright 1990).

Pineapple Weed 

If you don’t know by now…I LOVE this weed! Read ALL about it HERE! 

You are invited to join The Holistic Homestead in celebrating summer with the Very Nice Summertime Ale at Very Nice Brewing Company, Saturday, July 15th from 6 to 8 pm! See you there!

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