Before the introduction of hops to Great Britain, and possibly as early as the 11th century, bog myrtle was used to flavour and add bitterness to ale. Some believe that the subsequent use of hops was an imposition of Protestant hardliners on a Catholic populace who were given to wildness and excess – driven by the stimulating and allegedly aphrodisiac qualities of the perfumed ale. Hops tend to have a sedative effect, as any regular beer-drinker will attest. The truth may be more pragmatic and political, with the switch to hops actually designed to neuter the monopoly of the monasteries.
Some believed bog myrtle to have magical properties when brewed with ale and it is said to have been a constituent of a drink concocted by Norse warriors to make them fearless and fearsome in battle. They became known as the Berserkers and were said to fight in an uncontrollable trance-like fury. These Úlfhéðnar were known as Odin’s own warriors: “[Odin’s] men went without their mailcoats and were mad as hounds or wolves, bit their shields…they slew men, but neither fire nor iron had effect upon them.”