Mugwort – Miscellany of the 22 Botanicals

IN

Beer without hops is rather sweet and therefore needs something to counter this.

These days hops are predominantly used with just a small handful of brewers using other ingredients. At one time it would have been the other way around with a whole host of ingredients used instead. There is however, one brewer who is bucking the trend and keeping with the real UK tradition of using herbs and that is Williams Brothers in Alloa, Scotland. They only use what is around and in season this means seaweed, pine or heather in some of their brews and they apparently fight over who has to wade out and harvest the seaweed!

As a home brewer I’ve dappled with a few brews and found most joy in using herbs. Thyme, rosemary and bay have all made great tasting brews. However, by far the most interesting has been my mugwort ale, the earthy flavours pair perfectly with a pale malt and it enhances the flavours of the other hops. But his is not the reason I use it, I use to affect my sleep.

Mugwort has long since been used across the world by shaman and other mystics. Something a western cynic like myself will read and dismiss. However, having brewed up a few pints of mugwort IPA I then found that every time I drank some my dreams would become much more vivid and exciting. One stands out in particular, the dream was introduced by Mark Kermode a film critic for the BBC. When it got started I found myself witness to a post apocalyptic world in which intelligent cars had taken over and ruled over us as psychopathic overlords. It was so vivid and intense that when I awoke at 6am I immediately put pen to paper. By 8am I’d written the complete plot and an outline for a feature film and had a great fear from mankind’s future.

mugwort coming into flower

This recipe for an extract IPA is as easy to make as a kit beer and will be infinitely more rewarding.

Mugwort IPA

This recipe for an extract IPA is as easy to make as a kit beer and will be infinitely more rewarding. The hops and additions can be altered to your taste, as can the yeast. I’d recommend using a yeast that has a good dry finish and so American strains should be favoured.

  • 3.5kg/7lb 11oz Light malt extract (89.7%)
  • 400g/14oz Crystal Malt   (10.3%)
  • 50g Aurora (9% AA) @60mins
  • 10g Dried Mugwort @5mins
  • 1g Dried Wormwood @5mins
  • 20g NZ Kohatu (6.8%) @5mins

1 hour boil. Pitch 2 packet of safe Ale 05 yeast at 21°c/70°f. Leave for 10-14 days to ferment before moving to the secondary to condition for a further 2-3 weeks. Bottle or keg once fermentation has completed.

It is thought that this use as a bittering agent in beer is what led to the name “mug” wort, mug of course being the cup that held a beer. It is a striking plant and those who keep their foraging eyes open whilst driving would have seen it growing alongside motorways the M25 being what seems like a spiritual home. I tend to forage for mugwort away from places that are quite so polluted and have often found it growing in waste ground at the edge of woodlands and along riverbanks.

The best time of year to go looking for it here in my corner of South West Britain is from mid summer onwards this is when the plant is flowering. Forage any earlier and you’ll often find last years plants, dried and looking rather dusty looking as a marker. This can be useful as the leaves will grow rather close to the ground before the plant, “takes off” later in the year. These leaves can be used to make Ssuk or Mugwort soup, a springtime delicacy in parts of Asia.

There are various versions out there, often serving the soup with seaweed (usually kelp), clams or even some anchovies. However, making it with simple ingredients works too and will give you an idea of the taste of the soup.

Mugwort soup Ingredients

  • One small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Oil/butter for frying
  • 100g Mugwort tops
  • 1 tablespoon of Sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of Miso paste

Method

Thoroughly wash your mugwort leaves and lightly fry your onion and garlic in the bottom of a pot. Top up with water and bring to the boil stirring in the rest of the ingredients save the sesame seeds.

Toast the sesame seeds by frying them until they turn colour in a dry frying pan.

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