One of my favorite parts about brewing is the ability to go outside in the warmer months and discover a world of plants that can go straight into the kettle.
Believe it or not, hops are a pretty late addition to the world’s long history of brewing. As a general rule, if a fruit, herb, grain, or even vegetable is edible, someone has used it to create alcohol, and the results are often more than good.
It’s the season for a plant called Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), which grows weedy here. Yesterday I took a walk through a lovely neighborhood nearby where I’d seen a stand of mugwort growing on the roadside. I bypassed it and took a walk along a paved trail instead, coming upon a jumbo sized chicken cook inside a fence whose gate opened onto the trail. The outer gate was unlocked, and hanging on the fence was a petition where neighbors could sign their support for an easement allowing the chickens – which families apparently bring their kids to visit on a regular basis – could stay.
Further up were four or five beehives set back behind a tall fence. They, unfortunately, looked empty.
I headed back to the mugwort patch I knew about, and found it was much larger than I’d realized. It also sits alongside a thick stand of Japanese Knotweed, which was flowering, and kudzu in deep shade, which had also thrown a few blooms despite it being mid-August.
The aroma was amazing, and I pulled flowering heads off the mugwort plants until my hands were full, then headed back to the car. After putting the herbs away, I wandered back to the local community garden, which is blanketed with Ale Hoof (Glechoma hederacea). This mint cousin was a common addition to herbal and gruit beers before hops took over.
In my own yard, crab apples and figs are both ripe for the picking, and my two batches of mulberry wine are at varying stages of development. Everywhere I go, I see goodies fit for the kettle. My Mugwort Ale is bubbling away in primary right this minute.