by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Sires Books c/o Brewer's Publications, Boulder, CO. 1998. 534 pp. Softcover. $19.95. ISBN #0-937381-66-7.
I should probably recuse myself from reviewing this book. First, it covers one of my favorite subjects: herbs. Second, it covers one of my favorite subjects: beer. Combined, this book is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the long history of fermentation and the fact that peoples all over the world have used various plants to flavor and develop fermented beverages. Historians sometimes wonder which came first: beer or bread? After all, the word bread and the word brew both derive from the same Indo-European root meaning to "bubble," due to the fact that fermented products and leavened bread products both produce bubbles during their respective processes, being the product of water, grains, and (presumably, at least originally), airborne yeasts. As this book beautifully portrays, humans have enjoyed the taste and benefits of fermented products, particularly meads, ales, and beers, for at least 8,000 years. Mead is basically fermented honey and water, ales are fermented grains, and later in Europe during the last millennium, the addition of hopped ale created what is now known as beer. This book is unique. It is probably the best review of various types of beers from all over the world as they are brewed with various herbs used to flavor such products. The author writes with a reverential style, obviously an aficionado of both domains, with particular emphasis on the spiritual and sacerdotal qualities of these beverages. Hence, the title. The plants in this volume include agave (source of tequila); barley (of course), a word derived from the Saxon beerlec (the primary grain in most Western beers), carrot, chamomile, dandelion, elder, ginger, hyssop, juniper, licorice, nettle, rice, rosemary, sassafras (root beer), St. John's wort, wintergreen, yarrow, and many more -- approximately 75 in all. The second part of the book includes short monographs on the various plants and interesting recipes, poems, quotations, and, overall, an incredibly eclectic amalgamation of interesting information. The book is peppered with black and white illustrations from various classic sources and contains four beautiful color plates in the center from Woodville's Medical Botany (1790). The chapters include an interesting journey into "Psychotropic And Highly Inebriating Beers," "Beers and Ales from Sacred and Medicinal Trees," and "Beers and Ales from Sacred and Medicinal Plants." The author includes indigenous beers like the chicha of Mexico and the masato or manioc beer of the Jivaro of South America. Whether you are an herbalist or beer lover or both, there is plenty here to provide useful and engaging information from which to imbibe. Various appendices deal with ancient brewing techniques, a resource list, and an extensive bibliography and index. Hopefully, this book will stimulate a new level of microbrewery activity in which sacred herbs will be brewed into healing beers for consumption by the discriminating few. Article copyright American Botanical Council.
~~~~~~~~ By Mark Blumenthal