Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sweet Gale/ Mose-Pors

 Myrica gale

At Flyndersø, flowering sweet gale in spring.

Sweet gale is an up to 1 meter high, very branchy bush with darkgreen leaves; the catkins, the flowers and fruits are covered in resin-glands and they have a very aromatic scent like the whole plant. It is common in the raised bogs of the Jutland heaths. Sweet gale is found from northern Europe over Greenland to Canada and Alaska. It forms thickets in swamps and moors on mineral-poor soil in full sun. This is what it wants: full sun, wet bottom, mineral-poor and sour soil. Names include Myrica gale (the Latin name), Sweet gale,  Bog myrtle and Candle berry.

Porse was used as a spice in beer and mead for more than 1000 years. In the Egtvedgirl's grave from early Bronze Age and in a grave at the island Lolland from Roman Iron Age were found respectively a bucket in birch-bark and two bronze-containers with the dried rests of a fermented fruit wine, added sweet gale and sweetened with honey. Similar finds have been made in North Jutland and in North Zealand. The wine was possibly a feast-drink, drunk at the funeral. According to a legend from the Shetlands and on Ireland the Danish Vikings were known for brewing a good porsøl = sweet gale beer, but two prisoners denied to reveal how it was done, although they were tortured.

Sweet gale, the moor at Aqua, Silkeborg.

The first written mentioning of sweet gale as a beer-spice is found by Hildegard of Bingen. Sweet gale beer was drunk in the 1200s, also at the king's court, and the spice plant is mentioned in 1152 in some judicial rights of king Valdemar, in 1284 was sweet gale among the commodities in Flensborg, and in 1292 were paid taxes in South Jutland for every basket of the plant. King Valdemar laid down the amount of sweet gale and barley for him and his entourage, when they visited a place. When a farm changed owner, the contract of sale held a list of sweet gale-moors and the rights to gather the plant.

 In several culture layers were found pollen from sweet gale. The finds of leaves and fruits in many excavations in the medieval Copenhagen indicated the use of the plant for beer-brewing. Sweet gale was probably cultivated in fenced places in moors, and the gardens of sweet gale are mentioned at a kloster, Dueholm, on the island of Mors in the 1400s. In the 1600s is told that the peasants dried the sweet gale and mixed it in the beer with wormwood and hops, to make it stronger, but if people were not used to a drink like that they got very sick and had a terrible headache.

Aqua, the moor, Silkeborg

The sweet gale was also used for brewing the wellknown mjød (mead, sweetened with honey). A mix of sweet gale and hops was common use for the brewing in order to make the beer more bitter and stronger, and it also made it more intoxicating. The sweet gale became a replacement for the costier hops by many poor heath-farmers. The sweet gale beer had a special acrid taste, and an old Jutlander, who had tasted the beer, declared that it was so terribly strong that he would rather have a cup of water.  In West Jutland sweet gale was still in the 1900s used for giving taste to beer and snaps, and as late as 1938 some people could still remember the sweet gale beer.

In 1956 the Ceres breweries in Århus brewed a beer called "Rødtop" ( Redtop) on sweet gale, Sct. John's wort and hops. In 1965 De Danske Spritfabrikker in Aalborg launched a distinctive Skagen-snaps. The
leaves were also used for tea. In 1665 the physician Simon Paulli tried to prove that Chinese tea consisted of leaves from our homely sweet gale. When the tobacco was costy, people made it go a long way with  leaves from the sweet gale and chewed it instead of  the common "chewing tobacco". The buds were burnt and used as snuff.

Against vermins:                                                              
The hunters put sweet gale under their net, so the rats did not gnaw them into pieces.Sweet gale gathered in September was placed in the house against rats, also mice hated the smell of the bush,  and branches were therefore  placed in or under the corn. A dekokt of the leaves killed the vermins that were pestering humans. In Jutland fresh or dry sweet gale branches were placed in the bed straw, under the sheets or in the blankets against fleas. The darkgreen branches were cut into pieces and strewn under the cows to protect them against flies. They were also put in chicken nests against lice and among clothes against moths or used just as a pheromone.

Flowering sweet gale in spring

Wool and linen can be dyed yellow with the catkins and fruits. Dried year-shots, gathered around  Midsummer's Day give a strong yellow to brownish colour. Sweet gale is also used to dye green, with onions lightgreen, and wool yarn for stockings light blue. From boiled sweet gale comes an oily substance, usable for making candles. In the 1700s the pulverized plant was mixed in well-scented ointments.

Source: "folk og flora" Dansk etnobotanik. V.J. Brøndegaard, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1979.  

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