Thursday, March 15, 2007

Healing Beers

What is beer? These days its not typically associated with healing properties. Beer is normally associated with its great/unique taste, ability to quench thirst and the effects of intoxication. Currently, I've been turned on to the idea that my homebrewed beers can possess the power to heal using specific herbs, spices and various fermentables.

For my birthday, I received a book called Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers. It is a fascinating read which provides mind opening, exploritory depth to this whole topic. My eldest brother has been delving deeper into Chinese medicine and diet to find healing for various physical and mental conditions. His Fiance is presently going through intensive study into Chinese/Eastern healing & medicine. I feel lucky to have their positive influence in my life.

Through talking with them and reading this book, I am already shifting my goals in homebrewing. I've enjoyed drinking most styles of ales and lagers, and brewed a good number of them with positive results. After two years of intensive brewing, I know what styles I prefer to make and drink. But now there is a whole new realm to explore...healing beers!

We've been talking about producing small batches of beer for experimentation. I've had good results making 1 gallon ales and meads, and feel this is the perfect way to start experimenting with healing beers. Normally beer is analyzed and critiqued for its pallatable qualities and balance. Though I'd like a healing beer to be drinkable, I'm not too concerned about great taste at this time. A more appropriate approach would be to use "beneficial" herbs, healing agents and fermentables. My "Western" mind initially thought about adding any combination of herbs for their potential for good taste or aroma. We tend to think that if there's "any" amount of "any" herb, it will be a "positive" thing. Not necessarily so. An Eastern approach first looks deeply within a person's physical and mental condition, and then suggests specific healing herbs and tonics.

The first step, then, is to find out what "my" body needs. What are my body's internal conditions? What areas need attention, and what hebs will help? This initial exploration will inform my recipe formulations and procedures.

Some initial questions I have are:

What blend of fermentables is more beneficial at this time? (Barley, rice, corn, honey, fruit, etc.)
What organs in my body need healing?
Is my body hot, cold, wet, dry?
What herbs will help?
What spices can help?
How long do herbs need to boil/steep?
How much herbs are needed for the right kind of effect?

Will the process of fermentation increase the effects of boiled herbs?
What is the best way to utilize herbs in beer? (Boiling, primary, secondary, in bottle)
Is alcohol neccessary to break down resins in herbs, flowers, barks, etc?

After answering questions these, I'll get into making recipes and brewing some small batches. Please check back for a post regarding my findings and plans for brewing healing beers. In the meantime, there are many more "regular" batches of beer and mead to brew.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff for sure. Have you taken a look at Randy Moshers "Radical Brewing"? He does not go in depth but does touch on the subject of healing beers etc. I also know that Dogfish Head put out a St.Johns Wort beer a while back (I hope Im getting that herb correct), which I barely missed being on tap when we hit their brewpub back in December.

Just think..a ginko bilobo beer, that helps you remember when you should have forgotten :)

Ted Danyluk said...

I really like Radical Brewing, and Randy Mosher. I had the pleasure of meeting him at an AHA membership rally at Goose Island last year. He definitely has lots of great mind opening ideas for brewing, and his book really challenges me to think for myself. I'll definitely try out some of the herbal/spice techniques he proposes.

I'm already getting some answers to my questions. And it wont be too long till I get into brewng a healing beer.

How was Dogfish Head? Must have been nice.

Brian said...

Thats great that you had met him, I really enjoy his imput on the vairous podcasts I've hooked into as well. Joining the AHA is what I will be doing this week (honestly I'm suprised it took me this long to join).

Dogfish head was fantastic, my wife and I flew into Baltimore to spend xmas with my family in Maryland and they were good enough to accompany me for a short trip up to Dogfish Head (in DE). I was able to have both the 120 minute IPA and Raisen D'extra on tap, heavy stuff but delicious all the same. The food and sampler (beer) options were fantastic as well-on a side note if you look into Sam C's "Extreme Brewing" the food recipes in the back are direct from their pub grub.

Days later I received my first homebrewing supplies, a "brewers best Irish Stout" recipe kit..and I was on my way.

Ted Danyluk said...

Dogfish Head makes some great beer. This past year I've concluded that they make the finest pumpkin ale...especially on tap.

I'll be writing a post about the AHA later. But for now I can say that two great benefits are their email forum with searchable archives, and 20% off all food and beverages at Goose Island...for the whole party! Just the discounts at Goose Island has more than paid for the membership. And the discounts at so many more breweries accross the country. Even Emmets (Downers Grove), who's not listed, honered a 10% discount for the whole bill.

Unknown said...


What you are doing is fantastic! I'm in school right now getting my Masters degree in Herbal Medicine from Tai Sophia in MD. I have brewed a couple of herbal beers for a class project using Bruhner's book, which is awesome (beers didn't come out that great though)! I just wanted to say that if you have any questions about Western herbs, formulas, safety, or the framework we use to recommend herbs, please e-mail me. I'd love to help you in any way that I can and I look forward to trying some of your recipes!


Devin Ronaldson said...

I just started brewing myself (should have a batch ready by april 1st). I picked up that same book at the brew store and am super excited about getting into healing beers. I do some healing work, and have a mild knowledge of herbs. The most exciting thing in there right now (that I'm going to start with) is the nettle beer. Nettle is a great general tonic, great for spring. I'll keep posted to see which one you end up going with.