Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 35–48

The history of beer additives in Europe — A review

  • Karl-Ernst Behre

DOI: 10.1007/BF02042841

Cite this article as:
Behre, KE. Veget Hist Archaebot (1999) 8: 35. doi:10.1007/BF02042841


The many excavations of medieval sites during recent years have resulted in a strong increase in archaeobotanical records including species which were used as beer additives. Since the first compilation of records by the author in 1984 relating to the two main species, namelyMyrica gale andHumulus lupulus, the number of finds has quadrupled. Distribution maps of the sites with fossil occurrence of these two species are presented and this evidence is complemented by that from written sources.M. gale seems to have been used for brewing as early as the centuries immediately before and after the birth of Christ in a small area at the Rhine estuary in the northern Netherlands. During the early and high Middle Ages there are records of this plant, in what are potentially brewing contexts, across its north-west European area of natural distribution. Written sources confirm its use in brewing as early as the tenth century. The finds ofH. lupulus indicate that this species has been used in brewing from the early Middle Ages and this hypothesis is supported by documentary evidence. Cultivation of hop began around A.D. 859. In the late Medieval period, strong competition developed between both kinds of beer, which resulted in the take-over byH. lupulus in the eighteenth century. Many other herbs of secondary importance have been used to flavour beer or to prepare medicinal beers. These are mentioned in old herbals and have been compiled in this paper. These various flavouring agents, combined with the use of all available species of cereals led to a variety of beers that is unimaginable today.

Key words

Beer additives Brewing Myrica gale Humulus lupulus Middle Ages 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karl-Ernst Behre
    • 1
  1. 1.Niedersächsisches Institut für historische KüstenforschungWilhelmshavenGermany

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