It was used to add aroma, flavour and bitterness, as well as to act as a preservative.
The combinations of ingredients varied (a blender would carefully guard his recipe as a trade secret.)
The three most common base ingredients were:
- marsh rosemary (aka wild rosemary, aka Rhododendron tomentosum, aka Ledum palustre)
- sweet gale (aka Bog Myrtle, aka Myrica gale)
- yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
The herbs (and spices) used could also include:
- caraway seed
- heather (Calluna vulgaris)
- juniper berries
- mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
The word “Gruit” can also be used to mean beer or ale made with gruit.
Gruit was used widely up until the mid 1500s. Not many actual recipes for Gruit mixtures have survived, as they were so carefully kept secret.
The Church had monopoly rights on the sale of gruit (“Grutrecht” — gruit rights). Blends were made at monasteries, and brewers were forced to purchase the blends from them at very high prices.
The Church was consequently opposed to the use of hops, while brewers, of course, saw more profit in getting away from using something that the Church enjoyed monopoly pricing on.
The use of hops in beer originated in Germany. By the 1200s, hops had started to catch up on gruit in popularity, though the Church worked hard subsequently to ban their use. However, during the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, the association with the stranglehold of the Church worked against Gruit, and brewers moved overwhelmingly to the use of hops.
In English, Gruit was actually called “grout”, but now it’s known by the German “gruit.”
Bonta, Dave. A Short Treatise on Homebrewing & the Meaning of Gruit. Retrived July 2008 from http://www.gruitale.com/art_treatise_on_brewing.htm.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. The Fall of Gruit and the Rise of Brewer’s Droop. 1999. Retrieved May 2007 from http://www.gaianstudies.org/articles6.htm.
Sean Sweeney, Brewer. Historic Beer of Choice in the Modern Age: Gruit Ale – Beer Sans Hops