Recently the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Great Divide Brewing Company partnered up with Beers Made By Walking.
What exactly is Beers Made By Walking you may ask? Well let me tell you. BMBW is a Colorado-based organization that invites local brewers (mainly from Colorado, but also in the Northwest) to hail inspiration for their beers by taking nature walks and urban hikes and incorporating ingredients they notice on those adventures into their brews. On our recent hike though Matthews Winters Park in Jefferson County Open Spaces, led by Education Collections Manger Rich Busch, our crew looked at and talked about something like a dozen different possible ingredients (Great Divide ultimately selected plums and rose petals for a barrel-aged sour beer. If that doesn’t sound delicious, I don’t know what does!) but some of the other plants we thought about have fascinating backstories and perplexing scientific properties. Verbascum thapsus which also known as common mullein is one of those plants.
Mullein is a noxious, invasive weed of Colorado, meaning that is harms the environment and the native species that belong in it. These often act by starving out resources that native plants need to survive (think sunlight, soil, and water) or by harming the animals and people that come in contact with the species (i.e. due to poison or removal of food sources). Mullein itself, is not poisonous to humans, but readily adapts to a variety of environments, henceforth making it a noxious weed in much of the US. It was introduced into the United States in the 1700s to be used as a piscide (fish poison) and later spread like wildfire throughout the states. Although harmful to the environment, mullein has been used for millennia as a treatment for several different ailments- but pulmonary ailments in particular. Dioscoride first recommended it for pulmonary health in 64 AD and the idea has been adapted from culture to culture. It has been used frequently as a tea throughout Europe and after its introduction to North America, some Native American groups smoked it to promote the health of their lungs. Even more recently scientists Eibhlín McCarthy and Jim M. O'Mahony published their article “What's in a Name? Can Mullein Weed Beat TB Where Modern Drugs Are Failing?” which speculated that mulleins many anti-mycobiotic compounds may be as, if not more effective than current tuberculosis medicines.
Another plant we highlighted on our walk was Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). This common garden plant – butterflies love it – is named after Achilles, as it was what was reportedly used to treat his now famous heel wound. The plant has astringent and analgesic properties. But, of more interest, especially for you beer lovers out there. In the middle ages it was used to flavor beer. Yarrow was the main ingredient in a mashup called gruit, which was used before hops as a way to add dimension to beer. Different people made different varieties of gruit, but many contained some amount of yarrow as a base ingredient.
If you would like to try out Great Divide’s BMBW rose petal and plum sour beer check out our September Science Lounge or check out BMBW’s website.
If you would like to learn more about noxious weeds and noxious weed management take a look at the Jeffco Website here: https://jeffco.us/weed-and-pest/weeds/noxious-weed-information/
P.S. It is illegal to pick plants without a permit in Jefferson County Open Spaces.
P.P.S. Everyone who was involved in the recognition of these plants for Beers Made By Walking were naturalists…TRAINED naturalists. It is highly inadvisable to use wild specimens in home brewing or any other recipes unless advised by an expert.