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Gale (Myrica gale)
Myricaceae (gale family)
The plant is found in oligotrophic habitats of Northern Europe, Asia and North America. In the US, a closely related plant is Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry).
Used plant part
Leaves, fresh or dried. Gale leaves are densely covered with oil glands. To the eye, gale leaves appear shining brown.
Gale leaves have a nice, pleasant aromatic smell that increases when the leaves are dried. The taste is similar, but also somewhat bitter and adstringent.
The leaves contain an essential oil rich in terpenes, but of varying composition. Main components are a-pinene, 1,8 cineol, myrcene and limonene; furthermore, ß-cadinen, 11-selinene-4-ol, ß-terpinene, p-cymene, caryophyllene, 4,11-selinadien, ß-elemenone, germacrone and others are reported.
Gale hardly playes a rôle in contemporary cuisines, although recepes employing gale are sometimes reported from Sweden, Britain and Northern France. In the past, the fragrant leaves offered flavour even to those who could not afford costly import spices – consequently, the peasants of Central and Northern Europe made some use of gale.
Historically, the most important application of gale was, however, the flavouring of beer. Beer brewing is an ancient art in Central and Western Europe; hop (Humulus lupulus), however, had but a small place in medieval beer brewing. Brewers used a large number of aromatic plants, of which gale was one of the most efficient and also most cheap. The multitude of beer varieties culminated in Renaissance.
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