Candle-berry, Sweet Gale
FR: Gale odorant, Myrte des marais, Poivre de Brabant GER: Gagel (strauch)
SP: Mirto holandes BOT: Myrica gale FAM: Myricaceae
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Bog myrtle is a common plant of wet moors in the northern countries of the northern hemisphere. It is a small shrubby plant with a reddish stem growing two to seven feet high. The male and female catkins are usually borne on separate plants and appear before the leaves. The leaves have a pleasant aromatic smell vaguely like bay and in ancient times were used all over northern Europe to flavour beer. In China, they were dried to make a tea. In the past, ‘sweet gale’ was an important plant and in Britain there were laws to prevent the bushes being destroyed.
The characteristic smell is due to a wax secreted by glands under the leaves. The fruits are particularly rich in this wax, and if they are macerated in hot water the wax will float to the top. In times past it was used to make candles which gave off a sweet smell as they burned, hence the name candle-berry, which is applied to this plant and other related species.
According to one authority the small two-winged fruits are used in France and Sweden to flavour soup. I myself can remember an old Northumbrian cook using both the fruits and leaves in meat stews. People who live near bogs in which this plant grows should experiment with it as the results are interesting and it is a true flavouring of peasant food.
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