It’s rather timely (for me, anyway) to talk about it because I have just finished Martyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold and Black, which is a history of British ales and included in there is a chapter on herbal beers. That chapter includes historical data on the kinds of things used to make beers before it was regulated (read: taxed) by the government, including sage, yarrow and of course honey or dandelion. From what I gather, a whole lot of plants were tossed into water for beer.
But this leads me to my next point; If you are interested in the history of beer styles such as porter, stout, and IPA, then Cornell’s book is well written and worth your time. Cornell’s style is witty and concise, which manages to keep things moving along, even when he’s writing about the Original Gravity and prices of a beer that has gone extinct, while ensuring that the reader is well informed. Amber, Gold and Black often details how styles changed over time due to war or political winds, and how technology allowed for new styles to come about in Britain. It’s quite nice and worth a read.