A deciduous shrub 2 to 4 ft high, bushy; wood and leaves fragrant when crushed. Leaves oblanceolate, tapering and entire at the base, toothed and broadest near the apex, 1 to 21⁄2 in. long, 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. wide, glossy and dark green above, paler, more or less downy, and with scattered shining glands beneath; stalk 1⁄8 in. long. Flowers of the male plant produced during May and June in crowded, stalkless catkins, each catkin 1⁄3 to 5⁄8 in. long, set with close, overlapping, shining, concave scales. Fruit catkins about as long, but stouter; composed of closely set, resinous nutlets 1⁄12 in. wide. The flowers are borne on the naked wood of the previous year; the sexes usually on separate plants.
Native of the higher latitudes of all the northern hemisphere; common in Great Britain, especially in the north, usually in moist peaty places, and on moors. In gardens the sweet gale is sometimes grown for the sake of its pleasant fragrance when handled. On the Yorkshire moors branches were, and perhaps still are, used to flavour a kind of home-made beer known as ‘gale beer’, considered to be very efficacious for slaking thirst.
var. tomentosa C. DC. – Young wood, both surfaces of the leaf (but especially the lower one), very downy. Siberia, Japan, N. Korea, etc.