The modern hops have been developed from a wild plant as ancient as history itself. Appearing in the records of Jews’ captivity in Babylon as a strong drink, used as a medicinal herb in early Egypt and grown by the Romans, this native to Asia spread into France and Germany through Eastern Europe where it was widely cultivated in the 9th and 10th century and became famous in a new drink called bier from Bavaria. Hops are a distant relative of stinging nettle and cannabis and grew “wild among the willows, like a wolf among sheep,” hence the name Humulus lupulus from lupus or wolf.
Although frequently referred to as the hop vine, it is technically a perennial herbaceous “bine” having stout stems with stiff hairs to aid in climbing versus tendrils, suckers or other appendages for attaching themselves. The stem which arises every spring has a twining nature reaching at least 16 feet and dies to the cold-hardy rhizome every autumn. The leaves are heart-shaped, lobed, finely toothed and a dark green. Hops are dioecious meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants. The male flowers are in loose bunches or panicles. The female flowers or strobiles are about 1 ¼ inch long, oblong and consist of a number of overlapping, yellowish green bracts and blooms from July to August. They remain productive for 10-20 years preferring a moist well-drained soil in sun or part shade and must be provided with support from string or poles.
Used mainly in alcoholic beverages, especially brewing beer, fresh hops possess a bitter aromatic taste and a strong characteristic odor. Originally used for their preservative value, the hops were later noted to impart a flavor to beer. The tender young shoots, which are only available for about three weeks in spring, are also eaten like asparagus as a delicacy raw with vinaigrette, boiled with fresh herbs or fried in batter. Hops also have a long history of use in folk medicine to treat a variety of complaints including insomnia, tension and anxiety which explains their use in sleep pillows. In addition, the flexible and tough stems have been used to make baskets, the fiber to make cloth and paper, the leaves and flower heads produce a fine brown dye and the oil is used in perfumes, especially spicy and oriental types.
Hops plants form an attractive covering for arbors
"See, I have given you every herb that yields seed
which is on the face of all the earth,
and every tree whose fruit yields seed;
to you it shall be for food.”