Hops (humulus lupulus)

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia, the hops plant is a tall, spindly, clinging vine with bright green, deeply lobed leaves. Its common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon hoppan, meaning “to climb.” The cone-shaped fruits of the female plant give beer its distinctive flavor.

Hops are grown in nearly every country of the world, but especially in the United States and Germany, which are both renowned for their beers. The observation that hops pickers often became unusually tired and sometimes were found napping on the job inspired the creation of sleep pillows, or “dream pillows,” containing hops. Today, these sleep-inducing pillows often contain lavender or rose petals, as well.


Plant profile

Common Name: Hops

Description: Vigorous perennial vine grows up to 25 feet or more, producing new stems from the plant’s base each year; bright green, deeply lobed leaves; flowers mature into pale green, papery bracts

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Cannabaceae

Flowering: August to September

Parts Used: Female flower

Habitat: Temperate areas of Europe, western Asia, and North America

Culinary use

Hops provide the bitter elements used to brew beer. The young shoots can also be boiled, steamed, or eaten raw and served like asparagus.

Medicinal use

The fruit of the hops plant contains resinous bitter substances, essential oil, and flavonoids that have sedative and spasmolytic properties. Herbalists use hops tinctures, teas, and capsules to relieve anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, and lack of appetite.

Caution: Avoid using hops if you have been diagnosed with depression.

Other uses

In the landscape, the hops vine makes an attractive cover for a fence, arbor, or pergola. You can also cut and dry the flower heads to make beautiful wreaths or everlasting arrangements.

How to grow it

Plant hops vines in spring in full sun or light shade in deep, moist soil enriched with compost. Choose a site that receives good air circulation to prevent mildew, and provide strong support for the vigorous vines. Vines begin bearing during their third year. Harvest the papery cones in early fall. For best flavor and effectiveness, use fresh hops quickly. If you must store hops, dry them immediately in a 125° to 150°F oven, then keep them in a cool location, away from light. Propagate hops from young softwood cuttings taken in spring (6- to 8-inch cuttings should have at least two sets of buds each), or from leaf bud cuttings taken in early summer.