Edible perennials: Hops

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Thu, Apr 7, 2016 - 3:39pm

hops vine

Hops (Humulus lupulus) are a beautiful climber in the garden and smell wonderful. Your Home Owners Association won't care if this lovely edible plant is in your garden. They grow from rhizomes, in climates from USDA  zones 3 through 8, or their international equivalents. The vines die back, but the roots sprout new 15-25 ft tall vines next year.

Young hops shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, and the flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles)  can not only be used for beer brewing, where it's antibacterial properties give brewer's yeast a boost, but as an aromatic antibacterial addition to homemade soaps. Hops are also used in herbal medicine in a way similar to valerian, as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A pillow filled with hops is a folk remedy for sleeplessness, and animal research has shown it does indeed have a sedative effect. (Dried hops lose their medicinal effects if exposed to sunlight for very long, and stop being effective after 2-3 months.) Be aware that hops are toxic to dogs.

You'll want a trellis or other structure like a fence so the plant puts more energy into making flowers and less into making structural stems. The male and female flowers of the hop plant usually develop on separate plants. Seeds are undesirable for brewing beer, so only female plants are usually grown; male plants are to be culled if plants are grown from seeds. Here's how to tell them apart:

The following guide to beer-brewing hops from Serious Eats may help you decide on a variety.

The Noble Hops:

  • Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (sometimes called just "Hallertau" or "Hallertauer"): Continental Europe's most famous hop variety is gentle and floral, with a slightly peppery or woodsy spiciness.
  • Tettnanger (sometimes called just "Tettnang"): Zesty and grassy, with an earthy spiciness and a touch of citrusy aromatics.
  • Spalt (sometimes called "Spalter"): Easy-going, woodsy, and peppery.
  • Saaz (sometimes called Zatec or Saazer): A Czech hop known for its assertive earthy spiciness. Similar in flavor to both Spalt and Tettnanger.

English Hops:

  • English hops are grassy, floral, lemony, woodsy, minty, or tea-like, and are generally used in beer styles of English origin or their spin-offs made around the world.
  • Challenger: Has a tea-like earthiness alongside a lemon marmalade-like fruity bitterness. It's basically an afternoon spot of Earl Grey in cone-shaped form.
  • Golding (AKA East Kent Golding or Kent Golding, depending on where the hops are grown): earthy, peppery, and lemon-like.
  • Northern Brewer: has a woodsy mintiness alongside pine-like aromas.
  • Fuggle: A beautiful hops with a fun name. Earthy, cedary, minty, and floral.

American Hops:

  • Willamette: Bred from the English hop Fuggle to produce a mellow earthy spiciness. Brighter and more citrusy than its momma.
  • Columbus (also known as CTZ): pungent and herbaceous, drawing comparisons to marijuana and pine resin.
  • Cascade: famously compared to grapefruit or grapefruit rind, but Cascade can be an intensely floral hop as well.Centennial: similar aromas to Cascade, but a bit more floral, but you should expect a balance of flowery and grapefruit-like aromas.
  • Chinook: an overtly pine-like aroma with a touch of mellow citrus.
  • Citra: a fruit bowl of aromas: citrus, mango, passion fruit, pineapple, and peach.
  • Simcoe: Its intense and complex aroma is often compared to grapefruit, pine, sweet onion, and tropical fruit.
  • Mosaic: absolutely packed with pungent pine and other fruity notes: blueberry, tangerine, pineapple, and peach. A favorite of craft brewers.
  • Amarillo: a punchy aroma of orange blossoms.

Australia and New Zealand Hops:

  • Nelson Sauvin (sometimes just called "Nelson"): named for its aromatic similarity to Sauvignon Blanc wine grapes - big time lychee, melon, and gooseberry flavor.
  • Galaxy: passion fruit-like juiciness, with perhaps a hint of peach or orange.
  • Motueka: Saaz spiciness, but with a bright lime-like pop and some of the tropical fruitiness associated with its kiwi brethren.


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