What is Hop?

FR: Houblon GER: Hopfen IT: Luppolo SP: Lupulo

BOT: Humulus lupulus FAM: Cannabaceae ILL: Plate 5, No. 1

This well-known twining climber can be found growing wild in northern temperate regions (including England and North America) and in similar climates further south in mountains (e.g. southern Europe). Hops were cultivated by the Romans, but not in England until the sixteenth century.

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The female flowers are small, green, fir-cone-shaped catkins. They contain resins and bitter aromatic substances (some of which, incidentally, are narcotic, which perhaps is one reason why beer makes people feel sleepy). These catkins are picked in late summer and dried in a gentle heat for use in brewing. Dried hops can be bought by those who wish to make their own beer or used as a source of bitterness, which is extracted simply by boiling the hops in water (See Beer). In commercial brewing, other bitter substances such as quassia are often used, but hops have also a preservative function.

Hops are easily grown and make a decorative screen for the garden (they twine in the opposite direction to runner beans). The male flowers and young shoots (jets d’houblon) are eaten in most hop-growing areas as a vegetable and are prepared with butter and cream as a garnish (a l’anversoise). Parboiled and dressed with oil and lemon juice, they are an excellent salad.

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