Nick Carr on March 30, 2020 0 Comments Hops are best known for their use in brewing beer, but Humulus lupulus isn’t a one-trick pony. Like its cousin cannabis, it has many other uses besides the one it is most called out for and many of these benefits were put to use long before hops found its place in beer. Beyond being a beautiful plant to have growing against your house, hops have a range of medical, culinary, and craft benefits that largely go unnoticed today lost somewhere behind the focused wake of the craft beer wave and hop’s haloed place in beer. This article goes through just a few of these uses. Some of them may be beyond your inclination and/or time input, but I hope you come away with at least one thing you’re excited to try — along with a new appreciation for just how much the humble hop can do. Medical: Sedative Hops have a long history of medical use in folk remedies. Recently there have been studies showing new medical benefits to be had from several of the compounds found in hops. One of the most well-known uses is as a sedative. There are multiple studies (here are two; study 1 and study 2) confirming hops being used as a sleep aid. However, long before the scientific process proved hops relevant in the fight for better sleep, its sedative properties were being put to use based on anecdotal evidence. Note: Though hops can be a natural treatment for sleeplessness and other maladies, Stephen Harrod Buhner warns in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers that hops can “negatively enhance depressive states and should only be used for sleep and nervous tension treatment in the absence of depression.” Making A Hop Pillow Herbal sleep pillows have been around for ages. It’s recorded that both King George III and Abraham Lincoln used them. These pillows are very easy to make and can not only help you sleep but help relieve daily anxiety and stress. You also get the added bonus of being lulled to sleep by something that smells fantastic. All you need to make your own hop pillow is a piece of soft fabric in whatever size best suits (8 x 8 works well) and hops. Fold your piece of fabric in half and sew it on two sides, basically making a small pillow-case. Alternatively, you can buy a muslin bag (they come in a range of sizes), or even use a sock, and forgo having to sew anything. Once you have your little pillowcase, stuff it with some dried whole cone hops. You can even add in some other herbs with sedative properties, such as lavender, chamomile, roses, lemon balm, etc. After stuffing it, either sew it shut or fashion a drawstring closure. Put it either beside your pillow/bed or inside your regular pillowcase. If you put it inside the pillowcase, be sure not to overfill it. You want it to lay flat and help you sleep, not form an annoying lump in your pillow. Note: There is the possibility of waking up after using a hop pillow feeling groggy, almost drugged. It all depends on how the individual reacts to hops. If you end up feeling this way, you’ll likely want to discontinue its use. Hop Tea Aside from hop tea being a great way to better assess different varieties of hops, it’s also another fantastic way to get the medical benefits. You know all those sleepy-time teas you see? They always make a big deal about chamomile, but what about adding a few hops to it? A hop tea can help calm high levels of stress and anxiety, supply antioxidants and, of course, help you sleep. Also, the phytoestrogen compounds in hops (some of the most active known) can help reduce menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms. For teas, aroma hops make a better choice than high alpha varieties, unless you like really bitter tea. Just as in your hop pillow, you could also add other herbs to the mix to help increase the sedative and/or calming effects. Lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, and many other herbs can bring their own flavors and medical properties to your tea. Side note: This article isn’t supposed to be about using hops in brewing, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the great compliment hop teas can be to your homebrewing. You can increase or set-off the flavors of hops used during brewing by making a tea from another variety (use hot water but don’t boil) and adding the tea to a secondary or at packaging time. Cooking When cooking, hops can be used just like any other herb. The cones can be used to infuse sauces or marinades then be strained out. They can also be ground up to bring a bolder hop flavor to those same sauces, marinades, dressings, and many other dishes. The young shoots can also be harvested and used as a vegetable. Below are just three of the many ways hops can make it into your culinary crafting. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You’ll find everything from hop-infused honey, to using cone leaves for decoration on desserts, so explore and have fun. Asparagus Alternative Before hop plants make their cones, they send up new shoots that become the climbing bines the cones will grow on. Usually, three to six of the most vigorous new shoots are allowed to mature. The others are cut away so that all of the plant’s energy goes into producing cones on the remaining bines. But, don’t just throw away those extra shoots. Eat them. New hop shoots can be a delightful and novel replacement for asparagus. In fact, they are sometimes called wild asparagus. Pick them when they are a few inches long and still tender. Of course, don’t go overboard with your harvesting. The plant needs some of its shoots to gather energy, and you want to leave a few to make cones. In the kitchen, you can use them any way you’d use asparagus; steam them, chop them up and add them to an omelet, even pickle them. Oh, and if you need some extra incentive to try this; you can also really wow your guests by letting them know they are dining on what may be the most expensive vegetable in the world. Pretty extravagant stuff…. don’t worry I won’t let on that you got them for free. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where abundant wild hops aren’t too far away, and though I’ve only foraged for the cones, next year I may have to go on two harvesting excursions; one for new shoots and again, later in the year, for the cones. Salad Dressing and Marinade Hops also work great in salad dressings or marinades. Try starting with the recipe for “Fresh Columbus Hop Vinaigrette, from The Craft of Stone Brewing, then heading off on your own tangent. Try changing the wine vinegar to homebrew mead, change the type of hops, and throw in a couple of other herbs. Really any vinaigrette recipe and many creamy recipes would be fantastic with the addition of hops. Try adding some to your favorite salad dressing. Just pour the dressing in the blender with some hops, blend till smooth, and presto! You’ve got something new and interesting to dress your salad with. Ice Cream What about dessert? There’s green tea ice cream, so why not hop ice cream? There are some extreme flavors of ice cream out there and if you haven’t tried throwing a bit of home-brewed stout into a batch of vanilla homemade ice cream you’re missing out. But, you could also just use the hops. Making ice cream is a lot easier than many people seem to think. You don’t even really need an ice cream churn; though if you plan to make it often and in bigger batches, a churn, whether crank or electric, helps. If you’re new to this, here’s all you need for your first small batch; whole milk, ice, coarse salt, a little honey or other sugar (optional), your choice of hops, one-quart bag, and one-gallon bag. Pour 1 cup of milk in a saucepan and let it simmer (don’t have to boil). If adding honey or other sugar, add it now and stir. Once dissolved remove from heat and add 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of whole-cone hops (can also put hops in cheesecloth before adding). Cover and let sit for 30 to 45 minutes. Pour through a strainer, into a bowl, to remove the hops. Overnight the bowl in the fridge. Tip: For a stronger hop flavor you could also throw the liquid and hops in a blender and combine them. When you’re ready to make the ice cream, pour the contents into the quart bag, try to get as much air out as possible, and seal well. Put 2 to 4 cups of ice in the gallon bag along with 1/2 to 1/3 cup of course salt. Put the quart bag inside the gallon bag with the ice and salt and seal it, again trying to get the air out. Now work the bag for about 5 to 10 minutes; shake it, toss it back and forth, roll it on the counter. Once the ice cream gets hard you can either serve it up or store it in the freezer. Further fun experimentation could be had by combining fruit (citrus anyone?) or herbs and spices with the ice cream to complement flavors in the hops. Tip: Hop flavors enhance with time, so storing it for a day or two may give you a more hop-forward ice cream. Crafts & Decoration Hop plants, with their vibrant green leaves and delicate cones, can be great decorative plants. They grow very quickly and when planted in the right spot, can cover a wall or fence that might otherwise be an eyesore. They can also climb over arbors, much like grapes. When they’re done growing for the year they can also make their way into decorative and useful crafts. Hop Wreaths This idea may be a hard sell, especially for those homebrewers/hop gardeners who want all their cones for the brew pot. If you feel this way, by all means, save the cones for the beer, but if you happen to have more than you need, have access to wild hops, or you grow hops as part of your garden but don’t actually brew with them, then maybe you want to consider making a hop wreath. This is a great project to do around the same time you’re prepping your hops for winter since you’ll be cutting them back anyway. To make one, first, you’ll need a form and some plant shears. You can either make the form by weaving willow limbs or grapevine or even the hop bines themselves if you have well-established hops making large bines. You could also build your form out of wire. Forms, both wood, and wire are also available for purchase from most craft stores. A wood frame works best because it tends to make a more natural-looking wreath. There are many different ways to make this wreath. Some people like to weave bines around the form, while others cut several clusters of hops and then wire or glue them together on the wreath form, some do both. Some people want only the cones while others like some of the foliage in the wreath. As with any handmade craft, all kinds of possibilities are left wide open, ripe for personal interpretation. Some yellow aspen or red maple leaves might be just the thing to add or a seasonal decoration or two to really set off the season. Make Linen Paper Homemade paper isn’t very common anymore, but it can be therapeutic to make and it’s a great way to use your hop material at the end of the year. It’s also an exciting craft project to get your kids in on. Making paper from hop plant material isn’t new. In fact, at one point in 1839, a particular way to do it was even patented by Thomas MacGauran. Even cones, after being used to make beer, have been used to make paper pulp. A study titled, “Properties of natural cellulose fibers from hop stems” found that hop fiber was quite similar to its relative hemp, concluding that, “fibers obtained from hop stems have excellent properties and the fibers obtained from hop stems could be suitable for use in textile, composite and other fibrous applications.” There are lots of good articles and sites online and some good books too, about using plant fibers to make paper. In simplest terms, it’s a matter of cutting it up, soaking it, cooking it with some sort of alkali, beating it, blending it, and forming your sheets of paper. To form the sheets you’ll either have to buy or make a mold and deckle (screen and frame). You’ll also need a vat for the pulp, felts for laying (couching) your wet-formed paper on, some sort of press, and a way to dry it (but this can be as simple as a clothesline). It may take some time and experimentation to get paper quality good enough for writing on, but in the meantime, there’s no end to other craft projects suitable for your new paper. You could make a pressed flower print or press some hop cones and leaves. Then glue them on. Hang it in the house or present it as a homemade gift. You could also glue the paper in layers and use it to form a mask. Let your imagination run wild! Make Cordage/Twine How about making the twine to train your hops on next year from the bines of this year’s hops? This is just a little bit poetic too; using last year’s plants to support this year’s crop. Twine can be made from any fibrous plant material, some of the more popular plants and plant parts for making raw cordage include yucca, grasses, Western Red Cedar bark, stinging nettle, milkweed, and aspen bark, among many others. Oddly there isn’t much about making cordage from hops. If you want to give it a shot it’s not overly hard to do. It takes some time and maybe a little skill to get to where it doesn’t take loads of time. Like the paper section, there are loads of resources online laying out the process of making cordage from plant materials. Hop Soap Hop cones can also be used in soap making. One of the main reasons hops became such an important part of early brewing was because of their antibacterial properties. Along with these antibacterial actions hops bring a whole slew of properties, which could help with skincare. A study published in the Journal for The European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, states many of the polyphenols found in hops including kaempferol, quercetin, ferulic acid, xanthohumol, and 8-prenylnaringenin have, not only antibacterial actions but, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-angiogenic, anti-melanogenic, anti-osteoporotic, and anti-carcinogenic actions. You can find plenty of soap making how-to’s online. A couple of things to consider when using hops in soap: The soap will likely retain very little, if any, of the hop aroma; and dried hop cones can be pretty rough so try to limit the amount of “leaf matter” you put in the soap; instead think about grinding your cones (or pellets) as fine as possible and then adding it as a powder. Just like brewing, there’s a lot of experimentation to be had in soap making. So, don’t worry about getting everything exactly right, just have fun. From the first early shoots in spring to harvesting cones in late summer, right through to the fall cleanup, your hops can provide you with ingredients and materials far beyond the brewpot. Whether you want to extend its use beyond beer is up to you, but at least take a little time and explore some of its other uses, see if any of them are enjoyable and rewarding for you.