Everyone knows hops are used to brew beer. Hops are, in fact, almost exclusively grown for the brewing industry, but they have possess other properties that make them valuable for alternative uses.
Decorating with hops - especially in the PNW - has increased in popularity along with (and probably thanks to) the craft brewing industry boom. Hop-themed weddings include hop flowers in bouquets and boutonnieres, on cakes and arbors, even hanging from rafters and chandeliers. Decorative hops look great for any event (or in your own home), and you can find a bunch of beautiful examples over at our Pinterest site. If you're interested in purchasing hops for an event, keep in mind you can only get them around harvest time - late August to early September. That's when the cones are at peak maturity and their prettiest. Contact a local farmer to put in your order for next year.
Multiple parts of the hop plant are edible, too. Coined the "poor man's asparagus," young shoots can be sautéed with garlic, salt, and olive oil for a garnish that tastes like a cross between asparagus and spinach. You can use the flowers in pickling, meat smoking, bread making, confection baking, and much more. Just don't feed any to your family pet - hops are poisonous to dogs and cats!
Most importantly, though, hops have little-known medicinal traits that were more commonly utilized in the late 1800s, when the first wave of hop farming was sweeping through the U.S. Since then, modern medicines have come to replace the old remedies, but you can still find hop extract medications at most co-ops and natural food stores. Hops are most widely used - in combination with valerian extract - as a mild sedative to treat insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and ADHD. If you have whole cones, you can make hop tea (I recommend flavoring with honey, chamomile, or lemon balm as hops by themselves are very bitter) or a hop pillow to sleep with at night. Hop soaps, lotions, bath oils, and oil diffusers are additional tools at your disposal. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Hops are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, making them useful for indigestion relief, appetite recovery, and emergency poultices. Recent research also suggests them as a safer, lower-cost alternative to antibiotics in animal feed. Hops contain phytoestrogen, a plant-derived chemical that mimics estrogen in the human body, helping mitigate menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms. And as a diuretic, they can help manage the effects of diabetes by increasing urine flow. Some even claim anti-carcinogenic benefits.
With such a long list of ailments and treatment methods, it is important that you talk to your doctor before starting any sort of major regimen. While hops may be able to provide you relief from minor symptoms, they are not a replacement for more advanced medicine. Pregnant women are also discouraged from coming into contact with concentrated levels of hop oil as there is not enough research on how this affects fetus development.
As you can see, hops can be used for so much more than beer brewing (although that is still my favorite). And we've got loads of information and ideas on our Pinterest page, so be sure to check that out!
Lisa Kronwall, WGC Horticulturist