Hops is also your friend if you like some of Asheville’s local beers. The female flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant are used as a flavoring and stabilizing factor in beer. They give it a slightly bitter, tangy taste that some of the more famous Asheville beers are known for (Asheville Brewing’s Shiva IPA or Pisgah Brewing's IPA come to mind). Hops helps the beer-making process because the chemical properties in hops help the yeast flourish, rather than other microorganisms.
Even if you’re a non-beer-drinking gardener, hops is a fun plant to have around. A perennial vine and vigorous climber, it is trained to grow up on strings or wires in high-production settings. The leaves are heart shaped and deeply lobed, with coarse-toothed edges that help make it rough to the touch. The stems are more like tendrils that attach themselves and wind around anything and everything, carrying the vine both high and wide. Top foliage will die back in the cold, but the underground rhizome remains to emerge in the spring with new shoots.
Make sure to plant it somewhere far away from other things — a place you don’t mind it taking over — as it is considered an invasive plant in some parts of the country. When growing for production, hops requires deep rich soil, plenty of air circulation and full sun. But if you’re growing it for fun and don’t have attachment to the most or best flowers, it grows quite fine in our thick, clay, mountainous soils. The easiest way to start a plant, again if you’re not picky about a specific variety, is to get part of a rhizome or even a sucker from one already growing.
Interestingly, hops is in the Cannabaceae family, the same family as cannabis, which may account for some of its similar qualities. And it may aid in the relaxed feeling that beer drinkers report. Many herbalists use a tea or tincture of hops to aid in sleep or with a general restlessness or overstimulation. Chemically, it is a very safe sedative with nerve tonic properties and slight pain relieving qualities. You can harvest your own flowers for at-home experiments, after the third year when they are established enough to start producing.
Lee Walker Warren is a homesteader, herbalist, writer and manager of Imani Farm, a pasture-based cooperative farm at Earthaven Ecovillage. She lives a deeply integrated and authentic life, formed by 15 years of community living, a commitment to regenerative systems, and a drive towards sacred embodiment. Find her at reclaimingwisdom.com(reclaimingwisdom.com).