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Hops

The hop plant or the Humulus Lupulus L. is a perennial plant which is a member of the family Cannabaceae. It is a twining vine with green flowers and is native to temperate climatic zones. The dioecious hop plants have separate male and female plants. It is the females which produce the hops which are used for the brewing of beer, while the male plant acts as the pollenizer. This heterogeneous plant is cultivated from nursery plants or from cuttings. From the dried and ripe flowers, an aromatic oil is produced. Hops are used mostly in beers as it adds a bitter taste and prevents any sort of bacterial infections.

The plant is produced from the annual vines of its overwintering rootstock and crowns. The rootstock is the under ground part of the hops plant and consists of rhizomes and roots which penetrates to a level

of 15 feet or more below the ground. Rootstock of the hop plants can survive for upto 50 years. In the second year of the cultivation, a healthy crop is formed as compared to the visible lesser growth in the first year. The crown of the plant produces the true roots, aerial stems and the underground rhizomes. New shoots spring up in the early springtime but these return to the normal state of the cold rhizome in the autumn season. The vines grow rapidly in times of summer and spring and reach to its height of full length by end of June.


Hops are characterized as bines, having thick vines and tenacious hairs which enable it to climb and cover any structure, moving in a clockwise direction. If the hop bines run out of areas to climb, the horizontal shoots appear near the main stem and start to create another set of stems. The shoots grow very fast and can reach heights of over 50 centimeters. The leaves of the plant are broad and have edges which are coarsely toothed in shape. Hop growing is a risky investments as it is easily affected by the pest attacks, including the European Corn Borer Ostrinia nubilalis and the Hop froghopper Aphrophora interrupta.
 

History
Historical evidence of the cultivation of beer dates back to as far back as 736, in the Hallertau of Germany. In 1067, Hildegard of Bingen documents the use of beer in the brewing process. Hops were introduced into the British beers in the 16th century and this rapidly spread to other areas including the Americas like the Cascade, Columbia, and Willamette. The major producers of hops include the UK, USA, Germany, Czech Republic, China, Australia and several other countries. Previously, the hop growing required large number of laborers but in the mechanized era, it requires less human labor and the harvesting has less of social consequences today.

 

Cultivation
The hop plant flourishes in certain climates and soils in temperate zones. The plant flourishes in areas with direct sunlight with access to plenty of moisture in the spring and warm sun in the summers. It requires approximately four months of frost free conditions. Ideally for cultivation, the soils should be moist, rich and well drained with pH levels of 6 to 7.5. The hops grow well on sandy and loamy soils. Fertilizers containing potassium, phosphate, and nitrogen can be used for optimum production. Given the right conditions, the vines can grow to heights of upto 30 feet. The soils should be tilled to create a weed free zone and are to be planted during the early spring when no frost is present. The hop plant requires regular but light supply of water.

 

When the hops plants reach a size of around 1 foot, a few are to be selected for further growth and the rest are to be removed. In the month of July, the lowest parts of the hops are carefully removed to enable greater air circulation and stop the developments of diseases. When the season is over, the healthy vines can be buried in the soil for producing new plants in preparation for next spring. The flowering of the hops plants occurs in the month of July and the ripening of the fruits occurs during the months of September and October.

 

Uses
Hops function as flavoring agents and stabilizers in the making of beer. It is a cheaper substitute for making beers. It is used to make beautiful garlands and also for decorative purposes. In the medieval age, the poorer sections of society ate the young hop shoots during the spring time. It substituted vegetables like the asparagus. Hop shoots can be eaten raw with vinegar, boiled or fried form. In Italian cuisine, it is eaten with risotto or frittata. Hops are used to make the Julmust, a popular beverage from Sweden. Farmers feed their livestock with wild hops.

The hop is associated with good luck. The flexible and fibre rich stem of hops can be used to fabricate cloth and paper. Ongoing research is being done to understand fully the medicinal value of the plant. Hop contains ingredients like humulene and lupulin. With a high presence of antibacterial qualities, it increases in the production of gastric juices. Hops are also anti-viral in natureand contain high amounts of flavonoids.

 
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