Also called Houblon in French or Humulus Lupulus in Latin, hops are the flowers of a vine-like plant native to Europe. The plant belongs to the temperate regions. Hops are especially well known for their use in the brewery industry most notably in the flavouring of beer. It is the hop flower that provides beer with its distinctive bitter taste and acts as a preservative.
The hop belongs to the family Cannabaceae. This group includes which also includes the genus cannabis (also known as hemp). Hops also have a close relationships with the nettle family.
Hops grow wild in England but were naturalised in Scotland and in Ireland. It is a plant of North Temperate countries.
Hops are also grown in France, South Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
The latin name of the genus and the plant are both a matter of controversy.Some say that Humulus comes from humus, the rich soil required for the growth of the plant. Lupulusis an offshoot of lupus latin for "wolf" because the plant smothers trees that it grows on, in the manner that a wolf strangles a sheep. "Hop" on the other had is said to be a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon word hoppan which translates as "to climb".
Medieval Holy communities were the first to brew with hops. But while the monastic brewers may have welcomed the hop plant, which acted as a preservative, many opposed its development. Powerful vested interests that controlled the production and sale of the herb, would either not let go of their monopolies (The Archbishop of Cologne, only in 1500 agreed to take a rent in lieu of his rights) or tried to exclude foreign beers by imposing high levels of duties on imported hopped beers (the Dutch nobility on the import of German beers in 14th century Netherlands). Hopped beers spread to England and after some tumult, by 1600; the use of hops in beer was the norm rather than the exception.
At one time, hordes of hop pickers would come from the cities to pick the crop by hand. For many poor families from industrial towns, this was their annual holiday- a breath of fresh air away from grime and smog of the cities. The labour has long been replaced by machinery.
 Usage in the production of beer
Since the ripened cones of the female Hop plant that are used in brewing, only female plants are cultivated. Those with undeveloped seeds are preferred. To ensure this only a few male plants are found scattered over a plantation of hops.
The Hop cones - or strobiles - are ready to be harvested when they are a brown-amber colour and of a firm consistence.
When picked, the Hops are at once taken to the kiln and dried. They spoil very quickly, within a few hours especially if picked moist. During the process of drying which is carried out in a similar manner to the drying of malt, great care is required to prevent overheating, to prevent the volatile oil from evaporating.
Many traditional brewers still prefer to use hop cones in their breweries as these provide a natural filter bed for the beer. However, approximately two-thirds of the world’s hop production is treated before transportation. Hop bi-products include hop pellets which are made of powdered and pressed cones or hop extract, a treacle like substance sold in cans. The advantage of the hop extract is that it is stable and efficient. It does however give the beer a more cloying flavour than pellets.
 Usage in Cuisine
The flowers of the male plant known in France as jets de houblon (hop shoots) are used as a vegetable and in a salad, especially in Belgian cooking. In French classical cuisine, dishes containing hops shoots are termed “a’ l’anversoise”. Pillows filled with hops and a tea brewed from the flowers is a soporific.
The shoots are cooked in the same manner as asparagus. They are first boiled in acidulated water and then can be cooked in cream or stock (usually veal stock). The shoots in cream are a classical accompaniment to poached eggs and poached sole.
 Therapeutic Usage
Hops are soothing to the nerves, act as a diuretic and relieve pain. The volatile oil extracted from hop strobiles is induces sleep and the bitter principle in hops is a good digestive.
Hops may be taken therapeutically internally as an infusion and externally as a tincture.
 Other uses
The leaves and strobiles produce a brown dye.
The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
The Complete Guide to Beer: Brian Glover
External links to have a look at:
http://www.realbeer.com/hops/ includes interesting stuff like a bitterness meter
http://www.fortunecity.com/boozers/brewerytap/555/hops/varieties.htm for a list of hop varieties
--Radhikab70 03:10, 3 August 2007 (EDT)