Hops , Shoots and Scores - The Wild Hop

It has been a while since I have written about a particular plant. Usually I am focused on finding and eating them, but with the new season well underway I though it best to spend a little time getting to know a very useful plant, the Hop.

The Hop or Humulus Lupulus, is a climbing plant that is found mainly in the warmer parts of the UK. This inconspicuous climber can be found in hedgerows, and sometimes at the edge of woods climbing by wrapping clockwise around anything within reach and slowly but very surely climbing as high as 7.5m!

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The plant can be identified by its leaves, to me they are similar to large Nettle leaves in look, they are large, palmate but divided into three to five lobes. The stem is square and has many side shoots. It is the side shoots that you want to pick and they are delicious.

Compared to Asparagus, Hop shoots are a delicate and desirable vegetable favoured greatly by most European nations. The tender green side shoots (leave the main stem to grow on until later in the season) can be picked from early spring, just before the first Asparagus.

The hop is a relatively new species to the UK, introduced in the 14th century from Europe where the Dutch were using it in a peculiar way, to flavour beer! Although this is the most famous use for the modern hop, the hop is a very useful plant medicinally too. Through history the hop has been said to be a cure for Stomach and Bowel complaints, it has also been used to ease the teething pains of new born babies through to a cure for venereal disease. In truth the Hop, which is a member of the Cannabis family is a mild sedative and the paper like sprays of flowers which can be collected and dried for winter in Autumn are best brewed in tea or even added to pillows to help with sleep.

So culinary uses, well treat the shoots like Asparagus. They should be cooked quickly to keep the flavour, colour and nutrients and genuinely don't need much done to them. Simply sautee with Butter (and a little garlic if you like) and serve as a side - perfect with a steak and a little Hollandaise sauce. Alternatively and again similar to Asparagus, Hop shoots have an affinity with Eggs so use them in omelette's. Additionally they make a great springtime risotto or even could be put through a very posh ham hock terrine.

The hop is a fantastic Wild Vegetable and the flowers are pretty useful too!

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