Hop , Shoots and Scores - Wild Hops
Updated: Jun 11
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 Wild Hop.
The Wild Hop
The Wild 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! Hop Shoots grow extremely fast and when they are in full swing can grow an incredible 20 to 60 cm's per week.
It is said that not all 'wild hops' in the UK are originally 'wild'. Some strains of the plant are escapees from the brewing sector, particularly in areas where brewing was a major industry, such as Suffolk or Kent where growing hops still takes place.
Visit our shop and learn to grow your own Wild Hops.
Identifying Wild Hops
So what do hops look like? The plant can be identified by its leaves, hop is a climbing hedge climber to me they are similar to large Nettle leaves in look. The leaves are large, palmate but divided into three to five lobes, the edges of the leaves are coarse (again similar to Nettles).
It has greenish-yellow blooms; male flowers grow in loose bunches, while female flowers are catkins shaped like cones. Female flowers produce fruit, which is cone-shaped and brown when ripe.
The stem is square and has many side shoots. It is the side shoots that you want to pick and they are delicious.
What do Hop Shoots taste like?
Often 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.
Hops Medicinal uses
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.
Hops are also used to treat anxiety, sleep difficulties, restlessness, menopausal symptoms, and a variety of other diseases.
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 into a tea or even parcelled inside pillows to help with sleep.
Learn more natural remedies with our great selection of natural medicine books.
How to cook Hop Shoots
So to 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 saute 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. They also make a great springtime risotto or even could be put through a very posh ham hock terrine.
Because of their bitter flavour and unusual texture, mature hops or cones are rarely consumed in meals but more readily used as a flavouring. However, young hop leaves and shoots are frequently consumed. Young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked in the same way as other green vegetables. But here is some recipes for the leaves, shoots and flower cones (hops) for you to try.
Beer flavoured hop'y pickled onions
500ml malt vinegar
200ml bitter beer
500g small pickling onions (peeled)
25g sea salt
50g granulated sugar
50g dried or fresh hop flowers
Place your peeled onions in a bowl, layering with onions and salt. Cover and leave overnight or up to 24hrs.
Combine vinegar, beer, water, sugar, peppercorns and salt in a separate pot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the salt is dissolved. When the mixture reaches a boil, add the hops and stir thoroughly. Turn off the heat and allow to steep overnight until your onions are ready.
The following day rinse the onions well and allow to dry.
Pack the onions into sterilised jars then use a jug to pour over the beer flavoured brine, including the hop flowers and peppercorns, completely covering the onions. Seal and allow to mature for at least 6 weeks.
Hop Shoot Frittata
200g new potatoes, quartered
100g hop shoots
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
6 eggs, beaten
40g pecorino cheese, grated
In boiling salted water, cook your potatoes for 4-5 mins until nearly tender, in the last 30 seconds add the hop shoots and drain.
In a frying pan, cook your shallots for a few minutes with a pinch of salt, until translucent and sweet. Get your grill hot.
In a mixing bowl, mix the eggs with half the pecorino and season well. Pour the eggs over the onion in the pan, then scatter over the hop shoots and new potatoes. Top with the remaining cheese and put under the grill for 5 mins or until golden and cooked through. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread.
Apple, walnut, stilton and hop leaf salad with a beer dressing (serves 4)
200ml beer (a bitter, or your favourite ale)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp dijon mustard
70ml cider vinegar
70ml olive oil
125g young hop leaves (stem removed) and shoots
3 apples, halved, cored and thinly sliced
170g stilton, crumbled
60g toasted walnut halves
To make the dressing: Pour your beer into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until it has reduced by two thirds, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in remaining ingredients. Set aside. At this point, if you would prefer slightly cooked hop shoots (the leaves are perfect as they are), briefly cook the shoots in the warm dressing.
To make Salad: Arrange the hop leaves and shoots on 4 plates, and arrange the apples on the leaves. Crumble the stilton on the top, and sprinkle the walnuts. Drizzle each salad with the dressing and enjoy.
The hop is a fantastic wild vegetable and the flowers are pretty useful too! Aside the obvious use in beer, this fantastic spring and summer crop is a perfect alternative to asparagus or a fresh salad leaf. One you have a patch, you can revisit every year and harvest readily, these plants grow fast, big and offer a potentially endless stream of delicious greens for many months.
Learn about brewing with wild hops by checking out our Wild Brewing and Drinks Books section.