Herb of the Year: Hops

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Hops, are the flowers of the plant Humulus lupulus, used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer.  The hop plant is a vigorous, climbing, herbaceous perennial, usually trained to grow up strings. Many different varieties of hops are grown by farmers around the world, with different types being used for particular styles of beer.

The first documented use of hops in beer is from the 9th century, though Hildegard of Bingen, 300 years later, is often cited as the earliest documented source. Before this period, brewers used gruit, composed of a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers, including dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound (the old German name for horehound, Berghopfen, means "mountain hops"), ground ivy, and heather. Early documents include mention of a hop garden in the will of Charlemagne's father, Pepin III.
In addition to adding flavor to beer, hops are also used in brewing for their antibacterial effect over less desirable microorganisms and for many purported benefits, including balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness, contributing a variety of desirable flavors and aromas.

The herb of the year is selected by the International Herb Association. Herbs chosen must be outstanding in two of three categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative. Herb societies around the world work together to educate the public about these important herbs.

2016's Herb of the Year was Pepper
2015's Herb of the Year was Savory
2014's Herb of the Year was Artemisia
2013's Herb of the Year was Elder