Hops

(Humulus lupulus) A British native, but Long reckoned that most of the so-called Wild Hops here are probably escapees from cultivation. They have been cultivated in Europe for flavouring malt liquors since the 9th century (Lehner), but the date of its introduction into England for the same purpose is quite problematical. It is agreed that it arrived in the 16th century (Faulkner), but the precise date is elusive. 1542 is often quoted. But that is apparently not true. In any case, after its introduction there was strong popular prejudice against their use, reinforced by by an injunction of Henry VIII to the growers not to put any hops or brimstone into ale (Barton & Castle). He was a great lover of spiced ale, that is the old English unhopped ale (Jones-Baker. 1974). But, before that, in 1519, the corporation of Shrewsbury had forbidden the brewers to use "that wicked and pernicious weed", under a penalty of 6s. 8d (Bett. 1950). A popular rhyme is supposed to show the date of introduction:

Hops and Turkey, Carp and Beer Came into England all in one year.

That is not helpful. The truth is that no-one is actually sure when it made its first commercial appearance here (Haydon). Another of these introduction sayings was "Heresy and hops came in together".

As hops became a more and more important crop, some weather lore attached itself to the plant:

Till St James's Day be come and gone,

There may be hops, or there may be none (Dyer).

St James's Day is 25 July, which seems rather a late day to judge the well-being of the crop. Perhaps we are talking about St James the less (1 May). Another rhyme seems more realistic:

Rain on Good Friday and Easter Day, A good crop of hops, but a bad one of hay (Leather).

This is from Herefordshire. Another saying might apply to any crop:

Plenty of ladybirds, plenty of hops (Dyer).

Old beliefs connected with hops include a dream interpretation: a large garden full of hops in full leaf is a sign of wealth. Dried hops, especially when the smell is noted in a dream, shows that the dreamer will soon receive a legacy (Raphael), and there was a general belief in the good fortune brought by hops. Wreaths made of them were commonly seen over the mantelpiece in country areas, put there for luck, and for ensuring the household's prosperity (Opie & Tatem). At one time, it was the custom for anyone visiting a Kentish hopfield to contribute "foot money" to stop the luck leaving the field. In the language of flowers, a garland of hops was a symbol of hope, often worn in Elizabethan times by suitors (Quennell), and we learn from Gubernatis that there used to be a Russian custom of putting hop leaves on a bride's head, "en signe de joie, d'ivresse et d'abondance". There was once a belief that the nightingale's song is only heard where hops grow (Dyer).

Hop pillows have been used as a soporific for a long time. The secret of success against insomnia lies in not packing them too tightly, and the dried hops should be renewed every four to six weeks (Thomson. 1976). The sedative action of a hop pillow was used to combat other conditions, too. Lindley tells us that they were prescribed for "mania". George III is said to have slept on one (Genders. 1971). One was used for rheumatism in Worcestershire, according to a correspondent of the Gentleman s Magazine in 1855 (oddly enough, it was to be laid under a patient's bed). There are records, too, for its use for toothache, earache and neuralgia (Lehner), and it is even recommended for asthma sufferers (Hyatt). Being slightly narcotic, hops have been smoked as a tobacco substitute, something that was tried as recently as World War II (Swahn).

Hordeum sativum > BARLEY

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