"I love beer!" you may be thinking, "but what does it have to do with a medicinal and kitchen garden?" Plenty! One of the fundamental ingredients in every beer is hops. Hops are the female flowers, or seed cones, of the Humulus Lupulus, a climbing, leafy, perennial plant found throughout the world. Hops have been a traditional part of brewing since at least the early Middle Ages because they act as a natural stabilizer and preservative. They are more important today because of the various bitter, tangy, floral, and fruity notes that different hop varieties will lend to beer when properly applied.
Last spring, I introduced a hop bine to the Pry Garden, and it was a great success! In its first year, it grew to nearly 10 feet and produced a great crop of lovely, fragrant hops. I was really tickled because I had never seen hops growing before, let alone grown them myself! This year they should grow even larger and more productive.
I don't grow hops in the Pry Garden because we have any plans for brewing beer at Pry House; we will leave that to the professionals at Brewers Alley! In the 19th century, hops were also used in medicine. Historically and in modern times, hops have been used to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other related conditions. Hops were, and still are, also used to stimulate appetite and to treat symptoms of menopause.
In the 19th century, hops were used for an even wider assortment of medicinal applications. Internally, hops were often used as a treatment for coughs and fevers. Externally, they were applied in poultices to boils, swelling, and bruises. During the Civil War, hops were in demand by the Confederate States Medical Department, as limited resources drove medical purveyors to seek alternative herbal medicines.
In March 1862, the office of Confederate Surgeon General Samuel Preston Moore published a guide to collecting and applying medicinal herbs of the South. It included an entry on hops:
Sex. Syst. Dioceia, Pentand. Nat. Or. Urtieaceae. (Perennial.)
The strobiles officinal. Vine climbing. Found abundantly in the
western sections of the Confederate States, along the banks of the
Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Strobiles to be collected in autumn,
when at their maturity. Tonic, and moderate narcotic. Infusion -
Hops,1 oz.; boiling water, 1 pint. Dose, 2 fluidounces 2 or 3 times
a day. Tincture - Hops, finely broken, 5 oz.; diluted alcohol, 2 pints.
Macerate for 14 days, stirring frequently. Dose, 1 to 3 fluidrachms.
Tincture of lupulin preferable. Dose, 1 or 2 fluidrachms.
Francis Porcher, in Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests of 1863, wrote of Humulus Lupulus:
This plant is certainly possessed of some narcotic power. According to Dr. Latham, an infusion of it is a good substitute for laudanum.It is employed in doses of one and a half drachms in allaying the distressing symptoms of phthisis[consumption or tuberculosis]. It augments the secretions, removes pain and irritability, and induces sleep... It is thought to a specific in removing asthmatic pains, without increasing the secretions... It is given with good effect as a stomachic,* in appetency and weakness of the digestive organs... Much use is made of the hop poultice in allaying pain, applied over the part...
*A Stomachic is a medicine is one that serves to aid the stomach, improving its function and increasing appetite
If you want to try the Civil War Beer Series firsthand, it is available at many regional spirit shops and on tap at Brewer's Alley. First Draught will make its debut at a special happy hour event at Brewer's Alley on March 5th from 4 to 6 PM! No cost! No registration! Free giveaways! Great conversations about beer and history!
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First Draught Happy Hour