Hop to It

Hops is usually associated with beer making, but it's also a great addition to the soap maker's herb garden.

That relaxing feel you get when having a cold beer isn't just from the alcohol. Hops is a sedative. King George III (of the UK) supposedly slept a bed of hops to ease his insomnia.

Hops is also said to have antiseptic properties and can help reduce inflammation. The Delaware Native Americans used it for toothaches.  

Growing it—on a small scale—is easy. I have a nice patch of it in my plot at The Hell's Kitchen Community Garden. You just need a sunny spot (in zones 4-8) with deep, rich, well-drained soil. And something sturdy for the vines to grow on—they can reach up to 40 feet in a season.

It's best to use a cutting or an actual plant—seeds are tough to germinate.

You won't get any strobiles (the papery green flower that looks like a pine cone) until the second or third year, but it's fun to watch the vine take over your trellis in the meantime. And Maggie likes to use the leaves to make a light brown dye.

Harvest the strobiles when they're still green, let them dry and—if using them for soap—infuse in olive oil immediately. They tend to lose their potency pretty quickly. They don't add much color or fragrance to oil, so I like to infuse them with a good dose of lavender.

That—and hops and lavender essential oils—are the key ingredients for my Hops and Lavender soap that'll help you unwind after a tough day of work;  an exasperating phone call with an ex or finding a dead body in the community garden.

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