Category: Foraging other than food

Hop Cones - Late August, Dorset

Uses for Hops (cones / flowers)

I’ve blogged about Hops before but at a very different time of the year – April. My target in the Spring is the young shoots, these have been called “Poor Man’s Asparagus” and are one of the world’s most expensive vegetables sold in Belgium for around $1400 / kilo. The shoots have lots of great uses covered in the blog, I frequently put them in frittatas or have them as a vegetable.

Hops can occasionally be found in hedgerows even in areas where there is no history of hop growing. The hop vines grow up to a foot a day and the cones (the proper word for the flowers) are blossoming at the moment. Seeing them in their summer guise did make me think about what you can do with them beyond the obvious use. I did a bit of web searching and this post contains what I found. When it’s stopped raining and we’ve had some sun, I am going out to gather some hops to dry and try out some of the below ideas.

Picking / Storing Hops

September and October are the months for harvesting hop cones. They can be dried for later use, however, note that they will lose their potency when exposed to light and air or after a few months’ storage.

If you have sensitive skin, you might want to wear gloves and make sure your arms are covered when picking them. Dermatitis sometimes results from harvesting them. Please note hops are toxic to dogs.



Hops are obviously used as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent for beers. As well as bitterness they give floral, fruity or citrusy flavours and aroma. There are many cultivated varieties of hops used for different styles of beer.

I’m no home-brew expert but it would be interesting to try a beer made with foraged hops.


Hops as Decoration

Stems of dried hops have been used as a garland or in floral arrangements for centuries. Today, they are usually seen in pubs hanging from rafters or above the bar. I was once asked where to find some for decorating a wedding reception!

Flower arrangement with Hops.

Medicinal and Cosmetic Uses of Hops

A pillow filled with hops is a popular traditional remedy for sleeplessness. You can easily make your own and can optionally add an equal measure of dried lavender flowers to sweeten the scent. Wrap it well (make a “pillow case”) to avoid the hop’s oils from staining your bedding! Put under your pillow to help you sleep.

Do not disturb

The calming and relaxing effects of hops are utilised in herbal medicine as treatments for anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. They also used in cosmetics – natural soaps and deodorants.


Hop Tea

They have been used in tea for at least as long as they have been used in beer. The tea is often used as a bedtime drink due to its natural sedative properties. You can dry foraged hops and use them for making tea. It can be very bitter and might need sweetening with honey. Some people add other, complementary flavours to hop tea – ginger, citrus peel, chamomile, lemongrass, lemon balm, or other herbs.

Herbal Tea

Culinary Uses

I was already aware of most of the above uses for hops but was unaware of any culinary uses. What I did find repeatedly in my search were warnings that they are incredibly strong, and their bitterness can take over a dish. The trick is to use them lightly. According to one source “If there’s one word to keep in mind, it’s this: restraint”.  Another source summed it up nicely:

Hops are the ‘spice’ of beer, and they play a similar role when added to food recipes

It’s worth giving them a go, they add robust flavours, aromas and textures to dishes. A test run using them as a dried and flaked condiment is a suggested way of being introduced to them.

  • A garnish for mashed potatoes
  • Sprinkled on soup
  • On pasta or chicken

Among the other uses I found – search for recipes / inspiration:

  • Adding like a bay leaf to a soup or stew
  • Yeast cakes
  • Sausages
  • Bread
  • Salmon and cauliflower with hops béarnaise
  • On pizzas, like you would use oregano or basil
  • Infuse oils with hops for salad dressings
  • Dried and ground as a baking powder substitute (1 tablespoon to 1 lb plain flour)
  • Mustard to go with hoppy sausage
  • Infused honey to top a malted barley custard
  • Hop-infused ice cream
  • Hot chocolate
  • Churros (fried-dough pastry – a traditional snack from Spain and Portugal)

Foraging for Christmas

While foraging to most people is about food, you can also forage for non-edible items from the hedgerow, wood and shore. My runner bean poles and pea sticks are all hazels out of the hedgerow, bits of drift wood make nice ornaments (or light-fittings – hello sister!) and, as it is the Christmas period, sources of decoration for the house and table can easily be found in the garden or not too far from home. Like wild food, you can buy them already made, but the fun (for adults and kids) is in the gathering and making. Spending money on Pine cones seems as mad to a forager as buying nettles!

"Cone and holly" by Petr Kratochvil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Cone and holly” by Petr Kratochvil – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What to gather

The usual foraging “good manners” apply – pick a bit here and a bit there, only take some of what is common etc.

  • Old Man’s Beard
  • Seed heads
  • Bare or lichen-covered twigs
  • Branches
  • Ivy*
  • Holly*
  • Mistletoe*
  • Pine or evergreen foliage (Conifers, Laurel*, Holm Oak, Yew* etc).
  • Garden herbs – Sage, Rosemary etc.
  • Pine / Larch / Fir cones
  • Rose hips*
  • Ornamental crab apples – reds, pinks and yellows
  • Hawthorn berries
  • Chestnuts – in husks or taken out (not Horse Chestnuts)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Moss

*NB – Leaves and berries of these are poisonous (some fatal) if consumed! Do not bring into the house if you have children or pets. Rose hips contain seeds with hairs on that are an irritant (childhood “itching powder”).


Other things you might need

  • Garden wire
  • Metallic spray paints or glitter – gold, silver, red or white
  • Flax cord, ribbon, hessian, raffia or twine for decoration

What to do / make

  • Wreaths
  • Tree decorations – spray them or tie ribbons, add a thread or wire loop to hang on the tree
  • General decorations – make a longer “string”  to hang on pictures, the bookshelf, banister etc
  • Napkin rings
  • Table decorations – fill small jars, glasses or pretty ice-cream dishes with nuts, berries or arrangements
  • Present decorations – tie around the necks of jars and bottles of home-made jam and sloe gin
  • Decorate a branch – add lights and tree decorations
  • Cake decorations (avoid poisonous species!)