While no precise origin is known of the vine known as hops (Humulus lupulus), botanists generally regard this plant species as native to Europe and western Asia but widely naturalized across North America. Growing 20 feet tall, hops is a perennial that grows from an underground rhizome root. Its twining stems bear light green leaves that are three- or five-lobed. In summer, it bears oval green female flowers that turn to a strawberry red color. It is successfully grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 4 through 8.
The bitter substance obtained from the hairs on the female flower "cones" have been traditionally used by brewers for giving aroma and flavor to beer. This use persists today. Originally used for their preservative value of the brewed alcohol, the hops later became noted as a source to flavor the beer. According to Purdue University, there exists a German patent for adding hops to sausages as a natural preservative. A natural substance in the female flowers prevents certain bacteria from growing in the beer or meat sausage.
The oils pressed from hops flowers, called oil of hops, is used in varying amounts to produce perfumes, grain-based beverages other than beer and ales and mineral waters. The oils impart a flavor to smoking tobacco. Flavoring also finds its way into frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatin and puddings. Additional extracts from hops act as a skin-softener in hand creams and lotions.
In Belgium, the young emergent shoots of hops are covered to produce white, pigment-lacking shoots that are eaten as a vegetable delicacy. Purdue University also comments that the Romans ate hops shoots like we enjoy asparagus today.
The ornate foliage and decorative shape and color of the flowers on female-gendered hops plants makes them attractive as an ornamental vine. The fame of hops to flavor beer finds this plant a curiosity in gardens as well as to assist in screening or covering fences with leaves during the growing season. Horticulturists often select a golden-yellow leaved cultivar named "Aureus."