Herbs and spices are essential components of gastronomy that help elevate food from the ordinary to the sublime – imagine a world without fresh coriander, parsley, cumin or chilli. N1 understand how important seasoning is which is why they go to great lengths to ensure they use only the best-quality herbs and spices in all their meat products. And herbs are a growing industry – the US produces around 200 billion pounds of herbs and spices each year. But herbs have been with us a lot longer than that, its use predates written human history – evidence suggests that man was already using medicinal plants 60,000 years ago during the Paleolithic age.
Still very much part of our lives today, herbs and their various uses are promoted by the International Herb Association, which in 1995 established The Herb of the Year program to help drive further awareness. Proactively making selections up to 2020, this year the herb of choice is Hops Humulus ssp. Most commonly associated with beer – it’s the stability agent in beer and gives the beverage its distinctive taste – the herb has a myriad of other uses.
Herbaceous perennials, and very vigorous growers – hops can reach up to 12 metres and are said to grow at an impressive speed of up to 30 centimetres in just one day. There are around 120 different varieties and the flavours range from herbal and floral to spicy and citrusy. Hops have been used for millennia as a relaxant and sleep aid – it can also help to alleviate anxiety and restlessness. Flavonoids give it powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties which are said to also help with lowering elevated cholesterol levels and reducing high blood sugar. It aids digestion by increasing stomach secretions and it’s said to reduce spasms in the digestive tract. It’s also used in cosmetics and hair products – in the 70s and 80s a beer-enriched range of shampoos called Body on Tap was very popular because the protein in beer nourishes and strengthens hair.
I’ll bet you didn’t know hops was capable of all that did you? And if imbibing beer is not your thing, then the benefits of hops can also be enjoyed as an infusion; in powdered form; as an essential oil; or in easy-to-digest capsules. Next year’s Herb of the Year is Anise-hyssop, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as our favourite herb, hops; so, here’s to the wonder-herb – prost!