Herb Of The Year for:
2005 Oregano and Marjoram
2006 Scented Geraniums
2007 Lemon Balm
2009 Bay Laurel
2016 Peppers Caspicum ssp.
2020 Rubus ssp. (Blackberries,
Raspberries et al.)
The International Herb Association established National Herb Week in 1991 and every year since 1995 they have chosen an Herb Of The Year. The Herb Of The Year is based on it being outstanding in 2 of 3 categories: Medicinal, Culinary or Decorative.
The original use of herbs was for medicine. In ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Assyria the treatment of diseases was performed by the use of herbs and spices either ingested or used as a poultice. That herbal knowledge has carried forward over the generations; and today in our western society and we are looking to the past to remember what our grandmothers did for curing their households. The culinary side of herbs has just as rich a history. There is no substitute for clipping a handful of basil, mint, cilantro, or thyme from your garden to add flavor and freshness to your dinner table.
What Is An Herb? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an herb is defined as a "(1) seed plant that lacks woody tissue and dies to the ground at the end of a growing season. (2) A plant or plant part valued for medicinal or savory qualities"
The value of the plant can be in its leaves, stems, seeds or root. They are valued and harvested for their flavor, healthful qualities, fragrance or dye. Examples such as mint, oregano, cilantro and basil are harvested for their leaves which we primarily use in our kitchens.
Spices are the woody parts or seeds of herbaceous plants. Examples are caraway, fennel, sesame, black pepper and cinnamon.
For 2018 The International Herb Association has named a plant we do not necessarily think of as an herb, it is Hops whose latin name is Humulus, selection for herb of the year, 2018. It does however have all of the criteria needed to succeed in this category; can it be used as a culinary herb, yes. Is it medicinally useful, well our ancestors knew more than we do about its medicinal properties, but in the modern era it has been used extensively to treat a variety of ills, so another "tick." It fulfills its decorative requirement spectacularly. H. lupulus "Aureus" in full flower is one of the finest climbers there is and it will make you fall in love with Hops as a beautiful climbing addition to any landscape.
Hops grows wild in almost all areas of the world from northern Scotland, across western Europe, Asia and North America. The modern "hop" has been developed from a wild plant as ancient as history itself. As far back as the first century AD hops was described as a salad plant and believed to originate in Egypt. Today, the words beer and ale mean much the same, but the word 'ale' was originally reserved for brews produced from malt and honey without hops. Ale was the original drink of the Anglo-Saxons and English, whereas 'beer' a drink brewed with hops probably originated in Germany. Humans drank un-hopped ale for more than 8,000 before beer began to take hold as the more popular brew.
Only the female flower is used in the production of beer, as the hop plant is dioecious meaning it produces male and female flowers on separate plants. For many centuries hops were enjoyed as a naturally growing bitter vegetable and a medicinal agent, treating anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Here in N. America, the Cherokee and other native peoples used hops to treat inflammation, as a sedative and for other purposes. A pillow full of hops was at one time a common remedy for sleeplessness.
In the modern era, hops are grown in England, Western Europe and in the Pacific northwest here in the United States. Micro-breweries, restaurants and hop gardens attached to them, have become both popular and quite common in most major metropolitan areas. It is fair to say that Hops are even becoming the latest fad in food preparation. It is the bitter element that adds the "piquancy" to food but because of this, they must be used with knowledge and a light hand when adding to recipes.
Look for some ideas for using "hops" on our recipes page...
Herb of the Year for 2018 -
Humulus luplus - golden hops
Humulus japonicas - variegated hops