Raise a Glass and Grow

Coming off of the Saint Patrick’s Day high, we take a moment to reflect on the traditions and culture greatly associated with his feast day, especially in the United States where masses of green-clothed partiers flood the streets to enjoy parades and drink copious amounts of beer. Green beer is one of the most characteristic aspects of this celebration, but the two most common ingredients in beer (barley and hops) aren’t just for use in this sociable drink. Barley and Hops have many other uses, both medicinal and for food, and can be grown in your own backyard.


Barley is the most common starch used in beer making. The starch in malted barley is reduced to sugar and the resulting product is used in the fermenting process. Barley is also used as animal fodder, as a component of many health foods, as a source of fermentable material for whiskey and in many soups, stews, drinks and breads across the world.

Barley water and barley tea is often drunk in Japan, while barley coffee is a favorite, healthy alternative to coffee in Italy. De-hulled barley is a popular health food which can be used in the production of flour, flakes and grits. Barley-meal is used in Scotland and the Arab world as porridge. In Eastern Europe, many soups and stews are made with barley and many traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern foods are made with barley.

Barley is a great alternative to many other grains, offering eight essential amino acids. Barley was used as a medicine in ancient Arabia and Persia as a healing tonic. Modern studies are being done to discover the many benefits of eating barley. Evidence has shown that consuming whole grain barley may regulate blood sugar levels after eating a meal, making barley a good choice for diabetics.

Barley is fairly easy to grow, provided cool soil temperatures. Winter barley should be planted in October, while spring barley should be planted in January. Ideal temperatures hover just above freezing. Spring barley ripens in about two months, while fall barley ripens about two months after the beginning of spring. Barley prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Barley is ready for harvest when it is golden in color and brittle.


Hops are the female flowers of a climbing, herbaceous perennial, called hop. Hops are primarily used to flavor beer, balancing the sweetness of the barley sugar. It is also a natural preservative and antibiotic, killing off unwanted macrobiotics in the beer making process. Hops are also used in other beverages and in herbal medicine.

In Sweden, hops are used in the production of Julmust, a carbonated beverage that is popular in December. In Latin America, a popular soft drink called Malta is also made with hops. Hops are also sometimes used for flavoring in teas. Hops are often used in combination with valerian as a treatment for anxiety, nervousness and insomnia, but note that hops are toxic to dogs.

Hops are easy to grow if provided enough sun and space. Vines must have a suitable structure to climb around, such as a tall pole or strong twine, as they can grow up to a foot a day and up to 25 feet in a year. Hops are prone to many diseases and pests so take care to keep the soil well drained and nourished. Try a manure compost and natural fertilizer. Try Nature’s Balance 231, which can help to break down elements of compost and provides over 60 trace elements that all plants need for optimum performance. Hop should be planted in early spring after the threat of frost has passed, but no later than May. Keep seeds at least five feet apart and wrap them around a support structure when the vine reaches about 12 inches. Take care to do some deep trimming about once every two to three weeks to avoid a tangling of vines. Don’t expect flowering the first year, but expect a massive amount of flowering and beautiful aromas the second year.

While the long term effects of continuous, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and liver disease, moderate consumption is associated with a decrease in the risk of cardiac disease, stroke and cognitive decline. So raise a glass of green beer to Saint Patrick and enjoy this festival full of food, fun, merriment and good health!





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