Hordeum vulgare (barley)
Plant of the month: January
Hordeum vulgare (or barley, as it is more commonly known), is one of nearly 11,000 species in the grass family – an economically important group that covers a third of the world’s land! While other family members provide important products such as wheat, sugar, rice and bioethanol, the germinating seeds of this species are the “malt” associated with the brewing of beer and the distillation of whisky, and have been used for this process for 10,000 years.
However, barley can also be appreciated for its delicate, long awns extending like bristles from each inflorescence – the flowerheads of many Hordeum species can be dried to make elegant floral arrangements. There is also an old Pagan custom associated with both barley and wheat to ensure a bounteous forthcoming crop – the making of corn dollies from the last sheaf of the harvest, to house the Corn spirit over the winter.