Barley, a cultivated cereal grass. Barley is used chiefly in making malt (used for making beer) and as feed for farm animals. It is used also in baby foods, coffee substitutes, soups, breads, Scotch whisky, and paper. Its stem is used as straw for hats.
Barley grows to be about 30 inches (76 cm) high. Its leaves are 12 inches (30 cm) long and three-fourths of an inch (2 cm) wide. The head of grain is almost 4 inches (10 cm) long. There are several species, some with two rows of kernels, some with six. The kernels of some varieties are protected by threadlike bristles, called awns or beards, 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long.
Barley matures more quickly than most other grains. For this reason, it has been an important food for animals and people in the far North. It is also grown in dry, subtropical regions where there is a short, cool growing season. In general, barley requires the same type of soil and growing conditions as wheat, but is more hardy. It does not do well in hot, humid regions. Barley is subject to fewer diseases than other cereals, but is sometimes attacked by rust, smut, and virus diseases.
Barley was developed from the wild foxtail barley, or squirrel-tail grass, found all over the temperate zones of the world. It probably originated in the dry regions of northern Africa and southwestern Asia. Cultivated in southwestern Asia by 7000 B.C., barley was one of the first important domesticated plants. The Stone Age lake dwellers in Switzerland raised barley, as did the ancient Romans.
Since barley flour contains no gluten, it makes poor bread. Nevertheless, it was widely used for bread until wheat came into general use in the 16th century. Barley was brought to America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Barleys with six rows of kernels are Hordeum vulgare and H. intermedium. Species with two rows include H. distichon, H. deficiens, and H. irregulare. H. trifurcatum is an awnless species, many varieties of which have been developed since World War II for stock feed. Barley belongs to the grass family, Gramineae.