A climbing herbaceous plant, the hop plant or hops has long been cultivated on the American continent.
In Europe, it is grown in France, Germany and Belgium, and it is dried and used to brew beer.
Also used as an ornamental plant that quickly creates an opaque panel, hops grows in moist and rich soil with lots of humus. It grows as a twining vine that sends shoots off at angles to wrap around any available support structure.
This plant counts 3 main cultivars which are: Chinese hops, Japanese hops and European hops.
This climbing vine that can grow to reach 32 feet (10 meters) bears distinctive female and male flowers called strobiles or cones, referring to their shape. These flowers contain tiny glands that produce a sap-like powder, pungent and yellow in color, called “lupulin”. This is the substance which imparts not only the bitter taste when used for beer, but also the medicinal properties of the plant.
Well, what are the health benefits and therapeutic properties of this plant for mankind? How should one use them wisely?
Let’s have a look around…
- Read also: how to grow hops
Hops, a short story
The root word of hops comes from “Humulus”, a Latin word derived from “humus” which means “soil”.
Extracting its nutrients from the partial decomposition of plant and animal matter, hops is a perennial herbaceous vine with a thick fleshy root. It belongs to the Cannabaceae family.
It can grow anywhere, particularly in gardens, and spontaneously reseeds itself.
Also called the Vineyard of the North, Native Smilax, Devil’s wood and many other names, hops is harvested from September to November.
The plant used to be protected for the services it rendered forest rangers, and it was for a time illegal to cut it without former approval.
The preserving and antiseptic properties of hops cones and female flowers have been known since the 12th century, when they were discovered by a mystical Benedictine nun called Hildegarde von Bingen.
Its bitterness enhanced fermentation and beer would keep for much longer.
These properties were applied to herbal medicine early on. Which are they in detail?
Hops health benefits and therapeutic value
- Therapeutic benefits of hops
For many long years, American Indians applied the therapeutic properties of hops as infusions to to treat insomnia and pain.
In Europe, the Vine of the North was used to treat diarrhea, joint rheumatism, heart disorders and even to lower fever.
The properties of native smilax are many.
Stimulating, invigorating, diuretic and narcotic hops is prescribed to treat anemia, rickets and general weakness.
Moreover, this perennial herbaceous vine is recommended to counter child anorexia, nervous stomach disorders, dyspepsia and nervous shaking.
For persons recovering, Devil’s wood was also used as an anaphrodisiac, especially for men in case of premature ejaculation and erotic dreams…
In Asia, and more specifically in China and Japan, Japanese hops (or Humulus scandens) is:
– a traditional remedy referred to when suffering from diphtheria, typhoid and tuberculosis.
– a tonic that invigorates the genito-urinary system. A comprehensive diuretic, the Humulus japonicus variety is recommended to treat premature ejaculation.
– It has antibacterial properties. It is used to treat infections (cough, tonsilitis, malaria, dysentery, mastitis, colds, cystitis).
Apart from the aforementioned therapeutic benefits, further properties are attributed to hops:
– sedative because it helps digestion,
– febrifuge because it treats irritability.
Hops also has a regulating effect on the hair growth system.
It spurs hair growth and thus combats hair loss.
However, from all the benefits associated to it, it is most used to treat nervous disorders that lead to insomnia.
Hops in cooking
Much less spread is the notion that apart from being an ingredient in beer, hops can also be used in bakeries. Indeed, yeast used to make bread is prepared from hops.
That is what gives such a soft, tender, tasty dough to our pies and bread!
In such places as the Canadian North-west, and even Alaska, yeast has made it possible to bake cakes, waffles, crepes and even moufflets, the ancestors of muffins.
Also, young hops sprouts can be cooked much like asparagus, and are a part of our culinary heritage.
Other usages and dosages for hops
Topical application of hops was advantageous to cure skin diseases, gout and rheumatism.
Hops ointments was used to alleviate sprains, contusions and cancerous ulcers.
However, when prepared in the form of poultices, hops was a softening agent to soother swollen sprains.
Note that since it was said to stimulate milk production, ingesting Devil’s wood was also recommended to nurses who weren’t able to produce enough milk.
How to prepare hops:
For natural replenishing sleep, hops is clearly a must-try.
At home, to easily prepare your hops and avail of its best properties, go for an infusion.
Proceed to pour 1 oz (30 g) of hops cones into 1 quart (1 liter) water. Bring to boiling point, then let sit for 10 minutes.
To get rid of insomnia, drink a decoction or an infusion before going to bed.
You can also prepare 1 teaspoon of female hops flowers and let them steep in 8 fluid ounces (25 cl) hot water for 7 minutes. Add honey to taste, and drink 1 cup ½ hour before sleeping.
As for the other disorders, drinking one cup before meals is enough.
To treat arthritis, stomach aches or rheumatism, the galenic form required is to heat up the hops cones in dry pan on low fire. After that, pour them in cloth pouch. Apply the warm pouch on the painful areas.
You can also insert the pouch in your pillowcase to ensure you’ll have a peaceful sleep for the night.
Nota Bene: Usually, it is recommended to let the cones macerate for 12 to 24 hours in order to preserve the active ingredients of hops.
Hops is also sold in the form of dried powder, or extracts packaged into capsules.
It is a good idea to ingest 500 mg hops capsules (often combined to valerian root powder) 1 to 3 times a day.
As for tincture, ingesting 0.06 fl. oz. (2 ml) one to three times a day is enough to sooth your pain.
Nice to know about hops
Climbing hops vine can have sedative effects on the body.
Consequently, it is strongly advised to refrain from driving or handling heavy machinery after having ingested it.
Incidentally, this perennial plant can stimulate hormonal activity for women. Ingesting it is thus contraindicated for women suffering from breast cancer or whose family bloodline might present such cases.
In case of doubt and for more information, consult with your physician or local pharmacist.