Encountering a well-maintained hops vine leaves quite the impression. The gardener’s delight in cultivating this plant is rewarded with a verdant, aesthetically beautiful and pleasant-smelling vine that is loaded with hops flowers, which are technically called “cones” or “strobiles” if you were to ask a botanist.
Hops benefits have a long history of use as a calming nervine that promotes sleep, calms a worried mind, and sooths an upset stomach. Used in most modern brewing recipes as a preservative and flavoring agent, read on to see how hops benefits can extend far beyond a pint of ale and into your daily supplement routine.
Hops History and Traditional Uses
Yellow hops pollen grains have been discovered in excavated prehistoric sites in Great Britain. Hops is in the Cannabaceae family, which is the same family as, you guessed it, cannabis. With similar actions on the nervous system, hops has been used in traditional herbal therapeutics for thousands of years as a milder sedative to its psychoactive cannabis cousin.
In the spirit of detoxification, we would never promote or encourage the drinking of alcoholic beverages, but we would be remiss to write an article about hops without mentioning beer. When you say “hops” beer is the first place most peoples’ minds go. Hops is a critical ingredient in the brewing of modern ale, as its bitter resin and essential oil content preserve beer. But did you know that hops is a relatively new addition to the beer making process?
“The first known instance of brewing with hops didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. In 822 AD, the abbot of a Benedictine monastery in Picardy, France wrote down a list of rules for running the abbey – and it included collecting wild hops for making beer (Dogfish Head Ale House, 2015).”
But, before hops became the primary herb for brewing ale around 1750 A.D it was only one ingredient amongst many. Traditional ales were commonly brewed with a combination of aromatic herbs and called a “gruit.” Angelica, wormwood, mugwort, ground ivy, sweet gale, yarrow, marsh rosemary, hops and dandelion were popular additions to these recipes. Of course, wormwood was also used to make absinthe, and gruit was rumored to have hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. Hops’ sedating action and high phytoestrogen content became the preferred alternative for abbey monk brewers as it was said to quell the male libido.
Indian Pale Ale was born in the 17-1800s out of a necessity for beer to remain preserved for the long journey from the brewhouses of Great Brittan to the hot climate of then colonized India. The hops added to these recipes had to be double the amount of a typical ale to increase preservation. As a result, brewers added more malt to these ales to balance the bitter flavor of the hops, which in turn increased the alcohol content.
Modern IPA enthusiasts are, whether consciously or unconsciously, getting an extra dose of hops in every sip. While the sedating qualities of hops are undoubtedly sought out after a long stressful day, the phytoestrogen quality of the herb is probably not taken into consideration. Look up “Brewers's droop” and you’ll catch our drift.
Hops Indications & Phytochemistry
Hops contains some of the strongest known phytoestrogen prenylated flavanones, making hops tea and tincture helpful for relieving discomforts associated with menopause and other uterine imbalances. The diuretic nature of hops makes it helpful for supporting and balancing urinary tract function.*
As a calming and sedating nervine, hops are traditionally used to support deep sleep. In fact, sewing hops strobiles into pillows was commonly used as a sleeping aid, indicating that the aroma alone is strong enough to promote sleep. However, it is said that “using a hops pillow can lead to a drugged feeling when you finally wake up (Buhner, 1998)” so combining it with other relaxing aromatic herbs like lavender, mugwort, and chamomile might be the best practice.*
It is important to note that the sedating quality of hops is contraindicated with depressive states, as this sedation can enhance the symptoms associated with depression. Hops is best used to promote sleep and soothe nervous tension in the absence of depression.*
Hops resins and essential oils “are found in the lupulin glands of mature [female] hop cones along with some polyphenols.” These resins and oils are what impart both the bitter flavor and the calming/sedating properties to the plant.*
Whenever you learn that a plant has a bitter flavor, think digestive support. In many cultures around the world, bitter salads and aperitifs are ingested prior to a meal to ignite digestive fire.
When triggered by bitter foods, bitter receptors on the tongue send a message to the brain. The brain then signals secretory glands throughout the digestive tract (saliva, mucus, hydrochloric acid, enzymes and bile) to start secreting the digestive juices required to properly breakdown and absorb your food. The bitter flavor of hops gives it a secondary action of supporting healthy digestion, a rather convenient adjunct to its other more common uses.*
Our Hops Extract Tincture
Excited about all the wonderful therapeutic properties of this plant? One of the best ways to take hops is as an alcohol extract, or tincture. This is because in order to extract the resin and essential oils present in the hops strobile, alcohol is the solvent that will yield the best results.
Unlike magnets, when it comes to phytochemicals and solubility, like attracts like. This means that non-polar phytochemical molecules in plants (like resins and oils) are best extracted with a non-polar solvent; alcohol is the non-polar solvent traditionally used to produce an extract loaded with resins and oils.
On the other end of the solubility spectrum, water is a highly polar solvent, meaning that it will repel resins and oils. When brewing beer, hops is added to the boiled water, so the end result is a water based extract with far less resins and essential oils present. This is a testament to why hops tincture is more therapeutic than hops in beer.*
As for ease of use, hops tincture is a great supplement to keep by the bedside and take before you go to bed, or if you wake in the night to help you fall back to sleep. Drinking hops tea or hoppy beer will inevitably keep you waking up throughout the night to urinate, risking a sound, uninterrupted sleep.*
Whether you are looking for a simple calming supplement to take the edge off at the end of a difficult day, or you are interested in hops for phytoestrogen supplement support think hops tincture.*
Growing Hops Vine
Hops is a vine that grows from rhizomes. It is perennial, meaning that after dying back in the late fall, it will re-emerge the following spring to climb to great heights once again.
“[Hops] seedlings must be transplanted when soil has warmed. Likes deeply dug, rich soil and appreciates mulch; benefits from nitrogen fertilizer. It is drought tolerant once established.” ~ Leslie Gardner, 2008.
You can start growing hops in your garden from seed, although growing from seed can be tedious as the seeds sometimes take years to establish themselves enough to produce flowers. For this reason, many growers opt to plant their hops from rhizome cuttings.
Introduce hops to an area of your garden that gets 6-8 hours of sun a day. Hops vines are especially good where there are options to climb: along a fence, trellis, post or even up the side of your home will do
as the vine can reach heights of 25 feet! With ample sun and water, hops will give you a lush English garden backdrop, and produce a strobile that can be enjoyed on the vine or in a cup of tea.
While hops are wind pollinated, they still play an important role in bee health. It turns out that hop beta acid or HBA found in hops pollen is toxic to Varroa mites, one of the major contributors to colony collapse disorder. Trellising a hops vine around your beehive is a gorgeous and protective addition to a healthy beehive.
Common Names: common hops, European hops, hop strobile
Scientific Binomial Name: Humulus lupulus
Plant Family: Cannabaceae
Part Used: hop cones or strobiles
Habitat & Cultivation: Hops is a "meandering, clinging vine, and with sufficient water will cover anything that will support its weight (Buhner, 1998).” Hops has male and female flowers on separate plants, is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and is extensively cultivated in temperate zones worldwide (1).
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.