Wednesday, July 27, 2016


HOPS:  Humulus Lupulus, Humulus Japonicus

Also known as:  Houblon, Pliny the Elder, Lupulin

Parts Used:  Flowers (female), fruit (strobiles), leaves

Systems/Organs affected:  brain, stomach, nervous system, heart, liver, digestive, respiratory, gall bladder, hormonal, pancreas, urinary

Properties:  febrifuge, nervine, anodyne, bitter tonic, sedative, hypnotic, diuretic, anthelmintic, astringent, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, lithotriptic, aperient, anaphrodisiac, stimulant, estrogenic, expectorant, anti-carcinogenic, galactogogue

Hops is a member of the Cannabaceae (Cannabis) family and a distant relative of marijuana.  That, in and of itself, is amazing.  It is a vigorous plant native to Europe but now cultivated all over the globe.  It has stout, hairy stems that allow it to climb up to 26 feet!  It is a dioecious perennial (meaning it has both male and female flowers) that has a dark , green, heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges.  The female hop flowers form strobiles (a kind of vining axis of bracts and stipules) that zigzag.  Each branch has a bract which bears a pair of stipules which holds another 4-6 bracts, each holding a flower.  When harvesting, the aerial portion of the plant is cut and the roots left in the ground to produce a new crop the following year.  The root stock can live to be up to 50 years old.  The best time to harvest in this region is between August and September when the flowers turn a rusty brown and have a yellowish powder on them.  Hops should be dried immediately and then refrigerated until used as the bitter components in the plant break down quickly (between 50-70% in 6 months).

The Anglo-Saxons referred to hops as 'hoppari' which means 'to climb'.  Humulus comes from the Slavic word 'chmele' which the Romans then changed to the Latin 'lupulus' which means 'wolf' or 'small wolf'.  The Romans believe hops would strangle the plants they climbed, similar to how a wolf kills its prey.  Pliny consumed the young shoots in spring much like the country folk of England still do today; apparently it is much like asparagus and the young tops were bundled and brought to market to sell.

Hops has been used for centuries to flavor and preserve beer but its medicinal uses were/are not as well known.  Hildegard von Bingen even said that the '...bitterness fends off decomposition of beverages and increases shelf life.'  The Germans even have a beer purity law called Reinheitsgebot that requires beer to be made only with malt, hops and water.  Weisner (1883) said that beer was the mechanism by which herbal medicine was delivered.  Paracelsus used it as a digestive aid, Lonicerus and Bock used the young shoots as a cleanser for the liver, blood and spleen and Matthiolus used it to increase bile and as a diuretic.  Osiander (1824), Maton (1860) and Churchill and Stephenson (1834) all used it to promote sleep while Amarum Hecker (1814) stated that the flowers of hops were a strong tonic and Kahnt (1905) suggested in his book on phytotherapy that those with issues of sleeplessness use a hops pillow or make a tea.  King George III (1738-1820) was a huge proponent of hops as a sleep agent.  He used pillows of hops in his bed to calm him and assist with sleep.  Interestingly enough, former kings of England had actually banned the plant saying it was, 'a wicked weed that would spoil the taste of the drink and endanger the people.'  (No doubt that rings true in some cases).  It wasn't until around King George III's time that the ban was lifted and people were allowed to plant and use the herb once again.  In 1829, the Edinburgh New Dispensatory said that since adding hops to the beer the people of London had suffered less bladder stones than was previously recorded.  In 1938, Stieber wrote in a letter to his friend, Madaus, that an infusion of hops was a great hair product.  It was believed that washing one's hair with beer would increase hair production.  He was not the first person to suggest such a thing. (Speaking from personal experience, I have washed my hair with beer many times in the past and while I have not experienced extra hair growth per say, I have experienced a far cleaner feeling and had lots more shine in my hair).  Earlier practitioners stated that oil of hops would restore even a bald head to full hair.  Mesue the Younger (around 1000-1015), an Arabic practitioner, wrote that hops reduced fevers, purified the blood, purged yellow bile from the body and is responsible for 17 different anti-inflammatory effects.  Other Arab physicians also spoke of it being a digestive  bitter.  In Ayurvedic medicine hops is used to alleviate headaches, nervous tension and indigestion.  King Wencelas IV incorporated hops into his coat of arms in recognition of its rejuvenating effects.  (He recommended taking a cold brew sludge bath).  Our Native Americans have long used hops for a host of conditions.  The Fox and Delaware tribes used it as a sleep agent and for relaxation (the Delaware also used it for toothaches and earaches).  The Cherokee used it as a sedative, analgesic, for kidney and bladder stone, as an anti-rheumatic and to help with uterine and breast-related issues.  The Dakota used it for gastrointestinal problems and for wound healing while the Navajo used it for colds and coughs.

There have been many studies done on this plant for its efficacy as a sleep aid.  Lupulin, a component of hops, has been found to calm nervous tension and promote sleep without constipating patients (which tends to happen with standard opiate treatments).  Lupulin also was used to reduce sexual desire, for migraines, poor digestion, incontinence, excessive anger and irritability, nervousness, etc.  In 1967, fifteen volunteers took 250 mg of lupulin for five days and found it to induce sleep.  Some of the volunteers reported being dizzy the morning after.  It also has been reported by hops pickers that they feel sleepy when harvesting the yellow-covered buds.  (I imagine the fairy tale about Rip Van Winkle sleeping for 20 years was due to individuals napping in hops beds...:D).  Animal studies found hops to have a tranquilizing effect on pigeons, goldfish, frogs, mice and golden carp, recent studies on mice found that hops may activate the melatonin receptors.

Most of the studies relating to hops are not on hops alone but rather on the plant combined with other herbs such as valerian.  The Swiss found that a combination of valerian and hops extracts would affect the nervous system within 60 minutes.  The Germans found that the same combination altered brain activity and indicated patients had a better, deeper sleep with increased REM sleep.

A study done on 8-PN, an estrogenic principle of hops, found it to help reduce hot flashes.  This double-blind study consisted of 67 menopausal women taking either an 8-PN hops extract or a placebo for 12 weeks.  The women were tested after six weeks and then again after 12 weeks.  After six weeks, the women taking the hops extract had a significant reduction in menopausal issues as compared to those on a placebo.  There was no significant difference at 12 weeks.  Higher amounts of the extract also appeared to be less helpful.

A vaginal hops gel made by a Swiss company was tested on 100 women for 30 days.  They reported a significant reduction in vaginal dryness, itching, inflammation, rashes, burning,etc.

Statistics in the late 1800's in Bavaria and England both found brewery workers to have a marked reduction in tuberculosis compared to the general population.  However, with the use of antibacterial agents on the rise no studies were done on this connection.  

Hops contains a powerful antioxidant called xanthohumol.  It has a very high scavenging rate against peroxyl radicals which are one of the most common reactive oxygen species in the body.  In vitro tests on this substance have found it to be anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative (prevents the spread of malignant cells into surrounding tissues), decreases plasma glucose and lipid levels, is antimutagenic, anti-carcinogenic and may be important in diabetes.  (WOWZA!!!)

Hops contains isohumulones, another amazing compound found to reduce insulin resistance.  A randomized study of 20 volunteers with mild type 2 diabetes found their hemoglobin AIC's and blood glucose levels significantly decreased after eight weeks on isohumulones (100 mg twice daily).  Another such study on 94 patients found a marked decrease in overall body fat after 12 weeks of supplementation (48 mg).  Other research indicates hops may be used for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatism and osteoarthritis.  Xanthohumol is under study for its use against both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and the Linus Pauling Institute has shown recently that is is active against ovarian, breast and colon cancers (at least in a lab).  They believe it also may help to prevent prostate cancer.  

WebMD states that hops are considered likely to be safe for most people.  However, they caution pregnant and nursing women against using it.  They also state if you are depressed, have hormone sensitive cancers (such as breast cancer or endometriosis) or are due for surgery to avoid hops as it can worsen depression and may cause too much sleepiness when combined with anesthesia.  Stop taking hops at least two weeks before any surgical procedure.  Hops also is contraindicated if you are taking the following medications:
      anti-anxiety drugs             anti-seizure medications          antihistamines
      muscle relaxants               antibiotics                               anti-fungal drugs
      antidepressants                 anti-psychotics                        sedatives
      tranquilizers                      narcotic pain medications        gastrointestinal drugs
      cholesterol lowering meds  drugs that have estrogen-like properties
      drugs that affect the cytochrome P450 enzyme system advises against using hops if you have liver issues, alcohol dependence problems and diabetes.

Some people may experience an allergy to hops, which would manifest as itching, dizziness, swelling, rashes, dry cough, blood sugar fluctuations, respiratory issues, delayed thinking, etc.  As always consult a physician before starting any herbal product or regimen.  (Of course they will all tell you to not take herbs anyway.....but listen to your body to tell you what you need.) 

This plant has ALOT to offer.  It leaves one with a feeling of hope for a brighter future...

As is customary with my posts, please find some links below for your benefit.  Stay strong and healthy!

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