Oh hops, hops, hops! I love hops, I am a home brewer so I am extremely familiar with them. I have grown to love them very much, I used to dislike them in beers but they have worked their bitter spell on me and I am a fan of those highly hopped beers now. Most people have had experience with hops through beers, but they are useful for so much more! Hops got their name from an Anglo-Saxon word that means “to climb.” Its Latin name Humulus lupulus comes from possibly humus for the type of soil it grows in, but almost definitely the lupulus portion comes from the aggressive growth noticed and commented on by Pliny the Elder, he described them as strangling other plants, as a wolf would a sheep.
Hops are antibacterial, so they make a great beer preservative and the first mentioned use of hops in brewing comes from the 11th century, but there is documentation as early as the reign of Pepin the Short, of what would become France, that hops were grown in the royal gardens. Bacteria can spoil beer and is what makes the newly popular sour beers, sour. One of Hop’s early known uses was the preservation of beverages. This is why IPA’s are such powerfully hopped beers, the additional Hops were to help preserve it for the long, un-refrigerated train ride from England to India in the day’s of the British Empire – hence India Pale Ale. It is also why in the past beer was actually used as medicine. Mummies have been found with beer around them in burials, in them and on them. Which Anthropologist say they look to have been used as an early antibiotic, and were later noted for their ability to keep tuberculosis at bay. So remember that the next time you have a beverage choice, choose beer for your health! (Remember though, all things in moderation, too much of a good thing is bad)
But brewing aside! Hops are believed to have originated in China but quickly spread to Germany and are documented as being grown there as far back as the 8th century. And when I say quickly spread, I mean fast, hops grow at ridiculous rates anywhere from 3 inches to a foot (30 cm) a day. Pliny the Elder mentions that they were grown and the new shoots eaten in Roman times. King George III, with his famous madness, was purportedly a user of hops and slept on pillows of hops to help calm and soothe him. They are mentioned in Arab medicinal treatises as early as the 10th century, and were noted not only for their sedation and anxiety reduction, but also for their anti-inflammatory ability, and mild pain relief. Many Native American tribes used Hops as well as an analgesic (for pain) for minor issues like toothaches. It also gets mention in Ayerveda who recommend the use of Hops for treating anxiety, as muscle relaxers, and for treating tension headaches or migraines.
Hops for sleeping
As we have discussed, hops are a sedative, and in my previous post about Lavender, I said I’d be talking more about the hops pillow that I have made for myself (and if you’re interested in getting one you can check out my Etsy store).*
All you do is place the pouch inside your pillowcase, generally in a position you can easily smell them while you sleep. You will fall asleep fairly quickly, and I tend to find I stay asleep even if I am in minor amounts of pain. I have also had good results with friends that have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or stress. Remember though, these are pretty powerful little flowers and if you want to read in bed, or just generally be conscious, you should probably remove the pouch out of smell range, and then place it in your pillow when you are ready for sleep. I have mostly had positive feedback about the smell of them, though some have said that they smell vaguely cheesy at first but the smell was not offensive. If you are worried about this, generally if you like the smell of IPA’s you will like the smell of Hops.
This Hop pillow or pouch is one of the most common and well known ways of using Hops for therapeutic reasons, but it is mostly to assist with calming sleep.
What about anxiety while you are awake, or pain?
Glad you asked!
There are a few other tricks up Hop’s sleeve, it does so much more than just helping with sleep or flavoring beer.
Hops for anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain reliever), and anti-anxiety
As an anti-inflammatory, this is a fairly new discovery, inflammation occurs due to COX enzymes. Hops act in the same way the ibuprofen would, and reduce inflammation, thus reducing pain. They do this by inhibiting the COX enzymes. But unlike ibuprofen, Hops have none of those stomach wrecking side effects. (If you have issues with the tummy, Hops actually could aide in digestion, since this is another ancient use for it.) Hops have long been known for their reduction of anxiety, and they do promote a general sense of coziness and well-being. It helps to calm the mind and are great for people who have issues sleeping due to anxiety.
For both pain, inflammation, and anxiety, a tincture is one way to take Hop’s, 6 drops to start with for anxiety, and up to 20-30 drops will usually do the trick for pain (and sleep). You can do the under the tongue method but I prefer to add this to a hot tea, something like Chamomile or Holy Basil (this will also mostly take care of the alcohol).
Tinctures may be a great way to ingest it quickly but as Hops have a bitter taste, they can be a bit hard on the palate for a first timer, even when you mix them with something else. This bitter side is what makes them such a great stomach tonic. You can purchase or make your own tinctures, and personally if I had to choose, I am not a fan of this method, as it is just too much for my taste-buds. But this is a fairly immediate sort of delivery for pain reduction, so weigh your own pros and cons here for delivery method.
Hop Tincture Recipe
- 1 part Hops flowers
- 4 parts Grain alcohol (everclear, vodka, etc)
- Jar, preferably large enough to hold at least a few ounces of Hops
You want to use a 1 to 4 ratio of solids to liquids to make this tincture, start in ounces (that means 1 oz dried OR fresh, can be right off the vine to 4 liquid ounces of grain alcohol). You should let it sit for at least 14 days but you may want to let it sit in a cool undisturbed place for longer. The liquid should be amber, and you will need to strain and bottle, label…all that normal tincture stuff.
ProTip: The best way to increase surface area, and make a better tincture, would be to put the Hops in a food processor and blitz it a few times. you don’t want to create a powder but you do want to break them up into smaller pieces. Again the stuff you are wanting here is the oils, which are always temperature sensitive, so do this in pulses and avoid heat build up from friction.
Hops Tea (Version 1)
- 1-2 tablespoons of Hops
- 1 c boiling water
Steep for 10-15 minutes (at most 20), and drink. This is one of the weaker preparations, but if you choose to include a teaspoon of Skullcap this works great for anxiety and mild headaches.
Hops Tea (Version 2)
- 1 oz Hops
- 1 quart boiling water
- 1 quart (or larger) jar with a lid
Place Hops in the jar, and cover with boiling water. Place the lid on and let steep for at the minimum 4 but no more than 8 hours. This will be extremely strong, so be careful about “operating heavy machinery” if you are going to drink this.
ProTip: These are all going to be pretty bitter so you will want to mix them with something to make things a bit more palatable. Honey, Ginger, Chamomile, Peppermint, Valerian, Stevia all of these can be added depending on the effect you are looking for, and many more would work. As long as the flavor is fairly strong and helps to make the bitterness more tolerable.
You can as always purchase pills or pre-made supplements, or even better make your own. If you decide to go this route, do not take more than 500 mgs of Hops at a time 1 to 3 times a day. Hops are available for purchase pre-ground or grind them yourself. You should wait about 4 hrs between doses, and when you are first taking Hop’s make sure you account for the sedation and see how they effect you, so take them when you plan to stay in. The pills will tend to treat most of the listed ailments in this post.
Remember, do your trial and error tests yourself. See what works best for you, check for interactions with any medications you are already taking. WebMD is always a great resource for checking for issues. Do your homework and if you are ever in doubt about anything, consult a professional.
*A side note – Hops can be paired with other sleep aides, such as Valerian, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Chamomile, and Lavender to name a few. The Hop and Lavender mix I use in my pouches, I have found to be the most pleasant smell and best results. But there are other variations that will soon be available on my Esty Store (so stay tuned there!). Refill offers are available if you pm me on Etsy, since they will need to be refreshed after a few months of use.