Hops (Humulus lupulus) are part of the hemp family (Cannabis), and are best known today for their role in beer brewing.
Hops add a bitter, slightly floral flavor to any beverage. As with other bitters, hops improve digestion and strengthen the appetite when consumed.
Yet, apart from brewing, herbalists have long used hops to ease stressand promote relaxation.
Hops work quickly to fight stress reactions. Over time, their use can encourage better nervous system health.
Early studies confirm hops have mild sedative action and are an effective, natural sleep aid.
Growing in the temperate regions of the Northern hemisphere, hops flowers resemble small, green pine cones, and are rich in essential oils, and a bitter principle.
Native Americans applied hops topically for toothaches, and made relaxation formulas from the flowers.
Traditional healers used hops to ease pain and inflammation from arthritis, promote kidney health, and decrease breast and uterine problems.
Hops were included in poultices to relax nerve pain and muscle spasms, and encourage faster healing from injuries.
Herbalists also used hops in compresses to soothe varicose veins, scrapes, and wounds.
Today, hops are popular for stress relief and to ease menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
As a galactagogue, hops are also regularly used in formulas to promote milk production for women who are nursing.
Hops are an impressive herb with a wide range of uses. But, be careful if you decide to grow them, because hops can cause contact dermatitis!
Hops came on to the brewing scene sometime around 822 AD. In beer, hops’ sharp bitterness counterbalances the sweetness from malt sugar.
However, hops was not always the number one brewing herb. Beer was actually more commonly flavored with herbs like henbane, wild rosemary, and spruce in a beverage called “gruit.”
In 1710, hops became a good source of revenue when the English parliament banned all non-hops bittering agents.
This ban prevented brewers from avoiding the the new “penny per pound” tax added to hops.
After the ban, hops use soared. It became the primary brewing bitter and remains so in most places today.
Benedictine monks used to gather hops for beer for the monasteries, believing they decreased libido and could prevent their flock from straying.
Today, we know hops are a source of phytoestrogens, which at excessively high doses could theoretically decrease male libido and sexual performance, especially combined with alcohol’s sedating effects.
However, moderate consumption of hops in flavored beer and in traditional herbal formulas isn’t a cause for concern for male sexuality or health.
Hops work quickly to relax an overstressed nervous system. They are calming and mildly sedating, especially for people prone to anxiety or mood swings.
It’s a good idea to avoid hops during the day if you’re already tired or if you have depression with low energy because of its relaxing properties.
One of my favorite uses of hops is in an herbal “sleep pillow.” Hops are a gentle hypnotic (sleep aid), which can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night.
Just add a handful of hops to a muslin sachet to keep by your pillow and inhale its aroma. I like to include a few pinches of lavender blossoms to enhance the benefits.
Hops tea is another good stress reliever, especially for tension with physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, or bladder spasms.
Just add 1-2 teaspoons of hops to a cup of hot water, and sweeten with a little honey or stevia if desired.
For fast stress relief of “in the moment” stress, try hops in a tincture formula. It combines well with other nervine herbs like kava kava, passionflower, and skullcap.
I use hops in Calm Mind Daily Tonic to help promote relaxation for work or play. I also include hops in Sleep Nightly Tonic, a non-addictive, natural sleep aid for insomnia.