Hops are the female cones, or flowers, of the vigorous perennial hop vine of the Cannabaceae family. The female flowers of the hop vine have thin, papery bracts, where as the male flowers are small and frilly. The vine has palmate leaves with 3-5 lobes, growing opposite one another on the hairy stems of the vine. The hops are harvested in the late summer or early fall just before they are fully ripe and shade dried. You can grow hops from seeds, but it’s most effective to grow hops from root cuttings. Hops need rich, deep soils that are well draining and frequently watered in full sun, often on hillsides. As a vine (actually, they are technically a bine), they need something to climb. Without proper sun and care, hops are often subject to powdery mildew, aphids, and spider mites.
Known for their bitter, citrusy flavor imparted in beers, they also have an anti-bacterial effect that favors brewer’s yeast over other micro-organisms and can have a similar effect on the micro-organisms in your body that aren’t supposed to be there. Hops are a sedative, hypnotic, antiseptic, depressant, and an astringent. It has shown to aid sleeplessness, anxiety, tension, restlessness, as well as indigestion, irritable bowls, and can work as an appetitive stimulant. However, in the case of someone who’s markedly depressed, hops should be avoided. They can be taken as an infusion or as a tincture, and combine well with passionflower and valerian root for sleep and restless tension. The dried flowers can also be added into dream pillows along with lavender and chamomile. Hops have also been shown to increase urine and help prevent kidney stones, and the estrogens present in hops can increase lactation in women, and are thought to be an aphrodisiac for men.
The shoots of the hops plant can be eaten when young and tender, as noted by the Roman naturalist Pliny, and are often prepared similarly to asparagus. Hops were not a popular herb until they began to be used for beer brewing towards the end of the middle ages. The story is that originally, beers were brewed with all sorts of herbs, some with noticeably stimulating and hallucinatory effects, resulting in a population of drunken wild-asses. The monks at the time began to brew beers with hops, originally avoided in brewing for their depressant effects, to calm everybody down. A bunch of passed out drunks were better for them then a mob of wiley fornicating lunatics. Soon, the combination of hops, barley, and malt became standard, even law in some places, known as Reinheitsgebot – the Beer Purity Law, and herbal beer making fell on the wayside. A good resource if you are interested in learning about and brewing some herbal beers is Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, by Stephen Harrod Buhner.
An infusion of 1 teaspoon (or strengthened to taste) of the dried her per cup of water, let stood for 10-15 minutes and drunk a night to induce sleep. As a tincture, 1-4ml three times daily.
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