Hop is an amazingly powerful and complex plant that has been used for many centuries as a cure for many conditions and as a naturally growing bitter vegetable. Although hop has been typically used in beer for its bitter taste and preservative actions for over 1000 years, its medicinal or tonic properties were also valued from very early times.
The International Herb Association (IHA) has established back in 1995 a program called “The Herb Of The Year”, which keeps running ever since. Through this program the IHAs Horticulture Committee assesses multiple choices of plants that are outstanding in no less than two from three major categories: medicinal, food and decorative and decides, with the participation of all IHA members, which one will be declared the herb of the year. There are herb societies, groups and organizations from around the world that work together to highlight each year’s selection by creating awareness among the public about the features of the selected herb and about how it can make our life better.
Two years ago, in 2018, the choice has been Humulus lupulus (hop), an amazingly powerful and complex plant that has been used for many centuries as a cure for many conditions and as a naturally growing bitter vegetable. Although hop has been typically used in beer for its bitter taste and preservative actions for over 1000 years, its medicinal or tonic properties were also valued from very early times.
Numerous medical studies have been inspired by folk observations and, following years of research, concluded by confirming the effects as promised by the traditional medicine or pointed out to new medicinal and pharmaceutical uses. For instance it was observed that hop pickers tired easily, apparently as a result of the accidental transfer of some hop resin from their hands to their mouths, so the hop plant gained the reputation of a sedative and hypnotic but also of a topical antibacterial agent.
In the past in many european countries pillows filled with hops have been used for sleeplessness and nervous conditions.
Another interesting observation was made about the women who normally lived at a distance from hop gardens and regularly began to menstruate 2 days after arriving to pick hops, which appears to be true since hops contain the equivalent of 200-300 microgram oestradiol/ gr. Also, it has been claimed that brewing sludge baths containing ca. 30% hops could be used for the treatment of a variety of gynecological disorders.
Features that make hop special
Hop is a twining, perennial, dioecious plant that originates in south-east Asia and grows in almost all the temperate climate areas of the world: western United States, many countries in Europe such as Germany, UK, Belgium, Poland (and others), Asia, Australia and New Zeeland. Its botanical name is Humulus lupulus and belongs to Cannabaceae family along with hemp - cannabis and celtis - blackberries.
The intense green hop bines look imposing and shady contrasting with the yellowish flowers. It can reach up to 10-15 m (50 feet) high in a single season and under optimum conditions it grows rapidly, at the peak around 20-40 cm (8-16 inch) per week. The total area covered by hop’s leaves can reach 20 square meters (215 square feet), and the total length of the roots can reach 100 m (328 feet) in one growing season.
Hop produces male and female flowers (hops) on separate plants. While the female flowers, strobuli lupuli, are most valuable for both, medicinal and brewery purposes still the male plants are essential in breeding programs. The female flowers, also named cones or strobiles, have a complex structure that include many large yellow glands (lupulin glands), abundant bracteole and leaf fragments as well as other elements.
More than 1000 chemicals have been identified from hops including volatile oils and bitter α-acids and β-acids but the main constituents are:
Bitter principles consisting mainly of alfa-acids (or humulones)
Other constituents such as proanthocyanidins, phenolic acids, proteins, polysaccharides and minerals
Hop has been used for centuries as a remedy
Dried cones are effective as a sedative, hypnotic, bitter tonic. The decoction from cones is a remedy for swellings and hardness of the uterus.
The cataplasm from leaves is used as a remedy for cold tumors. The dried fruits applied as poultices and formentations are used as remedy for painful tumors.
The pomade, made from lupulin, is known as a remedy for cancerous ulcerations. The antibiotic principle from lupulin, lupulone, is tuberculostatic.
It is a traditional remedy for boils, bruises, calculus, cancer, cramps, cough, cystitis, debility, delirium, diarrhea, dyspepsia, fever, fits, hysteria, inflammation, insomnia, jaundice, nerves, neuralgia, rheumatism and worms.
Hop is a powerful and low risk drug for many conditions
Several clinical studies pointed out that hop is among the most powerful and low risk drugs for various forms of insomnia, especially when combined with valerian. A large and thorough study conducted in Germany, which is among the countries with the longest tradition in using hop on a large scale, compared the effects of a commonly used synthesis medication against insomnia with a combination of valerian and hops.
These two different remedies have been administered in parallel to two groups of patients with acute insomnia for a period of two weeks. The results were bright as the combination of hops and valerian effects were comparable (or slightly better) with those of the synthesis drug and the side effects with 80-90% lower.
A thorough study made on the use of hop in the traditional medicine in Europe and Asia found that, everywhere it grows, hop is used to relieve psychic problems and it its benefits are well known since centuries. For instance in Ayurveda, the famous ancient indian medicine, hop is used to treat depression and anxiety. In Chinese traditional medicine it is similarly used against insomnia and nervousness and in central and eastern Europe to treat various emotional disorders including those relating to puberty and sexual maturation.
The remedy is administered in the form of powder, a teaspoon 3-4 times a day for as long as one month. The treatment can be resumed after a 10 days break.
It has been found that hop also have remarkable effects as an anti-inflammatory agent for joint problems that are comparable to those of some synthetic drugs actually used to treat arthritis. Practically, hop is considered to be corresponding to ibuprofen minus the lather side effects, of course.
For rheumatic seizures it is recommended a 1 to 2 weeks cure with 3 cups per day of hops infusion to drink. In addition to the anti-inflammatory effect, hop can act on the central nervous system reducing the sensation of pain in rheumatic patients.
The research conducted by the German physician H. Goetz in 1990 shows that hop is among the strongest known remedies against heat flashes associated with the menopause onset. It also has effects on heart rate stabilization, reduces nervousness and restlessness that occur during this period.
After installing menopause, undertaking successive hop cures help a lot in preventing osteoporosis, as it is an extremely effective phytoestrogen.
The cure should be 3 weeks long alternated with one week break, and the patient should have three cups of infusion before the main meals.
Hops also is recommended against genital and sexual disorders mainly for those of young girls. The aromatic oils contained in hop cones have estrogen and calming properties so they are recommended to normalize a delayed menstrual cycle, to combat acne and problems such as hirsutism or excessive appetite, as well as emotional disturbances that may affect girls in the sexual maturation phase.
The cure consists in hops infusion, 2-3 cups a day, in 3-4 week courses.
Hop cones contain certain substances that have strong antispasmodic effects, therefore are very helpful in the evacuation of kidney stones. In the case of renal colic it is recommended to take hot seating baths with hop extract.
Hops infusion administered in 1-2 cups a day during 10 days stimulates kidney activity, prevents the formation of calculi and the relapse of kidney infections.
Antibacteriostatic properties against gram positive germs
Hop has bacteriostatic properties on gram-positive germs including Mycobacterium tuberculosis due to lupulin principles, lupulone and humulones. This action has been confirmed by Chinese researchers in the treatment of tuberculosis and has been extended to the treatment of leprosy, acute bacillary dysentery, silicosis and asbestosis.
Hops infusion is also beneficial in the treatment of liver, digestive disorders (bloating, gastritis and indigestion), genital and renal diseases (from vaginitis to urinary incontinence). An infusion of hops acts as an anti-inflammatory (indicated in rheumatism and polyarthrosis), combats alcoholism, anemia, headache, rickets and various microbial infections.