Hops are Hip!
It’s that time of year in the UK when the not so humble hop is harvested, and, as you’ll learn, there’s far more to hops than a good beer! Hops offer many health benefits, not least that they’re super sleep friendly, so grab a cuppa, and read all about this beautiful herb.
Hops – a potted history
Hops (humulus lupulus) are an ancient crop and are thought to have originated in Egypt. They are now native to the UK, Asia and USA. They are fast growing and vine like – spreading widely – and are sometimes used in gardens as an alternative to honeysuckle or clematis. They are a member of the Cannabaceae family, along with cannabis.
Hops were used medicinally long before they were used in the beer-making industry. The flowers of the hop plant –strobiles – are the part used in beer making.
The brewing industry is thought to have begun in Belgium and brought to the Kent countryside in the 15 th century, but were originally used as a preservative for beer. Eventually, the bitter taste was accepted by the English and, by the 17 th century, hops became a staple ingredient in beer. Crops were originally grown throughout the UK but because of the huge workforce required to harvest the hops, production was limited to the areas surrounding industrial cities and is now mainly located in the West Midlands and South East, and particularly my home county, Kent.
My grandmother used to pick hops with her friends during the summer holiday. Indeed, it was a popular getaway for Londoners who would travel by train or car down to the Kent countryside. It is great to see so many microbreweries growing and using this beautiful plant once more. And now, for the health benefits…
Hops & the Central Nervous System
Hops influence the brain’s primary calming mechanism – the GABA system. The GABA system is targeted by many pharmaceutical sedatives, including Diazepam (formerly known as Valium) but, as ever, Big Pharma’s approach loses the bigger picture in favour of what it thinks is the active component of the plant. Herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners know that it is the whole plant that brings the safe therapeutic effect.
Because Hops calm the nervous system, they relieve nervous tension, promote sleep, and reduce anxiety and depression.
Insomnia is the result of overstimulation of the nervous system, caused by stress and anxiety, and the stress hormones produced in response. A Catch-22 is set up because the body responds to even the shortest period of insomnia as trauma, and products stress hormones which prevent sleep!
Research into the therapeutic effects of Hops shows that sleep quality improves after administration of herbal extract, in particular, the time spent asleep increased, while sleep onset reduced, as did night time awakenings decreased. As a result, irritability and fatigue also reduced.
A 2010 review showed that 12 of 16 studies noted measurable improvement in both sleep quality and the time it took to fall asleep for subjects taking a sleep formula with hops and Valerian root (see my Herb of the Month blog on Valerian).
The most common side effect is, unsurprisingly, sedation, so be wary if you are planning a long drive or using machinery. If hops make you sleepy during the day, use them only at bedtime, and tweak the dose until they improve your sleep without causing morning drowsiness.
Hops bring relief for Menopause symptoms
Hops have an oestrogenic effect on the body so are useful in tincture form to reduce menopausal symptoms, including weight loss, reduction in abdominal fat and control of appetite and metabolism. Hot flashes and night sweats improved, and increased libido are reported in research articles.
Hops have anti-inflammatory properties
Research has proven that hops have an anti-inflammatory effect and so can be used in certain types of pain. It seems that the inflammation response is reduced generally.
Hops have antioxidant properties
Hops contain a type of flavonoid compound, Xanthohumol, which is believed to have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-tumour and anti-blood clotting properties. Hops have high levels of antioxidant vitamins C, E and B6 and help protect the body from disease, boost the immune system and slow down the body’s aging process.
How to get your Hops fix
Herbal teas are a safe and pleasant way to introduce Hops into your daily routine. One or two cups daily would be great.
Hops supplements are also an easy way to top up on the health benefits.
Check out the excellent Natural Dispensary – an online shop packed full with an impressive range of branded natural health products and supplements. Place your order through me and I’ll send you a link through which you can pay and get delivery direct to your door. As a thank you from me, you’ll receive 15% off RRP.
Caution: if you are on pregnant or breastfeeding, or on antidepressant medication,
please consult your local herbalist for expert advice.
NB: If you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have an allergic reaction to hops too.
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1 Hoffman, David, 1990: ‘Holistic Herbal’; Thorsons; ISBN-13 978-0-00-714541-6