Common Names

Botanical Name
Humulus Lupulus

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What is it?

The female flower clusters of Hops, a vigorous, long-lived climbing vine that grows up to 6 metres in height. Hops have been extensively cultivated because they are the main ingredient to make and flavour beer. The aroma of Hops is distinctive with a kind of heavy sweetness, its taste is intensely bitter.




How has it been used?

Aside from imparting a bitter and tangy flavour to beer, Hops have a rich tradition in medical use, mainly for anxiety and sleeplessness. Hops have also been used for tension related problems affecting the body such as ‘nervous diarrhoea, nervous stomach and nervous bladder’.

Hops also have traditional indications for menopausal symptoms and are thought to be highly oestrogenic which may also explain another of their historical recommendations, namely being effective for excessive sexual excitability!

The story goes that the monks, who were basically the main herbalists of the middle ages, were fully cognisant of the fact that significant ingestion of Hops decreases sexual desire in men. It is said that the Papal decree that all beer was to be made with Hops (prior to that it was made with many other kinds of bitter herbs such as dandelion, burdock etc.) was in large part to reduce the potential for 'straying' within the flock of the church!

There may be some truth in the story but what can be palpably observed is that when many men drink beer they become more relaxed, mellow, chatty and affectionate, all of which may in part be due to the influence of the Hops. Of course you could say that was just the alcohol but few people would argue that beer has the same effect as wine or hard spirits, even when the equivalent numbers of measures are consumed...


Science on Hops

Hops have been the subject of numerous clinical studies showing their effects on sleep and anxiety. Most of the studies have been done with a combination of Hops and Valerian and indeed this pair have been used since antiquity as an effective treatment for nervous tension and insomnia.

~ Electro-encephalograph (EEG) studies showed clearly visible effects on the central nervous system from taking a combination of Hops and Valerian on healthy volunteers compared to placebo readings in a single-blind crossover study (Vonderheid-Guth B et al: Eur J Med Res 5(40:139-144, 2000)

~ A randomised, double-blind, parallel trial demonstrated equivalent effectiveness for a Hops-Valerian preparation to a benzodiazepine tranquiliser in patients experiencing sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders but, unlike the drug, the herb combination did not have a negative effect on daytime vigilance (Schmitz M, Jackel M: Wien Med Wochenschr 148(13):291-298, 1998)

~ A combination of Hops and Valerian was shown to reduce the noise-induced disturbance of sleep stage patterns (slow-wave sleep and rapid-eye-movement sleep in sleep disturbed volunteers compared with baseline values. The dose contained 1 gram of Valerian and 2 grams of Hops (Muller-Limmroth W, Ehrenstein W: Med Klin 72:1119-1125, 1997)

~ A surveillance study in Germany involved 518 patients given a herbal combination of Hops, Valerian and Lemon Balm and found them to be highly effective for nervous insomnia and restlessness with very few side effects (Friede M et al: 2nd International Congress on Phytomedicine, Munich Sept 11-14, 1996, abstract P-75)

Safety of Hops

Hops are very safe to use in therapeutic doses for the young and old, during pregnancy or breastfeeding. You will often see references in the literature to avoid Hops in cases of depression but it must be understood that the common form of depression whereby there is increased anxiety may respond extremely well to Hops and the reason for this concern is that people who are already too tired do not need to take something ot make them relax further! Hops are not good for people who have what is best termed as 'anergic depression' -- a low energy state that is not associated with increased anxiety. If someone has depression and anxiety, it may well be an extremely positive and life-changing medicine for them to use for a time.


Personal experiences

I highly recommend to anyone reading this who is studying herbal medicine or who just wants to get to know this plant ally at a much deeper level for their own reasons to take a small dose of the tincture of Hops and, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself what then happens in how it makes you feel. It is from practicing this ancient, experiential way of learning herbs and also by observing what happens when I give Hops in my work that has lead me to rate it extremely highly as a potent medicine that should have a certain effect on a person's mind and body. It is palpable how much a good dose of Hops will slow down thoughts and relax the body at a visceral level, starting from the core and spreading out from the centre. I certainly believe that it is one of the very best remedies in all of Nature to help us achieve that which gives rise to greater healing than anything; a deep, quiet sleep.

Dosage is a huge part of how much success a person has with using herbs. The reason that we call this the 'art of the dose' is that more is most definitely not better! In fact too much of any remedy has the opposite effect to that which is desired, likewise and obviously too little will be equally unhelpful...

If that wasn't enough the other issue that has an enormous effect on how well a treatment works is of course the quality of the medicine itself - there is a great need to use fresh Hops in medicine or you end up with a sub-standard product that should simply be thrown away! I use an average of around 3-5 mls of Hops for a person to get a sure action but I feel plenty of freedom to work the dose around to find what makes the best difference to how a person sleeps and feels and this can go both lower and higher if needed. If it's working well then we know we're doing it right!

Hops combines perfectly with Valerian for insomnia and with Kava for excess tension and anxiety.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Hops is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Hops can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Hops are principally used for their sedative or hypnotic action—producing sleep, removing restlessness, and abating pain.

Hops are extremely efficient in dyspepsia where restlessness and a brooding disposition are prominent features. Fermentative dyspepsia, with consequent eructations, often yields to hops.. Externally, in the form of a fomentation alone, or combined with boneset or other bitter herbs, hops have proved beneficial in pneumonia, pleurisy, gastritis, enteritis; also as an application to painful swellings or tumors.

Tincture of hops, may be used with marked restlessness, and disposition to worry over trouble. Use it also when fermentation and eructations occur after meals.


Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd