Common Names

Botanical Name
Humulus Lupulus

Our Pages

- Herbal Medicine
- The Clinic
- Richard Whelan

- Alphabetically

- By Group
- Alphabetical

- Clinic Hours
Clinic Location

- Ancient wisdom in the modern world


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?

TJ Lyle writes 'the flower and pollen of Hops is a relaxing nervine of much power. In insomnia the hop pillow is no myth. It quiets the nerves and soothes the whole system without any shade of narcotism. As a poultice it is superior to most other agents for the relief of inflammatory and irritable conditions, whether they be internal or external. It makes a good addition to cough syrups for irritable coughs and restlessness. It is a superior agent in rheumatism and neuralgia. A hot poultice may be applied to the parts affected, and with other agents taken internally with the best of success. In dysmenorrhoea it will be found of great advantage whether used by itself or in combination with other agents. In combination with hepatic tonics it will give good results in nervous depression. It is gently laxative to the bowels and holds a relaxing influence over the liver and gall ducts'

H Felter writes for external use 'that a “hop-pillow” is a favorite device for procuring sleep. The odor of the hop has a decidedly sedative influence upon some individuals, relieving headache and producing sleep; in others it produces intense headache, with nausea and vomiting. Probably the psychic effect has much to do with its value in insomnia. A hot "hop bag" applied to the face is a favorite domestic cure for neuralgic face ache, and a “hop poultice” has anodyne (pain-relieving) properties' and for internal use that 'this is a remedy to relieve nervous excitability in fevers and to induce sleep. It also checks fermentation of the stomach contents and thus proves useful in fermentative dyspepsia with acid reflux'

King's Dispensatory writes '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'

M Grieve writes 'Hops have tonic, nervine, diuretic and anodyne properties, they improve the appetite and promote sleep. The official preparations are an infusion and a tincture. The infusion is employed as a vehicle, especially for bitters and tonics: the tincture is stomachic and is used to improve the appetite and digestion. Both preparations have been considered to be sedative, were formerly much given in nervousness and at bedtime to induce sleep; in cases of nervousness, delirium and inflammation being considered to produce a most soothing effect, frequently procuring for the patient sleep after long periods of sleeplessness in overwrought conditions of the brain.
The bitter principle in the Hop proves one of the most efficacious vegetable bitters obtainable. It has proved of great service also in heart disease, fits, neuralgia and nervous disorders, besides being a useful tonic in indigestion, jaundice, and stomach and liver affections generally. It gives prompt ease to an irritable bladder, and is said to be an excellent drink in cases of delirium tremens. A pillow of warm Hops will often relieve toothache and earache and allay nervous irritation'

David Hoffmann writes 'Hops has a marked relaxing effect upon the central nervous system, and is used extensively for the treatment of insomnia. It eases tension and anxiety, and is appropriate for cases in which tension leads to restlessness, headache and indigestion'

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) describes Hops actions as sedative & hypnotic (sleep inducing) and says it is indicated for neuralgia, insomnia, priapism, mucous colitis and specifically indicated for restlessness associated with nervous tension headaches and/or indigestion. The BHP suggests a dose of 0.5-1 gms of the extract in 45-60% ethanol.

Thomas Bartram describes Hops actions as 'sedative, sustaining nervine, hypnotic, mild analgesic, spasmolytic on smooth muscle, bitter, tonic, astringent, liver & gall-baller relaxant, anaphrodisiac & diuretic' and suggests its uses for 'nervous anxiety, nervous diarrhoea, nervous stomach, Crohn's disease, intestinal cramps, nervous bladder, insomnia, neuralgia, excessive sexual excitability, loss of appetite, and restless legs'

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 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)

~ 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, Jäckel M. [Comparative study for assessing quality of life of patients with exogenous sleep disorders (temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders) treated with a hops-valarian preparation and a benzodiazepine drug]. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1998;148:291-8)

~ 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)

~ According to a systematic review, Hops in combination with Valerian was associated with improvements in sleep parameters in humans, such as sleep latency and quality of sleep (Salter, S. and Brownie, S. Treating primary insomnia - the efficacy of valerian and hops. Aust.Fam.Physician 2010;39(6):433-437)

~ Ross et al. found that a single dose administration of valerian/hops fluid extract (dormeasan) was effective in improving sleep (Ross, S. M. Sleep disorders: a single dose administration of valerian/hops fluid extract (dormeasan) is found to be effective in improving sleep. Holist.Nurs Pract 2009;23(4):253-256)

~ Hop extract supplementation decreased oxidative stress and markers of cardiovascular risk and inflammation in a group of elderly nuns. The nuns had a homogeneous and ordered lifestyle and a common diet. For 45 days, the subjects ingested 500mL of nonalcoholic beer daily. After six months, they ingested 400mg of a commercial hop extract daily for 30 days. After the supplementation of nonalcoholic beer, there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels in those with a total cholesterol level of 240mg/dL or more (p<0.05). There was also a significant decrease in oxidized LDL antibodies (p<0.05). After the hop supplementation, there was a significant decrease in triglyceride levels (p<0.005), in total cholesterol levels (p<0.005), and in oxidized LDL antibodies (p<0.05). After both the nonalcoholic beer supplementation and the hop supplementation, there was a significant decrease in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) levels, as well as levels of carbonyl groups in proteins (both p<0.005). Both reduced glutathione (GSH), and alpha-tocopherol increased significantly (p<0.005) at the end of the nonalcoholic beer and hop supplementation periods. In the hop supplementation group, there was a significant decrease in the complement C3 fraction (p<0.005), in the levels of C-reactive protein (p<0.05), and in the values of IL-6 (p<0.05). (Lopez-Jaen, A. B., Codoñer-Franch, P, Martínez-Álvarez, J. R., Villarino-Marín, A, and Valls-Bellés, V. Effect on health of non-alcohol beer and hop supplementation in a group of nuns in a closed order. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2010;69(OCE3):26)

~ Menopause often causes vaginal atrophy and related symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, burning, itching, dyspareunia, decreased libido, and a general decrease in quality of life. There is evidence from human trials supporting the use of hop extract on menopausal discomfort (Erkkola, R., Vervarcke, S., Vansteelandt, S., Rompotti, P., De, Keukeleire D., and Heyerick, A. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over pilot study on the use of a standardized hop extract to alleviate menopausal discomforts. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(6):389-396) (Heyerick, A., Vervarcke, S., Depypere, H., Bracke, M., and De Keukeleire, D. A first prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the use of a standardized hop extract to alleviate menopausal discomforts. Maturitas 5-20-2006;54(2):164-175)

~ The Cherokees traditionally used hops to treat rheumatic disorders. Humulon, one of the bitter constituents in the hop, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting activity of 12-O-tetradecanopyphorbo-13-acetate (TPA)-induced inflammation and arachidonic acid-induced inflammation. Early clinical research suggests that a combination formula containing hops may help reduce symptoms of rheumatic diseases, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia (Lukaczer D, Darland G, Tripp M, et al. A pilot trial evaluating Meta050, a proprietary combination of reduced iso-alpha acids, rosemary extract and oleanolic acid in patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Phytother Res 2005;19(10):864-9)

~ There are nearly 200 published studies and articles on Hops, a PDF showing their titles, authors and when and where they were published can be found here

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 to make them relax further!

Hops may not be so good for people who have what is called 'anergic depression' -- a low energy state that is not associated with increased anxiety. However, if someone has depression and anxiety, it may well be a helpful medicine for them to use for a time.

General comment on herbal safety

All medicinal herbs that have the power to do good have the potential to do harm. The old maxim 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us. The ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. Not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs, but equally we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities that, not so long ago, decried herbal medicines as ineffectual, have now taken up a different adversarial position; that they are dangerous substances that should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. Such cautions are absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver that has long been proven to be effective at manipulating people.

Unfortunately, the same unnecessary fear and worry has crept into many natural health websites and popular publications on herbs. Herbs that we have safely used for thousands of years, that have no reports of adverse reactions in the medical literature despite widespread use by millions of people, are suddenly described as contraindicated because of something that should have been seen as completely unimportant, or at the utmost a merely theoretical concern, such as a laboratory study on one of the herb's constituents to use an all too common example.

I wonder sometimes if the writers of such articles feel that the herb will be more deserving of respect if it is thought to be a little bit dangerous, in other words more like a drug than something that has simply come out of the earth and been used by ordinary people for generations beyond count.

There is just so much misinformation about herbal medicine on the internet now. Ludicrous claims and cautions abound in equal measure; it seems like one group are trying to make money out of the public whilst the other are busily trying to scare them off.

I have to believe that the kind of reader who takes the time to read pages on herbs that are as extensive as this one is much less likely to be swayed by marketers or misinformers. I hope that you will keep your wits about you if you get conflicting opinions from people who have never really got to know these herbs, who have never worked with them, or learned how to use them safely and effectively.

I want to remind you that the reason that herbs can never be patented and owned by any individual or corporation is because they are, and always will be, the People's medicine. They belong to all of us and it is my great hope in sharing this work that you will learn how to use them wisely for yourself, and the people you care for. Be safe, but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

I use a great deal of Hops in the form of tinctures and as a concentrated powder where it is combined with a Valerian root concentrate into capsules. It is a potent relaxant to excess tension in the body and the mind. A small dose added to a formula taken during the day time can powerfully extend the overall nervine, relaxant and tonic actions within a mixture. A larger dose given at night has been seen to reliably improves the depth of a person's sleep and improving the quality of sleep is truly one of the best things you can ever do to help the body to heal itself.

I 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 led me to rate it extremely highly as a most potent herbal ally. 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. When taken in a strong enough dose, I believe that it is one of the very best remedies in all of Nature to help us achieve a deep, quiet sleep.

Further to that, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

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?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Hops can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - more about that here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd