Hops (Humulus lupulus)



Hops are a native British climber, growing up to 6m long, with 3-5-lobed toothed leaves. The dried strobiles from the female plant are used medicinally. These contain volatile oils and bitter resins collectively known as lupulin, as well as oestrogenic components. Female hop-pickers first drew attention to the effect of the herb on the reproductive organs – they suffered disrupted or absent menstruation whilst working with the plants due to the absorption of the oil through their hands. They have been used in brewing since Roman times, although their introduction to brewing in England was not until the 17th century.

Hops have a sedative and anti-spasmodic action. A central nervous system relaxant, they are used extensively in the treatment of insomnia, and hop pillows have been a popular tradition for centuries, inducing relaxation and alleviating tension and anxiety.

Hops are of particular benefit where tension results in restlessness, headache and indigestion. They reduce the effects of nervous indigestion whilst at the same time gently stimulating the digestion due to their bitter component. Their relaxing and astringent action can be applied to mucous colitis as well as tense bowel states such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or Crohn’s disease. The herb’s antiseptic action is sometimes employed in the treatment of infections of the upper digestive tract, while antifungal activity has been demonstrated towards Candida albicans, and other constituents show activity against Staphylococcus aureus.

The oestrogenic substances in hops may cause loss of libido in men. It has been used with some success in the treatment of premature ejaculation and priapism. Recent research supports the claims for its use in painful or absent periods.

Hops can act as a mild depressive and therefore should not be taken by people suffering from depression. Its sedative effects may increase the effects of existing sedative medication and alcohol. The pollen from the strobiles may cause contact dermatitis and the strobiles themselves rapidly lose their effectiveness with storage. Chronic exposure to hops by those who work with them has led to nausea, vomiting, abnormal sweating, agitation, fever, and skin reactions. Paradoxically, many of these symptoms are the opposite of the therapeutic effects of this herb.

NB: The above information is for guidance only, and is not intended to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified practitioner. Some herbs may interact adversely with other medication, so make sure that your health professional is aware of everything you are taking.