Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a powerful relaxing herb! In this episode, I’m sharing five medicinal benefits of hops, as well as an interesting way for you to work with hops in a hops oil recipe.
When might you reach for hops?
► To soothe muscle tension, including intestinal cramping and menstrual cramps. Hops truly shines when used topically for this type of pain. (Don’t miss out on your free, printable recipe card for hops infused oil below!)
► To support metabolic health. While the causes (and therefore approaches) for metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes are complex, numerous studies have shown that hops have many beneficial effects for people with metabolic syndromes. (By the way, if you or a loved one want to know how to work with herbs holistically for chronic illness, definitely check out my free, on-demand video training: ►►► http://herb-training.com)
These are just a couple of the possible applications for cooling, calming hops… But there’s a lot more to know about working with this powerful medicinal herb, so be sure to tune in to the entire episode!
After listening in, you’ll know:
► Why it’s worth intentionally smelling and tasting the hops you’re working with, rather than assuming all hops are the same
► Who may especially benefit from working with hops for improved sleep quality
► How hops may be a valuable ally to menopausal women
► The three groups of people who need to avoid or be cautious when working with hops
► How to receive the medicinal benefits of hops if you don’t like the taste
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Hops are famous as a beer ingredient but there’s a lot more to know about the medicinal benefits of hops. This is a powerful relaxing herb and, side note, it has one of the best botanical names: Humulus lupulus. In this episode I’m sharing 5 medicinal benefits of hops as well as an interesting way for you to work with hops in a Hops Oil Recipe.
Long before they were used in beer, hops were a common traditional herbal medicine. With their aromatic and pungent scent, hops strobiles have been prized for their ability to help people relax.
Native to Western Asia, Europe, and North America, hops have many traditional uses. The fiber in the vines was used to make a rope or cordage, and the leaves and strobiles were used as a dye plant.
The first recorded use of hops for beer comes from a monastery in northern France in 822 CE. Several hundred years later, hops were being actively cultivated in Germany for beer.
Years later in Europe, it was declared that hops were a required ingredient in beer. This may have been for reasons of taxation, but in addition to adding flavor, hops also stabilize beer, giving it a much longer shelf life.
There’s no question as to the predominant taste of hops! This is a bitter plant! And it also has intriguing aromatics. In this episode I’m talking about the general medicinal benefits of hops but there are so many different varieties of hops with slightly different flavors and aromatics.
So, as always, it’s worth intentionally smelling and tasting the hops you are working with to get an idea of its particular energetics. In addition to being an aromatic bitter, hops is also cooling and drying.
If you’re new to thinking about an herb’s taste and energetics and want to know more about why it matters if an herb is cooling or warming or drying or moistening, then check out my free Herbal Jumpstart Course. Most people would charge money for this course, but I think everyone should have access to this crucial herbal information.
The first of the medicinal benefits of hops is as a bitter relaxing nervine for calming the nervous system. You can reach for hops for many types of nervous tension, especially when associated with digestive distress, pain, or muscle spasms.
Hops truly shine when used for muscle tension, including intestinal cramping and menstrual cramps. One of the best ways to use hops for this is topically! I’ll be sharing a hops oil recipe with you in just a bit so you know exactly how to do this.
Herbalist Matthew Wood says that hops are suited to people with intense personalities and strong emotions that result in nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and worry.
As a relaxing nervine, hops has been shown to decrease stress during stressful situations.
In a 2018 double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers gave healthy volunteers a stressful test. Those drinking an extract of hops had fewer markers of stress than those taking a placebo.1
Another study showed that, when taken over a four-week period, an extract of hops decreased depression, anxiety, and stress in young adults.2
The relaxing and mild sedative properties of hops are often useful for people with difficulty sleeping. Peter Holmes, author of The Energetics of Western Herbs, says hops fits the profile of “hot-type” insomnia.3 In other words, people who struggle with sleep and who also feel hot and restless can benefit from hops’ cooling abilities.
One study looked at the sedative qualities of non-alcohol beer made with hops in a population of people who have a lot of work stress: nurses. The researchers found that the nurses drinking the hops-infused non-alcoholic beer demonstrated improved nighttime sleep quality.4
Sharol Tilgner, author of Herbal ABCs: The Foundation of Herbal Medicine, summed this up nicely with this: "When you are in need of a bitter that also helps alleviate nervous exhaustion, anxiety, neuralgias and promote sleep, [hops] could be your herb."
The second of the medicinal benefits of hops is as a bitter digestive aid.
Hops’ bitter and pungent taste make them an excellent aromatic digestive herb. They are commonly used for upper gastric digestive disorders, including loss of appetite, stagnant digestion, weak digestion, gas, and bloating. It’s likely that hops stimulate bile production and release, thus helping people to better digest fats. Think of hops specifically when there is indigestion associated with nervous tension.
Hops were historically used to get rid of worms in the digestive tract. They can also relax intestinal cramping with their antispasmodic effects.
The third of the medicinal benefits of hops is for improving metabolic functions. This benefit is especially important!
Metabolic syndromes, which include insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, affect as many as 30 percent of the population in the United States. While the causes (and therefore approaches) for these diseases are complex, numerous studies have shown that hops have many beneficial effects for people with metabolic syndromes.
For example, about 1,000 polyphenolic substances have been found in hop strobiles.5
Many of those polyphenols have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and support heart health.
Metabolic syndromes often negatively affect heart health as well. An extract of hops also was shown to benefit acute endothelial function, which is the performance of the membranes lining the heart and blood vessels, in both smokers and non-smokers.6
As I mentioned, chronic inflammation is THE leading cause of most chronic diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, back pain, skin conditions like eczema and acne, type 2 diabetes and so many more.
One of my passions is helping people figure out how to best work with herbs and lifestyle changes to powerfully reduce chronic inflammation so that they can finally address the root cause of their chronic illness.
If you’d like to know how to work with herbs holistically, for your chronic illness, then definitely check out my free training: How to Use Herbs to Transform Your Health to get More Energy & Vitality – Without Expensive Supplements or a Restrictive Elimination Diet. You can access this free training at herb-training.com.
Our fourth of the medicinal benefits of hops is for supporting skin health. Hops are considered a mild alterative herb and a mild diuretic. They are used to help clear heat and damp from the body. Herbalist Peter Holmes uses hops to clear damp heat from the skin, especially when there is concurrent inflammation such as in eczema and acne.7
If you’re interested in learning more about the many powerful uses for alterative herbs, check out my video on red clover where I dive into that a bit deeper.
The fifth and last of the medicinal benefits of hops is as a source of beneficial phytoestrogens. Hops affect hormones in a variety of ways. For example, they have some phytoestrogenic qualities that have been shown to benefit women with menopausal symptoms.
In one study, 120 women in early stages of menopause were given either a hops extract or a placebo for 12 weeks. Those taking the hops extract had significantly fewer hot flashes than those taking the placebo.8
Clinical herbalists will often attest that it is rarely that “one thing” or “one herb” that makes all the difference in a treatment plan – often it’s the combination of many different things.
For example, in one interesting study, researchers looked at post-menopausal women with metabolic syndrome. Every woman was instructed to consume a modified Mediterranean-style, low-glycemic-load diet and to engage in aerobic exercise. Half the women were given a hops extract, 100 mg berberine, 500 IUs vitamin D₃, and 500 μg vitamin K₁ twice daily. Those taking the herbs and nutrients “produced a more favorable bone biomarker profile indicative of healthy bone metabolism” compared to those who did not.9
Hands down, hops wins the prize for the coolest botanical name. If you haven’t said it aloud yet, go ahead and try it: Humulus lupulus. Now say it three times fast!
The hop plant is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North America.
It is a dioecious plant, meaning there are both female and male flowers and they are on separate plants.
In herbal medicine we use the cone-like flowers, or strobiles, from the female plant.
This vivacious perennial vine (more correctly called a bine) can quickly wind up trellises and walls.
In cultivation, it is grown on wire trellises that are often up to 25 feet tall. It has coarse hairs along its stems, which help it to hold onto structures as it wraps itself around them. It excels in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3-8 and requires minimal maintenance.
Leaves are palmate with three to five serrated lobes.
The female plants produce bright green cone-like fruits or strobiles that are covered in a sticky resinous yellow substance called lupulin. These papery-light aromatic fruits are what is used both to make beer and herbal medicine.
Hops are generally considered safe for most people but there are a few special considerations when working with hops as medicine.
Have I mentioned hops are bitter? Depending on your tolerance for bitter, hops have a variety of different preparation methods.
They can be made into a tea (infusion), but due to the overt bitterness, tea is often hard to consume on a long-term basis.
Many herbalists prefer to use hops as a tincture, to minimize the amount of bitter liquid that needs to be consumed.
Many of the studies cited in this article were using standardized hops extracts. Although I generally prefer whole plant medicine, capsules are certainly one way to take bitter medicine.
Hops have an intriguing pungent and aromatic scent. Dried strobiles can be added to pillows or sachets and smelled at bedtime to promote sleep and relaxation.
Hops can be used in a bath before going to bed to reduce insomnia.
Hops can be used as a fomentation (hot infusion on a cloth) or poultice on boils, irritated skin, muscle spasms, and pain of the lower back.
For many, hops are often served as beer or as a flavoring in kombucha or other fermented beverages. It’s increasingly common to find non-alcoholic hops beverages such as hops water and non-alcoholic beer with a strong hops profile.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make potent herbal medicines from the plants that grow around you, whether they be in your garden, wild meadows or even your local apothecary, then check out our course, Rooted Medicine Circle. In this live ten-month course we create herbal medicines throughout the seasons together. At the end of it, you have an entire apothecary filled with potent herbal medicines that you made!
Of course hops is famous as an ingredient in beer but it’s also a fantastic herb to use externally. Reach for hops when you have muscle tension or pain and want some calming and relaxing relief!
Here’s how to make it.
Combine the hops and the oil in a blender and blend for five minutes.
The end result should be a thick green slurry. Pour this into a pint sized jar. Cover with a tight fitting lid and label.
Let this sit for 6 weeks, shaking or stirring daily for the first couple of weeks.
When ready, strain through cheesecloth. And then use externally to relieve muscle tension, muscle cramps and other pain caused by restriction. For best results use this oil within a year.
Don’t miss out on your free printable recipe card for this hops oil recipe above this transcript!
If you enjoyed this video on the medicinal benefits of hops and you value trusted herbal information, then I hope you’ll stick around! The best way to get started is to subscribe on YouTube and your favorite podcast app.
One of the best ways to retain and fully understand something you’ve just learned is to share it in your own words. With that in mind I invite you to share your takeaways with me and the entire Herbs with Rosalee community. You can leave comments on my YouTube channel, at the bottom of this page, or simply hit reply to my Wednesday email. I read every comment that comes in and I’m excited to hear your herbal thoughts about these five medicinal hops benefits and beyond.
Okay, you’ve lasted to the very end of the show, which means you get a gold star and this herbal tidbit…
I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and more specifically Washington state where most of the hops that are used in the U.S. are grown. According to Statistic, there’s about 100 million pounds of hops grown each year in the U.S. and WA state grows 70-80 million pounds of that!
Hops are a big deal in the Pacific Northwest beer culture. If you go to a craft beer centered pub your menu will often list the IBUs of each beer as well as the flavor and scent profile of the hops used. The IBU scale goes from 0-120. In general bitter beers have an IBU rating of 50 and above.
And for your last herbal tidbit, hops are in the same family as Cannabis, which is readily apparent when you smell the aromatics of fresh or recently dried hops. Thanks for watching and Enjoy your medicinal benefits of hops!
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.