Hops Edible and Medicinal Uses

Hops Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons

Humulus lupulus                                                             

Common Name: Hop

Family: Cannabidaceae

Known Hazards: Skin contact with the plant causes dermatitis in sensitive people. Hops dermatitis has long been recognized. Not only hands and face, but legs have suffered purpuric eruptions due to hop picking. Although only 1 in 3,000 workers is estimated to be treated, one in 30 are believed to suffer dermatitis. Dislodged hairs from the plant can irritate the eyes.

Range: Much of Europe, including Britain, to W. Asia.

Physical Characteristics        

Humulus lupulus is a PERENNIAL CLIMBER growing to 6 m (19ft 8in) at a medium rate. It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by wind. The plant is not self-fertile. It is noted for attracting wildlife.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Edible Uses                                                  

Young leaves and young shoots – cooked. The flavour is unique and, to many tastes, delicious. Young leaves can be eaten in salads. Use before the end of May. The leaves contain rutin. The fleshy rhizomes are sometimes eaten. A tea is made from the leaves and cones. It has a gentle calming effect. The dried flowering heads of female plants are used as a flavouring and preservative in beer. They are also medicinal. The flowering heads are sprinkled with bitter-tasting yellow translucent glands, which appear as a granular substance. This substance prevents gram-negative bacteria from growing in the beer or wort.

Much of the hop’s use as a flavouring and medicinal plant depends on the abundance of this powdery substance. The seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that is said to have many important functions in the human body and is rarely found in plant sources. The essential oil in the flowering heads is used as flavouring in cereal beverages and mineral waters. Extracts from the plant, and the oil, are used as flavouring in non-alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods and puddings, with the highest average maximum use level of 0.072% reported for an extract used in baked goods.

Hops Photo from wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hop_bloemen_vrouwelijke_plant_Humulus_lupulus_female.jpg

Medicinal Uses

Medicinal Actions: Anodyne;  Antibacterial;  Antiseptic;  Antispasmodic;  Diuretic;  Febrifuge;  Galactogogue;  Hypnotic;  Nervine;  Sedative;  Stomachic;  Tonic.

Hops have a long and proven history of herbal use, where they are employed mainly for their soothing, sedative, tonic and calming effect on the body and the mind. Their strongly bitter flavour largely accounts for their ability to strengthen and stimulate the digestion, increasing gastric and other secretions. The female fruiting body is anodyne, antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, nervine, sedative, stomachic and tonic. Hops are widely used as a folk remedy to treat a wide range of complaints, including boils, bruises, calculus, cancer, cramps, cough, cystitis, debility, delirium, diarrhoea, dyspepsia, fever, fits, hysteria, inflammation, insomnia, jaundice, nerves, neuralgia, rheumatism, and worms.

The hairs on the fruits contain lupulin, a sedative and hypnotic drug. When given to nursing mothers, lupulin increases the flow of milk – recent research has shown that it contains a related hormone that could account for this effect. The decoction from the flower is said to remedy swellings and hardness of the uterus. Hop flowers are much used as an infusion or can also be used to stuff pillows where the weight of the head will release the volatile oils. The fruit is also applied externally as a poultice to ulcers, boils, painful swellings etc, it is said to remedy painful tumours.

 The female flowering heads are harvested in the autumn and can be used fresh or dried. Alcoholic extracts of hops in various dosage forms have been used clinically in treating numerous forms of leprosy, pulmonary tuberculosis, and acute bacterial dysentery, with varying degrees of success in China. The female fruiting body contains humulone and lupulone, these are highly bacteriostatic against gram-positive and acid-fast bacteria. A cataplasm of the leaf is said to remedy cold tumours.