Gardening for Health

Uses for Hops Beyond Beer 

By Maria Price 

Humulus lupulus produces chartreuse yellow female fruits called strobiles, best known as the bitter, aromatic ingredient in beer: hops. The end of summer is the time I pick hops from my vine, which I have trained into a shade-providing arch. Hop vines need deeply cultivated, rich, moist soil in full sun. 

Ancient Greek and Roman physicians recommended hops as a digestive aid and treatment for intestinal ailments. Around 2500 BC, 40 percent of this Sumerian grain crop was used in brewing. In the 9th century, German brewers added hops both for its bitter flavor and because it preserved the fermented barley beverage we now call beer. Hops contain humulone and lupulone which kill the bacteria that cause spoiling. As centuries passed, brewers added herbs, such as marjoram, yarrow and wormwood to flavor their beers.  

Hops grow wild in England and were often used in folk medicine. The fermented beverage of choice in England was ale, a sweet ancient style of beer without hops. Around 1500, British brewers started adding hops because of its preservation properties, turning their sweet ales into bitter beers and provoking national outrage. Hops haters called it a wicked weed, so much so that Henry VIII banned the herbs from English brewing. It remained illegal until 1552. 

Ancient hops farmers noticed their workers would fall asleep while harvesting. Today, hops are known for helping with insomnia and anxiety. In 1983, a sedative chemical was discovered in the plant.  

For insomnia, use dried and aged hops, 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water. Let this steep for 10 to 15 minutes. 

Make a sleep pillow to aid dreamy slumber by combining equal quantities of dried hop flowers, lavender and chamomile in a 6-inch squares of fabric to tuck into your pillow. Pleasant dreams.