The hop plant, Humulus lupuius, is a a perennial climbing vine and hedgerow that twines around trees. Belonging to the family Cannabidaceae, hops are extensively cultivated in England, Germany, the United States, South America, and Australia. The hop plants bear a female strobile (fruit) shaped like a scaly cone, covered with glandular hairs containing the resinous bitter principles which make hops so popular in brewing and in medicine. Hops have been used since Roman times in brewing beer and as a nerve tonic and sedative. It has also been used to control diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, where spasms of the smooth muscles play a role.
Although hops have been used for brewing beer for over 1,000 years, their medicinal properties have also been valued from very early times. Hop pickers used to tire easily, apparently as a result of transferring some hop resin from their hands to their mouths, gaining hops a reputation as a safe sedative. Later, pillows filled with hops were used for insomnia and nervousness. Small bags of hops, wetted with alcohol and placed on the skin, were also said to reduce local inflammation.
Experiments have shown that Hops relaxes the smooth muscles and acts as a sedative. It has been used to increase breast milk for irritable infants (and probably pass along its soothing effects).
The main constituent chemicals are unstable polyphenolic principles, primarily lupulin, which contains a bitter acid complex (2-Methyl-3-butonol, humulone, lumulone, lupulone and valeronic acid) and a volatile oil complex (humulene, myrcene, b-carophyllene and farnescene). The bitter acids humulone and lupulone have been associated with sedative properties.
Hops also contain tannins, flavonoid glycosides (rutin, quercetin and astragalin), and asparagine.
CAUTION: If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your health care professional before using hops products. Not recommended for people suffering from depressive illness.