Power Plants: Hops

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

HOPS (Humulus lupulus)
Hops are seed cones from the Humulus lupulus plant, which is part of the hemp family (Cannabaceae). Hops are native to Europe, Asia, and North America and today are cultivated primarily in the United States, Germany, and England. Most people know that hops are widely used to make beer, giving it a characteristic aroma and bitter flavour, but not many know hops are also used to preserve beer. Essential oils of hops are also used in perfumes, cereals, beverages, and tobacco.
The Cherokee have long known that hops cause drowsiness. Historically, they used hops as a sedative and an analgesic. Traditional Chinese medicine also included hops to treat insomnia, restlessness, indigestion, intestinal cramps, and lack of appetite.
Hops may also have effects on hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, or endometriosis. Its bitter properties have appetite-stimulating effects shown to be helpful in anorexia.
Because hops sedate gently without narcotic side effects, they are a safer and milder alternative to the more addictive sedative drugs. By soothing the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal tract, hops relax the “second brain” or the enteric nervous system. That, in turn, relaxes the central nervous system.
Hops are known to cause “man boobs” due to their estrogen-like compounds. Female hop pickers can even experience interruptions in menstruation due to the constant contact with the plant.
Difficulty: Easy to medium
Hardiness: Perennial in zone 3 or above
Time to Plant: Spring or late summer
Time to Harvest: Late summer to fall
Location: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-drained, slightly acidic
For home gardeners and beer lovers hops have been gaining popularity. However, if you lack time and space, hops aren’t for you! The hop plant is an aggressive vine that can easily reach over 5 m (20 ft) and requires time-consuming pruning and staking. The vine will die in winter, but the rhizomes (roots) survive, so hops grow on new wood every year.
Common Varieties: Beer lovers may recommend some these popular varieties: Cascade, Centennial, Willmette, Chinook, Amarillo, Golding, Saaz.
Hops are grown from rhizomes, which are a type of root (technically an underground stem) that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a piece of ginger. Hop rhizomes are available online, or at select garden centres and some craft brewers. Purchase them early spring and plant them when the soil is workable and after the risk of hard frost.
For great results, plant rhizomes in rich, well-drained and slightly acidic soil (pH 6.5 to 7.5). Remember hops grow quickly and will require heavy staking. So you need a lot of space, and you don’t want to shade out surrounding plants.
Hops generally do best when planted in direct sun with the soil mounded in rows. The rhizomes don’t require much depth: they should be planted approximately 5 cm (2 inch) deep with the eyes facing up, spaced 0.5 to 1 m (1 to 3 feet) apart. Water deeply immediately after planting. If you’re planting more than one variety, leave some distance between them as many will mix with each other! Build and install staking shortly after planting or while the plant is dormant to minimize root disturbance.
I can’t stress this enough: you need to build proper stakes for hops. Build them big and build them strong! I recommend even using steel rebar. Just one vine can yield up to 1 kg (2.2 lb.) of hops: that adds up to a lot of weight over the entire plant, and when they’re wet they weigh even more.
Hops require patience: you won’t see good yields in the first few seasons. Once mature, prune half the new vines that first appear in early spring: always prune the weakest vines and leave the thick ones. This will put more energy into the rhizome, and the more energy, the more hops! Prune again when vines measure 30 cm (1 foot) during the growing season. To minimize disease and insect infestation, remove the lower sections of growth and foliage. Tie vines during the growing season.
Hops benefit from mulch, which reduces competition from weeds and maintains moisture. Hops should be watered often: never allow them to experience periods of drought.
When planted in soils rich in organic matter (compost or manure), hops will not require fertilizer. In poor soils use compost teas, organic fish emulsion, or a general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer (20-20-20).
To minimize mold, avoid overhead watering, increase air flow around plants (do not overplant), and water in the morning so foliage dries quickly. Tilling the soil surrounding hops in early spring can kill overwintering spores.
Monitor the plants often for aphids and spider mites and treat by applying insecticidal soaps, or attract lady bugs to eat the aphids!
Hops are ready to harvest when their aroma is strongest: crush a cone and take a sniff. Late in summer, the cone will develop a dry, almost papery feel: some browning of the lower sections is a good sign of ripeness. As they ripen you will also notice the cones become softer to squeeze, compared with the green, hard appearance and feel they have when young.
Be careful: your greatest hop yields will be on vines closest to the sun. You could use an extension ladder to get to them, but that’s an accident waiting to happen. Untie the vines and bring them to you instead of you going to them!
Hops can be used fresh, but it’s best to dry them with dehydrator, oven drying, or by laying them on trays in direct sun. The process of sun drying takes a few days, so make sure rain isn’t in the forecast. How do you know when they dry? The stems should break instead of bending. Once they’re dry, store hops in clear sealed containers out of direct light.
Counting sheep? Do it over a hop pillow!
When “Mad” King George III suffered from insomnia his prime minister, Henry Addington, recommended he sleep on a pillow filled with hops. It worked! And it has worked for countless other kings and paupers since. If you have a problem falling asleep at night, this remedy may work for you, too!
Harvest the hops in the fall when they begin to feel slightly papery and are turning amber. At this point they are producing a bitter resin called lupulin, which imparts most of the medicinal virtues of the plant. Pick enough to fill a plastic shopping bag and dry them in the sun. Fill a pillow case with the dried hops and place this inside the case of your regular pillow so you actively breathe in the magical sleep charm overnight. (If sleeping right on top of the crunchy hops isn’t to your liking, flip the pillow around so that they are on the bottom. You’ll still get a good dose of the active sedative.)
Hops tend to lose their potency in 45 to 90 days, so for maximum effectiveness you’ll want to refill the pillow case before the end of 3 months. For most people the pillow will be enough, but if not, try a teaspoon of hops tincture (see below) just before you lie down.
Difficulty falling asleep? Try this hops primer!
If you have ever felt relaxed after having a beer, it wasn’t just the alcohol. It’s all in the hops! This tincture can deliver a far more potent effect, but without the calories and with a fraction of the alcohol.
Tightly pack about 15 to 20 hops into a jar and fill to the top with vodka. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Shake vigorously every day or two. Strain the contents and collect the liquid in a clean, preferably dark jar. Add 1 tablespoon to an ounce of lukewarm water 20 minutes before bed.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Metagenics Kaprex tablets or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Hops are a very safe remedy. Use caution when driving or operating heavy machinery, as drowsiness is likely. Some people report an allergic skin rash after handling the dried flowers: this is most likely due to a pollen sensitivity.
Don’t take hops or use the hops pillow if you suffer from depression.
Hops has a mild influence on estrogen and can cause menstrual irregularities.
Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 147, 160–1.
Koetter U, Schrader E, Käufeler R, Brattström A. A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, prospective clinical study to demonstrate clinical efficacy of a fixed valerian hops extract combination (Ze 91019) in patients suffering from non-organic sleep disorder. Phytother Res 2007;21:847-51.
Shellie, R. A. et al. Varietal characterization of hop (Humulus lupulus L.) by GC-MS analysis of hop cone extracts. J Sep.Sci 2009;32(21):3720-3725.
Nikolic, D et al. Metabolism of 8-prenylnaringenin, a potent phytoestrogen from hops (Humulus lupulus), by human liver microsomes. Drug Metab Dispos. 2004;32(2):272-279.
Oerter, Klein K., Janfaza, M., Wong, J. A., and Chang, R. J. Estrogen bioactivity in fo-ti and other herbs used for their estrogen-like effects as determined by a recombinant cell bioassay. J Clin Endocrinol.Metab 2003;88(9):4077-4079.
Abourashed, E. A., Koetter, U., and Brattstrom, A. In vitro binding experiments with a Valerian, hops and their fixed combination extract to selected central nervous system receptors. Phytomedicine. 2004;11(7-8):633-638.
Lee KM, Jung JS, Song DK, and et al. Effects of Humulus lupulus extract on the central nervous system in mice. Planta Med 1993;59(Suppl):A691.

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