Besides Beer, what are Hops Used for?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Although most people associate hops with beer, the twining bine actually has a long history of use in herbal medicine, and the plant has a few surprising applications as well. The use of this ingredient in beer was actually eschewed across much of Europe until the medieval period, although the Romans used them in their beers centuries previously. In addition to being used in medicine, they also yield a potentially useful fiber, and they can be used as a food source.

Hops on the vine.
Hops on the vine.

Hops bines are rather distinctive. They tend to twist and curl around things, gripping them firmly with small, stiff hairs. The scientific name for the plant is Humulus lupulus. The "lupulus" in the name is a reference to the wolf-like nature of the plant, which grips and does not let go. The plants produce large lobed leaves and yellow cone-shaped flowers. The flowers are the most useful part of the plant, harvested for use in herbal remedies and beer, due to their distinctly bitter and aromatic natural oils.

Hop vines.
Hop vines.

In herbal medicine, hops have a long history of use as a relaxant and sleep aid. In many cultures, pillows stuffed with them are given to people who have difficulty sleeping, and they may be added to remedies and herbal teas which are designed to promote healthy sleep. In addition, they appear to have a beneficial effect on the digestion, and many people which chronic gastrointestinal complaints incorporate them into their diet as a result.

Hop farm.
Hop farm.

The flowers also have a natural antibacterial quality, which is one of the reasons they are added to beer. This property may help with some bacterial infections, and research has suggested that the plant may also be effective against some viruses. In traditional Chinese medicine, they may be used as an antibiotic, and some studies indicate they may help to fight cancer. Some cultures have historically used the flowers to treat tuberculosis, although this treatment may not be very effective.

Hops may be used to promote healthy sleep for those who have sleeping difficulties.
Hops may be used to promote healthy sleep for those who have sleeping difficulties.

The woody stalks of hops can be soaked and beaten to yield fibers that can be used in textile manufacture. In addition, these fibers may be pulped for paper making. The young shoots have also been used historically as a source of food, especially by impoverished individuals. Since the plant is naturally high in fiber, the shoots are actually a rather sound dietary choice when limited options are available.

Some cultures have used hops to treat tuberculosis.
Some cultures have used hops to treat tuberculosis.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Hops are used to flavor and preserve beer. India Pale Ales are very hoppy because lots of hops were used to ensure the beer survived the trip from England to India.


@MikeMason-- I think it's because hops is a natural source of the estrogen hormone. I have heard of women using it for premenstrual syndrome symptoms. I don't know if it is good for menopause though. I don't think anyone should use it without asking their doctor first because natural things can have negative side effects too.

My mom is in menopause but she is not allowed to use anything with estrogen because she has a cyst in her breast. Taking estrogen and other hormones can make the cysts grow or change. The other reason my mom cannot use hops products is because it affects her blood pressure.


@anon292179-- No, not at all. Dry hops can be used to make herbal tea and the dry stem can be used as incense. I have used hops in both of these ways and I've never experienced anything bad from it.

I don't know if using hops plants in fresh form makes a difference though because I have only used it in dry form.


Someone mentioned to me that hops can be used by women in menopause. How do hops help with menopause?


Are there any deleterious effects from breathing the hops or from ingesting them in tea?


I wish they would tell you dosages and side effects with remedies.


I checked Ebay and found both live plants and a great number of dried hops for home brewers. Also found, and ordered, hops capsules for digestive use.


I want to know whether the hops can be cultivated in south India and I need clear information about this. If they are cultivable, what are the methods associated for cultivation and profit of income? Please tell me.


I grew an ornamental variety of hops in Southern Ontario in my flower gardens. I am now in Northern Ontario (Thunder Bay area) and it grows wild in my backyard!


I think hops grow wild in some places. I suppose once they might have been something people used in their everyday life.

Even so, they seem like an odd choice to make alcohol. I mean, I love beer, but most alcohols are made from things we already eat regularly. Vodka is traditionally made from potatoes, sake from rice, wine from grapes, etc.

Beer is so popular, I just find it odd that it is made from something that I'm sure most people couldn't recognize if it fell on their heads.

Although I think gin is made from juniper berries and I don't think most people would recognize a juniper bush either.


I have heard that about hops being used as a cure for insomnia before. It was on a British TV show and they tried giving pillows stuffed with hops and lavender to people who had trouble sleeping. In all the cases, the people slept better, I think in one case they slept much better.

I think the problem would be finding hops to use if you wanted them, as they don't seem like the kind of plant you find in a garden center. I suppose you can get seeds or seedlings online though.

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