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Hops

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Hops - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: jihua / pi jiu hua
Japanese: hoppu (transliteration and onomatopoeia of English 'hop')
Korean: hob
French: asperge sauvage / couleuvree / salsepareille indigene / vigne du Nord
Italian: luppolo
Spanish: lupulo
Old English: hymele (attributed)
Middle English: hoppegavel / hopgavel (attributed, perhaps erroneous)
English: hops / common hops / European hops / noble hops
German: hopfen / hopfenzapfen
Old Norwegian / Norse: humli
Swedish: humle
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Humulus lupulus / Humulus japonicus (Japanese hops) / Humulus ynnanensis (Chinese / Yunnan hops)

Background and History

Hops are an extremely popular additive now commonly associated with the beer and craft-brewing culture. Replete with its own multifaceted and intriguing history, it is nowadays nearly synonymous with beer, although very few individuals are aware of the fact that hops are a relatively recent innovation to the art of brewing, having been introduced to the general Western brewing practice via its age-old employment by the Germans and the Dutch sometime in the late 1300s to early 1400s. Prior to that time, beer, ale, and many other fermented alcoholic beverages were flavoured and / or preserved with a combination of bitter plants, among them dandelion, heather, and burdock. While common knowledge typically associates hops with beer and the production of it in general, it is also employed as a flavouring and preservative agent for a number of other fermented drinks, including ales, ciders, and (in rare instances) even wine.

While generally thought of as a plant it itself, hops are actually no more than the female efflorescence or flowers of the Humulus lupulus, a small genus of flowering perennials belonging to the family Cannabaceae. The humulus is closely related to the cannabis plant, and was initially a native of the temperate regions of China, specifically the Yunnan province (which is more renowned for its oolong tea than its hops). While generally a native of the Chinese continent, very little information is available regarding employment in the Chinese methods of brewing beer, in spite of the fact that the Chinese have been brewing beer several thousand years prior to the practice having been done in the majority of European countries. Archeological evidence suggests that China may have begun to brew fermented beverages made from grains a millennia or so after the Mesopotamians (who are largely credited with being the historical 'inventors' of beer), although their usage of local hops known to, and widely available in the Chinese mainland and beyond was very minimal to almost nil during its nascence, with early brewers preferring to add a combination of hawthorn flowers and bitter melons (Momordica charantia) as early bittering agents. [1] Later on, as beer became an important feature in Chinese ceremonial magick and court ritual, mass-produced beers for both general consumption and ritualistic usage began to incorporate hops into their recipes, although when this became a vogue and how prolific the usage was is to this day still widely left to conjecture. [2]

Historically, it is believed that there are two primary reasons for the shift between gruit to hops: the first reason being that brewers at the time often favoured what was always more cheaply taxed, thus frequently switching between hops and gruit as their primary bittering agent when either the former or the latter became too heavily taxed to be profitable for business. The second and most enduring reason for the switch to hops is that its unique chemical constituents typically possess relatively mild antibiotic and bacteriostatic properties, although such properties are unique in that they selective choose the types of bacteria to attack (in this case Gram-positive bacteria), while allowing fungal cultures such as brewer's yeast to flourish. [5]

Hops are actually the female flowers of the Humulus lupulus, and are characterised by their cone-shaped appearance. They grow from the humulus plant, a small, almost vine-like flowering plant that typically prefers warm, sunny climates, but which holds well on its own in semi-temperate to mildly cold environments. Generally called the hop vine, it is actually properly referred to as a 'bine' - a plant which employs stems replete with stiff hairy 'fur' to help them climb. The hop bine is a perennial plant which grows from a hardy, often cold-resistant rhizome, typically characterised by its glossy fanshaped leaves (sort of resembling cannabis leaves), and for its overall hairy crawling stems. It is most notable for its efflorescence, a tight cone-shaped flower which ranges from a pale-green, jade-green, to golden-yellow colouration which may vary depending upon the plant species. [6] Just like the cannabis plant, only the female efflorescence of the hop bine is employed for brewing, with commercial production of the plant often necessitating the separation of male and female plants to help prevent pollination which will result in undesirable hops. There are basically only three distinct species of hops, although the European strain (Humulus lupulus) possesses three distinct varieties of hops, typically native to the Americas, Europe, and Western Asia.

Hops can be quite finicky to cultivate, as they require a special environment that is rich in water and nutrients. Because they are climbing plants, they also usually require riggs made of string, rope, or wire which allows them to flourish without stunting their growth. Hops grow best in environments which experience large amounts of direct sunlight, and are usually selectively cultivated so that a large number of vines produce flowers which are female - the only desirable hops used by brewers. Upon harvesting, the hops are then dried in specially constructed structures called oast houses, which are typically constructed to be large heat insulators that are able to dry large amounts of hops at one time (the drying itself having changed little since ancient times, with the process still heavily dependent on sunlight, although modern innovations which employ machinery are not altogether absent). [7] While it was initially standard protocol for hops to be dried prior to its employment in brewing, fresh, un-dried hops have also been employed for brewing, although this latter innovation is a relatively modern one that came into general fashion sometime in the early 1990s.

Common / Popular Uses

Nowadays, hops are most commonly known for their seemingly exclusive use in the brewing industry as a bittering agent and natural preservative for nearly all types of beers. With its select range of varietals, one can have a workable selection of hops which can be integrated into a brew either for bitterness, aroma, or body. The practice of incorporating hops into beer dates back to ancient times, although in the Western parlance, hops have been used for beer making for only some nine-hundred and thirty-three or so years, with earlier examples of beers having employed other preservative and embittering agents other than hops. In the typical brewing process, the hops are almost always married together with wort - a special liquid byproduct of brewing beer or whiskey which is composed of metabolised sugars partaken of by yeast cultures prior from an earlier brewing process - in a process which transforms the sweet, microbe-rich liquid called 'sweet wort' into the characteristic brew (referred to as 'bittered wort') which later becomes beer. The employment of hops and the amount employed per brew are oftentimes trade secrets, especially in the cases of craft beers, which have a tendency to be more flavourful than massproduced commercial brews, albeit with far more limited availability. [8]

However, because of the various types of hops available and moderately vast range of cultivars that have sprung up since its nascence as an integral ingredient to beer production, there are now innumerable combinations or single-preparations of hops, each with their own distinct flavour profiles which make for very interesting brews which vary from region to region and county to country.

Aside from being an integral ingredient for the brewing of beers, it has also been employed as an additive to various other beverages, among them ales, ciders, wine, and even soft drinks. Hops have even been made into flavourings for all sorts of foodstuffs, although their integration tends to be very minimal and its usage few and far-flung. The use of hops for medicinal purposes is divided into two distinct areas - the medicinal benefits derived from the spice via the direct consumption of beer or any other alcoholic beverage containing significant amounts of hops, and the employment of hops as an herbal medicine in its own right, either by itself, or combined with other medicinal herbs and spices.

When consumed as an alcoholic beverage, hops typically act as the primary sedative substance in beer, seconded only by the presence of alcohol which also acts as a nervine and sedative. Long-associated with promoting restful sleep and alleviating stress, hop-rich bitters or sweet brews laden with Noble hops tend to be more relaxing than brews which contained a lesser amount of hops. Its sedative qualities also help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and fear. [9] It's ability to encourage the brain to release serotonin and other 'feel-good' chemicals also help to encourage cognitive ability and creativity, albeit at the risk of slightly impaired (to even highly uncoordinated) muscular control when drunk overmuch, thanks chiefly to the alcohol. It's cognitive-improving and sedative properties may however benefit individuals who suffer from restlessness, insomnia, dementia, and even attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders when consumed sparingly. [10] Moderate consumption of beer is also said to help improve kidney, and bladder health thanks to hops' ability to slow down the release of calcium from one's bones - a happenstance which is one of the primary causes of kidney and bladder stones. Hops also possess mild diuretic properties, which allows for the faster and more efficient flushing of one's kidneys. [11] The presence of hops also helps to make beer a cholesterol-lowering beverage, allowing it to help improve one's cardiovascular health in combination with the many nutrients found in its other ingredients. Hops are also an excellent source of flavonoids which act as natural antioxidants that help to delay or even reverse the ravages of aging. Trace chemical compounds in hops, in combination with alcohol and the B-Vitamins found in beer's general constituent ingredients also possess significant anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-arthritic, and anti-rheumatic benefits when drunk in moderation. Furthermore, hops are potent antifungal and antibiotic spices, encouraging the body's ability to ward off illnesses like flu, coughs, and colds faster. It is also due to these properties (in combination with the concentrations of B-vitamins) that beer makes for an excellent after-shampoo hair-rinse, long believed to promote shine, increase body, and improve the strength of hair as well as alleviate most common scalp problems like dandruff or psoriasis. [12]

Because of its bitter nature, the hops found in beer also act as a natural carminative, digestif, and appetizer, allowing for better consumption of meals and improved assimilation of nutrients. Because hops contain trace estrogenic compounds, a bottle or two of beer while a woman is on her period may also help to alleviate the discomforts associated with her menses - a feature which may also prove to be beneficial for pre and post-menopausal women. [13]

Used by itself as a medicinal herb, hops have long been employed as a natural sedative, either when brewed as a tisane, or otherwise incorporated into sleep pillows or scent sachets to encourage sleep. [14] Moderately strong decoctions of hops may be drunk as a sleeping draught. In Mediaeval times, hops were employed in lieu of (or sometimes combined with) valerian as a sedative drink. Nearly all of the benefits that can be derived from beer-based hop-consumption may be obtained through the singular use of the spice, although due to its more 'concentrated' usage, the effects that are garnered from its consumption tend to be more efficient, requiring lesser dosages than in the case of simply deriving it from the consumption of beer. Aside from its use as a general analgesic for everything from rheumatism to arthritis, potent decoctions of hops also help to alleviate any degree of muscular and even skeletal discomforts; it has even been suggested as an early remedy for priapism - a highly uncomfortable condition which consists of the inability of the male sexual appendage to its flaccid state. When combined with mint, it has even been employed by American settlers and frontier-folk as an early remedy for tuberculosis (then known as the dreaded consumption). [15]

Very potent decoctions of hops may also be applied topically as a remedy for a variety of fungal and bacterial infections, although it is most noted for its early use as a treatment for skin ulcerations and for its employment as an antibacterial agent in disinfecting wounds. Nowadays, the essential oil of hops (of which there is only very little yield to be of significant commercial use in the cosmetic industry) is often extracted and integrated into beverages or foodstuffs which require the unique flavour profile and nuance that only hops can provide. Aquaeous extracts of the spice does however play an important role in the cosmetic industry, as it's known antimicrobial properties, and it's attributed emmolient properties are said to improve the texture and quality of one's skin, making it a common addition to organic or organicallybased cosmetics like lotions, creams, and emulsion-type make-up. [16] Tinctures of hops (derived from its dried catkins), and tisanes made from hops may even be employed as a regular maintenance supplement for the treatment of prostrate, ovarian, and breast cancer, although these generally work best as preventative supplements than as curative ones.

Magickal / Esoteric Uses

The use of hops for magickal purposes is very much in line with its use as a medicine, as it has been employed since ancient times as an herb which is said to promote restful and restorative sleep. [17] A sachet filled with hops is typically given to restless individuals or to people who are plagued with nightmares in order to alleviate the problem. It may be understood along these lines that hops can be considered a powerful protective or warding herb, especially if one takes into consideration that nightmares and nightterrors were once believed to be the nocturnal visitations of malevolent entities such as incubi or succubi. With this in mind, hops may be burnt as a soothing incense which promotes calm and peace, or which otherwise wards off malevolent spirits that disrupt restfulness - and by restfulness, this encompasses the general restfulness that pervades the whole of one's being and not simply the restfulness associated with sleep. While such applications are unorthodox, it is not altogether out of line with the original magickal use of hops, of which only healing and sedation seem to be the only apparent properties. In Celtic magick, hops were usually associated with the Spirit Power of wolves, and were either employed to invoke their qualities and strengths, or to otherwise pacify it. [18]

While the consumption of hops in general or alcohol-infused form is relatively safe in moderate dosages, on no account should one attempt to employ beer as a therapeutic supplement with the general idea of 'more equates to better'. It should be stressed that only very moderate dosages of beer is said to provide any significant medicinal benefit, and if one is after the therapeutic benefits of hops solely, one might as well brew tisanes rather than glut oneself on beer. Individuals with very sensitive skin, or people who suffer from skin asthma should veer away from employing cosmetics or products which contain hops, as these can cause mild to moderately severe skin allergies, the likes of which can be found in harvesters. Individuals who are undergoing depression or who are under the influence of barbiturates or narcotics should likewise avoid the consumption of hops, whether as tisanes or as beer, as it may aggravate the symptoms of depression or otherwise induce severe drowsiness. People who plan to undergo surgery must refrain from consuming any products containing hops for at least two weeks prior to the scheduled procedure, lest extreme drowsiness occur, a condition which may prove detrimental under the influence of anaesthesia and other medications. As a general safety note, pregnant and nursing women should likewise avoid the consumption of products containing hops, although folkloric medicine does suggest that a glass of beer a day may be beneficial to the developing foetus (a belief which is as yet unsubstantiated). On no account should one drink beer or otherwise consume tisanes or brews containing hops while under sedative medications, and under no circumstances should such an individual drive or attempt to perform any generally active role which requires excellent coordination skills.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China

[3] [4] [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hops

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humulus

[7] http://www.usahops.org/userfiles/file/Heyerick-Medicinal%20Uses%201-09%20HGA.pdf

[8] http://byo.com/resources/hops

[9] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/hops-herbal-remedies.htm

[10] http://www.medicalhealthguide.com/herb/hops.htm

[11] http://drinkwiththewench.com/2008/10/the-magical-medicinal-powers-of-hops/

[12] http://www.beerandhealth.be/index.php/articles/en/cid=19/aid=215/

[13] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/hops--32.html

[14] [15] [16] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-856-HOPS.aspx?activeIngredientId=856&activeIngredientName=HOPS

[17] http://herb-magic.com/hops.html

[18] http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=YXoOye0jcvkC&pg=PA97

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, Scientific Studies report by Dan Ablir. © herbs-info.com 2013

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