Nervine Herbs: Hops for Relaxation & a Restful Night’s Sleep
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Therapeutic Actions: anodyne, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, astringent, diuretic, sedative
It is probably the first thing you thought of when you read the word “hops” in the blog post title. That’s okay. It is what I think of first too. It is what most people think of first. But if I told you they are more than just a bitter-ing, preserving agent for your favorite lagers and ales? That they have medicinal value?
Yes, my friends – there is more to hops than what’s on tap. This is not to say that beer may not have its own unique place in the holistic lexicon, but more exactly that hops offer a host of calming, sedating, nerve un-gangling benefits without a frothy head in slight.
Hops Medicinal Benefits
Perhaps the sedating qualities of a pint of the finest ale are not wholly due to the alcohol content, although that is definitely a factor. Hops are known largely for their calming influence on the nervous system. This herb is called for in instances of a general headache, more are especially helpful when that headache was prompted by tension and nervousness. Over-excitability, highly strung, perhaps “flighty” individuals may benefit from the “dialing down” effects of this herb. While those descriptors certainly conjure up images of a slightly exhausting person to be around, this herb also really good for the nervous, over-worked, over-wrought Type A’s that can’t relax. Perhaps one of the most profound benefits of hops is its ability to induce sleep – not just as a tea (or beer), but even as a volatile aromatic.
Hops also have a gentle antispasmodic and diuretic effect, making this herb a wonderful bath or tea when there are tension and a sense of fullness about the bladder and pelvic area. This effect may also be increased by the astringent and pain relieving benefits. It is may also be helpful for neuralgia, and inflammation.
Hops Dosage and Safety
Hops should not be used when a person has ongoing depression due to its sedating qualities. Also, t contains a strong phytoestrogen called 8-prenylnaringenin and should be avoided by those with elevated estrogen levels or a history of estrogen-dependent cancers. One study has suggested that female hops workers are at greater risk of menstrual cycle disturbances due to prolonged and excessive exposure. More anecdotally, some suggest that the ummm “beer boobs”, ahem, observed on male heavy drinkers are due to the increased estrogenic levels associated with excessive consumption.
All this is not to say that this herb dangerous – rather it is a pretty safe herb all things considered. Tincture dosages ranging from 1-4mls up to three times a day, or a cup of tea prepared with one teaspoon dried herb taken three times daily, is considered safe. German Commission E states that a half a gram of the dried herb is considered a single dose.
Once you’ve passed a hop farm, you will not soon forget the tall poles and wires dripping with vigorous green vines. They require deep, rich, well-drained soils and are not considered mature until the third fruiting. The medicinal part of the plant is the cone-shaped “strobile” which is ready for harvest when firm and greenish/straw colored.
Hops Pillow Sachet
First, I must address that hops kinda smell like a dirty foot. This is due to the sizable quantity of valerianic acid (yes, the same constituent that gives valerian root its characteristic odor). This musty aroma increases with age due to oxidation, so freshly harvested and promptly dried strombiles are preferable for this application.
Hops have long been added to pillows to induce a restful sleep and pleasant dream state. While the aromatics, not to mention the discomfort of an entire pillow made from dried herbs may be a little much, a medium size sachet tucked under your proper pillow in between the case, can provide ample sedation and relaxation. Here I combine this herb with lavender, rose and chamomile – all relaxing in their own right with pleasing aromatics to offset the earthy pungency of the hops. In fact, the four herbs combined are amazingly lovely — earthy, soft, and floral aromatics. Beyond pleasant. This little hops pillow sachet can be used for months or until the sachet no longer produces a notable scent. There is no right or wrong way to make a hops pillow sachet. I just combine roughly equal parts hops and rose petals, with a half part each chamomile and lavender (use the angustifolia variety as it has greater sedative action than other species), by weight, and stuff the mixture into muslin, drawstring sachets like these. Using a sachet in your pillow is a small, simple. but profound act of self-care; restful sleep allows for a clear head and ample energy the following day!
UPDATE: I made several of the sachets, so decided to throw an extra in the bathtub. Holy smokes, my friends… These sachets make a wonderful tub tea too. My always tense shoulders found great relief from just a short ten-minute soak. Delightful!
Need a bit more nervous system support? Check out this kava kava post.
Hops Pillow Sachet
Hops, best known for beer-making, is actually a premier herb for relaxation. Make a hops pillow sachet with other sedating herbs for a deep & restful sleep.
- 1 part dried hops by weight
- 1 part dried lavender by weight
- .5 part dried rose petals by weight
- .5 part dried chamomile by weight
Combine herbs and stuff into a drawstring muslin bag like this. Place the sachet under your pillow, in between the case.
This sachet should be replaced when the herbs are no longer aromatic or have picked up moisture.
Wood, Matthew. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. Place of publication not identified: North Atlantic Books.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.