By  Phyllis Sidorsky

Name: Humulus lupulus
Family: Cannabaceae

Hops is an herbaceous vine that grows in a clockwise direction reaching a height of 15 feet or more. The name hop comes from the Anglo‐Saxon, hoppan meaning “to climb”. This plant is indigenous to southern Europe, southwest Asia and North America. Its leaves have three to five lobes. The flowers are yellowish green, pine cone in shape and are called strobili. These strobili which come only from the female plant provide beer with its bitter, zesty flavor.

Hops are made up of water, cellulose and various proteins. The fruit contains resinous, bitter substances, essential oils, and flavonoids. The later contains sedative properties that, according to Michael J. Balick in his 21st Century Herbal , have sedative and spasmodic properties. It is these properties that herb growers use in teas, tinctures and herbal sleep pillows to relieve anxiety, insomnia and lack of appetite.

Each year the perennial hop plant sends up flexible a stem that entwines itself clockwise on strings provided by the grower. For years the flowers were picked by hand but since 1909 are harvested by a mechanical hop separator. The novelists George Orwell and Summerset Maugham describe how migrant laborers were hired to bring in the crops. This labor intensive procedure occurred at the end of summer. Once harvested the flowers are taken to a heated oast house (kiln) where they are spread out on burlap sacking to dry. When thoroughly dried the hops are processed and turned into bales, which are taken to commercial destinations.

The procedure of adding hops to beer brewing may be traced to the 9th century. Abbott Adalhard in north‐eastern France. He wrote that his monks were adding hops to their ales. The father of Charlemagne, Pepin the Short, was recorded to have bequeathed 768 hop gardens to the Cloisters of St Denis. In 1557 Thomas Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry wrote:

“The hop for his profit I thus do exalt, It strengtheneth drink and flavoureth malt, And being well‐brewed long kept it will last, And drawing abide, if ye draw not too fast.

However, in 1670, John Evelyn took exception and wrote in his Pomona :

“Hops transmuted our wholesome ale into beer. This one ingredient preserved the drink indeed, but repays the pleasure with tormenting disease and a shorter life.”

English and Dutch farmers brought hops to the Colonies as early as 1629 where they were used in brewing. Today the American West, particularly the Northwest, are prime areas of commercial hops growing.

There are two primary types of hops used in beer brewing. One type provides more aroma and the other more bitterness. Noble hops describe four German hops grown for aroma: Tettnanger, Hallertau, Spalt, and Saaz. The noble descriptor refers to the characteristics of European nobility: tradition, delicacy and long‐standing eminence.

Hops contain the alpha acids which account for the bitter taste in beer. Hops also contain beta acids or lupulones, which easily oxidize thus having a negative impact on beer brewing. The oils give the distinctive scent to beer while the flavonoids create the flavor. Poultices made from hops are said to relieve hot flashes and nervous disorders. Pillows containing hops with sweet woodruff, agrimony, lavender or rosemary added for a pleasant scent are popular to relieve insomnia. Jo Sellers, one of our more engaged members, teaches her students to make sleep pillows adding various other herbs to create pleasant dreams and prevent nightmares.

King George III always slept on a hops pillow. It is also recorded that Abraham Lincoln enjoyed the sedative effect provided by this herb. Wouldn't they have loved one of Jo's pillows?

Let us all hail the Herb of the Year 2018, hops, either by raising a beer or sleeping on a dream pillow with a few hops inside. Preferably both!


Balick, M. J., Rodale's 21st Century Herbal, A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature's Most Powerful Plants. NY, Rodale Inc., 2014.

Genders, R., The Complete Book of Herbs and Herb Growing. NY, Sterling Publishing Co., 1980.

Long, J., Making Herbal Dream Pillows. NC, Storey Publishing, ND.

Stary, F. and V. Jirasek, Herbs A Concise Guide In Color. London, Hamlyn, 1973.

Tucker, A. and T. DeBaggio, The Encyclopedia of Herbs, A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance. Portland OR, Timber Press, 2009.

Wikipedia, “Hops,””