If you've ever driven through the countryside in Germany, you might have seen tall "drying racks" draped in vines and wondered what they were. Walking through Colonial Williamsburg, you might have encountered trellises full of odd-smelling vines, and similarly wondered what they were. And the answer more than likely was ...hops.
Hops are a major ingredient used in beer production. They are the female flowers of the hop plant, a twining vine closely related to hemp, and they give beer the bitter, tangy flavor it is known for. Mrs. Grieves notes in her book "Modern Herbal" that hops was an edible plant to the ancient Romans, who consumed the young sprouts as we do asparagus, and that the leaves and flowerheads have also been used to produce a brown dye. Use of hops in beer has been traced back to the fourteenth century in northern Europe.
Hops have a volatile oil which produces a sedative and soporific effect and the lupamaric acid/bitter principle in them serves as a stomachic and tonic. Because of this, hops improve the appetite and promote sleep. Accordingly, many people choose to use them as an ingredient in sleep pillows - along with perhaps some dried lavender, to offset the bitter hops scent. You can make a small homemade pillow, wide and flat, filled with just a bit of hops and dried lavender, and slip it inside the pillowcase with your pillow to make your sleep deeper and more restful.
Here is a suggestion for an herbal mix to use for sleep pillows:
Sweet Hop Mix
4 cups hops
2 Tbsp. ground allspice
2 Tbsp. dried orange peel
2 Tbsp. dried lemon balm
Other suggestions for herbs and spices to add to this mix to make it match your tastes include lime flowers, dried lemon verbena, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, rose, thyme, lemongrass and mint.
* Please replace every 2-3 months, as stale hops have a horrid scent. Avoid use by pregnant women as well, as hops have an estrogenic-like activity.
* Another great use for hops at home is as a hair rinse. According to Real Beauty Magazine, hops contain silica, which helps to fortify and strengthen hair.
The essential oils in the hops, which are the same that play a major role in the brewing process, are rich in antioxidant and toning/astringent properties. Beer also contains wheat proteins, minerals and B vitamins, which are also great for hair, adding shine and strength. IPA (India Pale Ale) beer is a particularly good choice for trying this out, as it is known for its "hoppy" nature and taste. Just leave the beer open to go flat for an hour or two, put it in a spray or squeeze bottle, and use it as a rinse after conditioning. After the beer rinse, you can rinse with cool water and dry as usual. Those who are really adventurous might want to skip the cool water rinse and leave the beer on as an overnight treatment, perhaps covering it with a hair turban and/or shower cap to avoid giving the whole bed a "night after a beer party" aroma. The smell of the beer will dissipate for the most part once the beer dries, and in the morning you can rinse with cool water and admire your intensely shiny hair. Hops are available from dried herb suppliers as well as home brew supply shops, and can also be easily grown and dried at home. Enjoy your "hopping"!