Wild About - Hops

Hops (Humulus americanus) are an herb that I have turned to again and again this year. You see, I'm a night owl, always have been, and sometimes I need help getting to sleep. And that's where beautiful bitter hops come in.

Of course, you are probably familiar with hops as a major component of beer. But did you also know that they have medicinal properties?

I can only speak of my on experience, but I have found hops to bring on a very gentle, natural-feeling sleepiness. Unlike other herbs I've tried, they don't make me feel loopy, or dead tired. Hops act more like a persuasive nudge than a strong arm.

I was lucky enough to find hops on one of my bike rides last summer (on a public path downstream from the Coors Brewery, so were the hops native or introduced?). As I rode along the path, the creeping sticky vines and papery strobiles (they are like a crepe-y pine cone) of hops suddenly stood out to me like a flashing sign. Like grape vines, they were everywhere - climbing along fences, up trees, and even creeping along the ground.  I knew immediately what they were, but not what they were used for. But I knew it was an opportunity that wasn't to be wasted, and because I'm always equipped to forage when I ride (whaaat? you don't ride with a knife and bags?), I stopped and picked a whole bag full of them. Their resinous aroma filled my nose all the way home.

When I did my research and found that hops are perfect for insomnia, it felt like serendipity. No wonder they had spoken to me so loudly.  I tinctured some by packing them into a jar and filling it with brandy, and I dried the remainder for tea.

Hops tincture is by far the best smelling tincture I've made. Something about the tincture draws out all of the fruity qualities of the herb. When I've finished my work for the day, and am ready to go to bed, I take 10-30 drops of hops tincture, and usually feel sleepy within 15 minutes.

I have also found the hops tincture to work wonders on my nervous stomach. Ugh, I can remember as a little girl, how my stomach would flip flop on the first day of school. These days, my whole digestive tract spasms whenever I'm nervous.  I got a letter from the Department of Revenue a few months ago that practically ruined me, until I opened it and realized it was just a reminder to renew my driver's license. Oops (sheepish grin). So, in situations were anxiety is likely to cause a major upset to my digestive system, I simply take 20 drops of hops tincture, and it helps to stop those sickening spasms of fear.

But when it comes to my bedtime ritual, I prefer to take hops as tea (3 strobiles works nicely). Part of that is that comfort of holding a warm cup of tea. But it's also because I really enjoy lingering over the bitter taste of the hops. Just think of the strong aftertaste that beer has - that's the hops coming through.  Now imagine a warm mug of that same lovely bitter taste lulling you to sleep. Good stuff. Sweet dreams, y'all.

I'm sharing this post with the Herbal Medicine Chest at the Woodwife's Journal. Click through if you are interested in taking advantage of more great herbal home remedies.  I'm also sharing with Real Food Wednesday, where real food is the rule.

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