Healing hops

Benefits range far beyond a flavorful punch to beer

By Hayley Fudge

Beer lovers have long been in the know of the mentally therapeutic benefits that a cold brew can provide at the end of a long, hard day. Lesser known, though, are the health benefits that Humulus lupulus—more commonly known as hops—can bring to your life.

Hops have been used for centuries to enhance the brewing process, providing that signature bitter, citrus-forward taste that’s more prominent in some styles, such as India pale ales. They’ve also been used for centuries for various types of medicinal treatments, including North American traditional medicines and Indian-Ayurvedic medicine, according to the American Botanical Council.

In recent years, though, we are seeing their presence pop up in modern medical and holistic health circles, backed with research that demonstrates they bring much more to the party than a burst of those prominent flavors.

After reading a story a few weeks back about a new spa in Oregon that offers soaks in hop-infused baths and oils in luxurious wooden tubs as well as body wraps and facial scrubs (and yes, a pint to drink along with it), I was intrigued by the idea of learning more about how these plants can be beneficial to one’s health.

Here’s a quick look at how these aromatic herbs are contributing to everything from aiding relaxation to disease prevention, and how some local hop growers and manufacturers of products made with hops are joining the movement.

Aromatherapy and relaxation

Suffering from insomnia is no fun, and just the thought alone of trying to fall asleep can make you anxious. But help in the form of hops could be an answer. Hops are a known sedative, and some research suggests that when the extract from hops is combined with the valerian root extract at bedtime, it can assist in helping people fall asleep faster. As with other herbal supplements that can provide alternative treatment, the benefits of no side effects, lower cost, accessibility and no prescription required make this an attractive option for sleep aids. Several natural health stores offer oral capsules of hop extract. The capsules can be open and consumed in tea, as well.

If stress and the inability to relax is what ails you, hops can help with that, too. Aromatherapy pillows with hops are another way to absorb the relaxation benefits.

Local hop grower Spanky’s Hops in Jamestown offers several products made with its locally grown harvest located on Old US 35 in Greene County. Eye pillows filled with hops and lavender that can help induce calm and sleeping are just one of many hop-infused offerings the farm promotes on its Facebook page.

Skin care

Hops are a valuable ingredient for natural skin care. They can be used for treating dry or stressed skin. Combining the healing ingredients of hops with exfoliating and moisturizing ingredients such as oatmeal and goat’s milk is a popular combination for these products.

“I have used the hops in my soaps—beer soap and goat milk soap,” says Dawn Goodwin, owner of the Maria Stein-based Goodwin Knoll Soap & Such. “Hops are said to be soothing to the skin and contain phenols that give it antibacterial properties.”

A true example of local partnership and collaboration, Goodwin’s soaps can be found on site at Moeller Brew Barn, a local brewery also located in Maria Stein, and are made from hops grown at Heartland Hops in nearby Fort Recovery. Varieties include oatmeal stout soap with oatmeal, hops, cocoa and coffee; India pale ale soap with hops; and black and tan oatmeal stout and goat’s milk soap with hops and oatmeal.

“I do add a little fragrance oil or essential oil to most of my soaps, but they are not overpowering,” says Goodwin. “A soft, gentle aroma is produced when the soaps are used.”

Spanky’s Hops also offers items such as hops and honey lip balm and soaps, as well as hops and lavender and oatmeal stout soaps.

The anti-inflammatory qualities found in hops can also reduce scarring. Salves made with hops can be used as wraps and applied to the skin to heal leg ulcers.

Disease prevention

Some of the newest and perhaps most exciting research shows early promise to what could end up being one of the greatest benefits that hops can offer.

“There’s some promising research about how it can be used to help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia,” says Andy Pax of Heartland Hops.

A research team from Lanzhou University in China found evidence to suggest that xanthohumol, a compound found in beer that is already known to have anti-inflammatory and other effects that could assist in some cancer treatments, may also be able to help protect the brain from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Xanthohumol is a rare natural compound only found in the flowers of hops, and the Chinese researchers believe that it can help guard against oxidative stress, a known contributing factor in slowing down the development of these types of neurogenerative diseases.

So even if you’re not a fan of hop-forward beers, perhaps this knowledge will turn you on to those glorious green cones for other reasons. “There are just so many possibilities with what hops can offer,” says Pax.

Hayley Fudge is one of Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geeks. An enthusiast of craft beer and the culture that surrounds it, Hayley aspires to share her love of beer with others by whipping up beer-infused cupcakes on the regular. Reach Hayley Fudge at HayleyFudge@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Hayley Fudge is one of Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geeks. An enthusiast of craft beer and the culture that surrounds it, Hayley aspires to share her love of beer with others by whipping up beer-infused cupcakes on the regular. Reach Hayley Fudge at HayleyFudge@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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