Common Hop – Humulus Lupulus: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Not Just Beer of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

Common hops isn’t that common here, but you may find this edible and surprisingly medicinal plant near where old timers booze stills were hidden.

Around Haliburton you may find hops randomly on a dry gravelly roadside. Where I tend to find it is on old farmsteads that were once home brewing. It’s still uncommon here, despite how many stills we must have had back in the day.

27 Mil years ago it was the same plant as cannabis. I can kind of see it in the leaves serration.

Common Hop – Humulus Lupulus
Common Hop – Humulus Lupulus

Here’s ironwood “hops hornbeam” for comparison. It has similar hop-ish catkins (called strobiles in hops case), but ironwood is a tree (a wonderful native tree at that):

Hops hornbeam

Edible Uses of Common Hop

Bitter tasting hops have been an ale flavoring and preservative for over 1000 years. It prevents gram negative bacteria in beer. Honey and bitter herbs were malted into ales before hops became popular. It was hops that brought about the bier or beer.

Boiled hops doesn’t just flavor drinks, but can be used for about anything from potatoes to cake! I read an account of a lady baking a cake on a layer of hops and the rich hop flavor permeated the cake.

It’s not just the young flowers that can be used. The tender spring shoots can be prepared like asparagus and used raw in salads. The immature leaves are also edible.

Medicinal Uses of Common Hop

Common hop is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Nervous
  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags include Anodyne, Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic, Nervine, and Sedative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a tea for insomnia. Fresh cones are gathered before fully ripe, around early autumn. They don’t store well. For its calming effect, it’s often combined with chamomile, passionflower, valerian, etc., as a tea for nerves, nervous diarrhea, and restlessness. Like valerian, avoid excessive doses or prolonged use. Alternating between your nervine teas is recommended.

Hops pillows are a popular vintage craft. It’s just a pillow filled with hops, sprinkled with alcohol to bring out the active principle. Other calming herbs, like lavender, can be added.

There is some advice out there that folks on antidepressant medications should avoid hops. There are also studies on hops helping depression. So definitely talk to your healthcare provider if depression is a health factor.

Hops may also stimulate the appetite, like another plant in the same family – cannabis.

Hops contains the phytoestrogen 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN), so it may be useful in menopause and other uterus related situations.

I feel like this is getting long! It’s also used in some pain relieving herbal combos, for conditions like chronic cholecystitis, and as a pain reducing poultice. The list doesn’t end there, but these were the most promising of hops medicinal activity.

Common Hop – Humulus Lupulus
Common Hop – Humulus Lupulus

Alternative Uses of Hops

Hop is a lesser version of hemp when it comes to fiber.

You can obtain a brown dye from the leaves and flowerheads.

The essential oil used for its scent.

Growing Humulus Lupulus

Hop here is an escapee from cultivation. For the fiber only female plants are grown. For flowering you need male and female plants. It can be propagated from root cuttings. The sad news is it’s not native, and since stored hops quickly lose their potency growing it may not be the best way to source it anyway.

Like the native American bittersweet, hops can strangle other plants. It’s aggressive and needs a lot of space. Check out last weeks feature on American bittersweet for native vine suggestions.


Don’t use when depressed or on antidepressants, at least without talking to your doctor first.

Contact dermatitis from the pollen or oil is fairly common. According to Wiki as many as 1 in 30 people are sensitive.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

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