Hops and the Essential Oil they Produce
Hops are the flowers of the hop plant Humulus lupulus.
They are used primarily as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent in beer. In addition to the bitterness, the hops give a floral, fruity or citrus flavor and aroma.
Hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine.
What are hops?
Hops are a perennial climbing vine extensively cultivated worldwide. Male and female flowers are located on separate plants. The cone-shaped fruits (known as strobiles) are collected in the fall and carefully dried. They are a member of the Cannabaceae (marijuana) family.
Hops have been used for centuries to flavor and preserve beer. The bitter, aromatic taste of beer is mostly due to its hops content. Hops extracts are also used for other flavoring purposes in the food industry.
There have been various benefits associated with hops
One is as a sedative. Over the years, hops pickers have reported sedation effects during the harvest season. While there are no clinical studies to support this, hop flowers have been added to pillows for stress and hops have been taken in combination with valerian in sleep aids.
Another benefit are the estrogenic effects observed in the evaluation of hops extract for the treatment of menstrual symptoms.
The bitter acids in hops have antibacterial and antifungal activity important for the preservative function of hops in beer.
Hops can also be used in powdered form, steeped for a tea as well as a variety of other preparations for their health benefits.
Hops as an essential oil
The essential oil that can be extracted from hops is said to be a valuable commodity.
The oil is popular for use in aromatherapy but should be used with care as it has been found to cause irritation when used in large quantities.
How hops essential oil is used in aromatherapy
When used in aromatherapy, the essential oil from hops is said to have other health uses including:
- As a pain killer. The general sedative quality for which hops essential oil is well know is also why it is commonly used by people suffering from anxiety and mood swings, helping to settle the mind and calm the body.
- As a stress reliever. Again, that previously mentioned sedative property would work to relieve stress too.
- Improving sleep. Hops essential oil can be diffused while sleeping to help with sleep problems. Other ways are by steam inhalation or baths. We all want to wake up feeling refreshed and energized.
- Soothing menstrual pains. It is those sedative qualities that loosen the muscles and reduce pain during menstruation.
- Reducing respiratory problems. While inflammation and irritation are the most common reasons for respiratory distress, using aromatherapy with hops essential oil can help to soothe those irritated parts of the respiratory tract to reduce inflammation and in turn any coughing and congestion.
Relieving headaches. Hops essential oil will work to relieve tension and headaches. Its relaxing effects can loosen even the tightest muscles in the shoulders and neck, while also easing any anxiety, allowing for peaceful, headache-free days following a night of aromatic diffusion.
How aromatherapy works
The sense of smell is the most primitive of all our senses, linking to some of the deepest recesses of the brain. Breathing in the aromas of essential oils, can trigger emotional and even physical responses. They travel to the top of the nose, coming into contact with the olfactory cells which have tiny hairs which recognize a specific aroma through the "lock and key" process meaning that each hair will only recognize a specific aroma. Scientists believe that the activity of the nerve signal passing through this region causes mood change by altering brain chemistry.
Aromatherapy also works through the inhalation of the essential oils which are then absorbed. This is especially effective within the respiratory system as their antibacterial and antiviral properties make them ideal for maintaining a healthy respiratory system. This includes the sinuses, throat and chest and also to help relieve symptoms of infections and allergies.
Absorption through the skin is the third method of aromatherapy. The molecules in the essential oils are small enough to allow them to penetrate through the skin, travelling through the epidermis to reach the dermis where the blood vessels allow them to circulate throughout the body.
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