The hops or the hop plant bears the name Humulus lupulus L. in botanical circles. This perennial plant belongs to the plant family Cannabidaceae. The plant is a climbing vine, which gives out scaly and cone shaped fruits called hops from which the name for the whole plant is drawn. The hops or the fruit of the plant is botanically termed a strobile, the fruit bears numerous glandular hairs on the surface, these hairs possess a resinous bitter principle, the reason for the extensive utilization of the hops in processes such as brewing and in herbal medicine.
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Primarily a temperate European plant, extensive and large scale cultivation of the hops takes place in places like the Czech Republic, Poland, England and Germany in Europe, as well as in the United States and South America, and in places such as Australia. Harvesting and collection of the hops is normally carried out during the month of September when the fruits ripen and following a drying process, these are marketed and used mainly in the brewing industry. The medicinal and tonic properties of the hops was also apparently known to traditional herbalist even if the primary use of the hops has been in the manufacture of beer, with which it has been associated for close to a 1,000 years now - the hops has been valued for its bitter taste and preservative action. Early on in Europe, tradition holds that people who plucked the hops fruit seemed to tire out easily, this was probably due to the accidental transfer of some of the hop resin in the hands to the mouths of the workers - this sedative action of the herb was the reason for its use in herbal medication, and a sedative action has traditionally been associated with the hops. Traditionally, herbalist treated sleeplessness and other nervous conditions in patients by making them use pillows stuffed with the dried hops. The hops was also associated with an ability to reduce inflammation in the body, thus a small bag of hops soaked in alcohol and placed after heating on an afflicted area, is said to lead to a reduction in the localized inflammation affecting the area. At the same time, herbal tonics made from the aqueous extracts of hops using boiling water have also been traditionally used in Europe.
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The resin in the hops has been found to contain chemically unstable polyphenolic principles, particularly the compounds known as humulone and lupulone. The presence of these compounds or the presence of their closely related chemical conversion products in the hops is the reason for the plant's bitter and bacteriostatic properties - these agents are also responsible for the distinct flavor and aroma of the hops. Different types and varieties of the hops plant tend to differ in the content of these chemical compounds, at the same time, these chemical compounds are not stable in the presence of air and light and are thus difficult to extract. This can be seen in real time, as demonstrated during a study only about 15 percent of the original chemical activity in the hops was seen in a batch of hops following nine months of storage. The so called sedative action of hops seem to be merely imaginative and superstitious as the earlier studies on the hops specific to this property failed to identify any particular sedative principles in the plant - thus the use of the hops in the form of a pillow seemed to be mere superstition held during medieval times. The presence of a volatile alcoholic compound, known as 2-methyl-3-butene-2-ol (dimethylvinyl carbinol), has recently been isolated from the hops - this compound is believed to form some part of the plant's sedative properties - though requiring further studies. Fresh hops has very little of the alcohol and only small amounts can be detected in any single fruit, however the concentration of this alcohol seems to increase when the hops is subjected to drying and this volume reaches a maximum value within a two-year period at about 0.15 percent of the total volume - thus the sedative action of the hops may not be superstition at all.
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In the earliest herbal medical system, the hops was only an occasional ingredient, and all the health benefits traditionally alluded to the plant is very similar to how we understand and use them at this present time.
Remedies made from the hops plant is very effective in the treatment of tension especially when it is blended with other healing herbs, such blends are also used for treating headaches. Such herbal blends containing hops must not be used if depression is a symptom. The treatment of certain types of asthma conditions and even painful menstrual symptoms can be carried out using hops as its anti-spasmodic action is very effective in such cases.
Clinical use of the alcoholic hop extracts in different dosage forms has also been used by doctors in the People's Republic of China, in treating different forms of diseases such as leprosy, problems like pulmonary tuberculosis as well as acute bacterial dysentery with varying results. The presence of a couple of antibiotic bitter acids, called lupulon and humulon in the herb may be the reason for the partial effectiveness of such treatments. These two compounds are known to kill certain strains of Gram positive and acid-fast bacteria, example, the staphylococcus strain. The infections from staphylococcus is evident in cases of suppurating wounds, in cases of runny sores, and all manners of abscesses, some types of boils as well as osteomyelitis - which is the presence of inflammation in the bone marrow of people.
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A strong hops extract can be made by combining about one and one fourth of a cup of cut fresh hops, in about two and a half cups of good quality vodka or imported Russian vodka - a good brand of brandy may also be used if vodka is not available. The mixture can then be placed in a bottle sealed with a tight lid or a piece of cork. This bottle must be shaken every day to let the herb infuse into the alcohol; give the herb two weeks to infuse well into the alcohol. After two weeks are past, allow the herbs in the bottle to settle down and then pour off the tincture, slowly straining infusion using a clean muslin cloth or perhaps some fine filter paper of good quality. Doses of two tablespoonfuls taken each day orally while fasting can greatly aid in fighting off internal infection in the stomach of patients. This infusion can also be used as a topical treatment and the infusion can then be applied directly using some cotton on areas of the skin affected by bedsores in hospital-induced staph. The rapid healing of wounds can also be accomplished by using the remedy in a dressing by applying it on the wounds using clean strips of gauze saturated in the tincture.
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For treatment of problems with dandruff, the remedy can be rubbed into the scalp after scrubbing the hair with a strong detergent following a thorough rinsing of the hair using plain water - this treatment will aid in the prevention and control of dandruff and flaky skin in the scalp. The best preventive measure against dandruff and the quickest and easiest way is to rinse the hair well each day using a can of beer per wash. This is a very good remedy, and all brands of beer can be used for the purpose. In experiments with nervous patients, the hops has been clinically seen to induce a very strong sedative action over the person, in this role insomniacs on hops extracts were also able to get a good night's sleep during tests. To make this sedative extract of the hops, boil two pints of water as an initial step. To the boiling water, can be added a heaping tbsp. of hops and the same amount of chopped valerian root, the boiling pot must then be covered and the heat on the stove reduced. The herbal mixture must be simmered in the water for five minutes and then removed from the flame, after which the herbs must be allowed to steep for an additional forty five minutes in the water. To help bring relaxation to the body, use the infusion sweetened using a little bit of pure maple syrup, doses of one and a half cups of the infusion can be taken by patients at a time. Hops tends to lose its sedative properties relatively quickly especially when it is stored, for this reason, the herb must be used immediately after it is freshly plucked or as soon as possible and immediately after having been dried or cut up - this applies only when the sedative action is needed.
Traditionally, hop filled pillows were used for inducing sleep; this indicates an old knowledge of the supposed sedative action of hops in the herbal lore. In traditional herbal practice, the hops was believed to be helpful in relieving muscle tension as well as anxiety, it was believed to be helpful in soothing pain, and in quieting restlessness as well as mental agitation of patients. Hops also aids in reducing tension along affected muscles in the body due to its strong anti-spasmodic actions, this effectively relieves muscular spasms and cases of colic in the gut. This action also ensures hops is an excellent remedy for cases of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, problems like diverticulitis, problems like nervous indigestion, along with problems such as peptic ulcers, problems like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and other kinds of stress related digestive problems affecting patients. In addition, digestive action in the body is aided by the bitter principles present in the hops, these enhance the action of the liver and aid in the secretion of bile as well as other digestive juices in the body of the patient. Hops based compounds called tannins also aid in the quick healing of irritated inflammatory conditions of many types and can treat diarrhea. The strong antiseptic action of the hops also relieves infections in the body. Hops also possess very strong estrogenic action, which makes it an excellent remedy for all sorts of problems in the body connected with menopause in women. Painful and suppressed menstrual periods can also be treated using the hops based medications. The elimination of toxins from the system is effected by the asparagin content in hops and this compound is a soothing diuretic, aiding in the reduction of fluid retention. The combination of this property of affecting the liver and its ability to cleanse toxins has ensured hops have a reputation as a cleanser of skin problems of all kinds. The anti-histamine action and relaxant functions of the hops is also very useful in cases of skin problems. Creams containing the hops are used to keep the skin soft and supple and are used in the role of wrinkle delaying lotions. Hops also have a strong antiseptic action and this is effective in treating cuts, all sorts of skin wounds and ulcers on the body.
Hops can be used in the same way as asparagus - the young shoots can be served and prepared for different types of meals. Hops shoots must be prepared by boiling for two to three minutes in some water; ideal length of shoots for the table is five to ten cm long - two to four inches in length. After boiling for two to three minutes, the water is normally changed and the spears are then steamed till they become tender. These cooked hops shoots can be served with some melted butter or a cheese sauce as dinner or lunch. The blanched hop spears (young shoots) are served as a delicacy in many of the hop growing European countries.
Beer is seasoned with hops and the plant is an essential ingredient in the brewing of beer. Hops are always added to beer, regardless of it being brewed at home or in any commercial breweries. The bitterness in beer is in fact, the resin in the hops cone's lupulin glands.
Oil and other organic compounds extracted from the hops are used in many commercial products, it is used to flavor yeast, to flavor candy, to spice up ice creams and puddings, as well as to flavor gelatins, baked goods, different types of chewing gums, different kinds of confectionery items as well as condiments of all kinds.
Wreaths and garlands in Europe often include the dried cones in the decorative motif.
The hops plant is native to Europe and is also found indigenously in some parts of western Asia. In places where it grows in the wild, the hops tend to flourish along waste dumps and on the roadside wastelands. The hops are cultivated along much of northern Europe on a large commercial basis for use in the brewing industry. The main product are the flowers from the female plant, called strobiles, which are harvested in the early autumn and then subjected to drying at a low temperature for later use in the brewing industry.
Deep, humus rich and well drained soils or very deep and sandy or gravelly loam soils are ideal for the growth and cultivation of hops. The pH range from 6.5 to 7.0 is recommended for ideal growth of the hops. Hops plants tend to grow well and prefer well light places with abundant sunlight, though the hops can tolerate light shade. The growth of the hops vines grow ensures that the leaves of the plant receive as much light as possible for optimum growth and maturity. The plants must be well watered during the entire length of the growing season for maximum growth. In the cultivation of the hop, plants are generally propagated using the root cuttings which produces female flowers - even though it is also possible to use seeds for cultivation of the plant. A sturdy wooden trellis needs to be provided to the growing plants for the vines to climb and grow. During the early summer, the twining stems may need to be trained by hand to establish the direction of growth.
The hops are very vulnerable to many destructive plant viruses as well as several fungal plant diseases. The downy mildew in particular. Hops is also susceptible to attacks from plant eating spider mites and other insects like the flea beetles, the vine borers, and plant juice sucking aphid species. Insecticides and pesticides may need to be sprayed to control the disease and insects whenever necessary. If the infection from some types of fungus and viruses is too severe, the entire batch of plants may need to be destroyed and it may be necessary to start all over again in another location with different batch of plants.
The hop plants are resistant to cold temperatures and plants can survive through cold weather, a dormant period initiated by frost may be needed by some plants in order for them to resume full growth during the winter season. Winterkill is avoided in the very cold regions of northern Europe by a good snow cover on the plants.
The digestive system is strongly and effectively stimulated by the bitter principles present in the hops, these bitters tend to increase the gastric and other secretions in the stomach of a person. While there is no full knowledge of how they function, it is known that some of the other organic constituents of the hops, including the valerianic acid have a sedative action on the body. The compounds lupulon and humulon are also known to have an antiseptic action.
An estrogenic effect is also attributed to the hops, in addition, the hops aids in relaxing smooth muscles in the body. Central nervous activity is also believed to be depressed by some of the isolated constituents present in the hops.
The sedative and hypnotic effects of the alcoholic extract of hops was verified during the course of mobility tests in rats and the presence of pharmacologically active concentrations of these compounds was detected in the freshly prepared hop teas during laboratory tests. Folk lore based remedial properties of the hops is still to be verified and though studies thus far have not come up with an explanation of supposed salutary effects of the hops, they do supply - at least part of their tranquilizing action detected in the hops extract can be said to confirm traditional belief associated with the hops. The rest of the traditionally held benefits of hops will probably be supported as the results of continuing clinical investigations come out - hopefully for the larger benefit of humankind and medicine. These studies will need to put the benefits of hops in a clinically significant light and on a reasonable certainty of its efficacy and safety. almost all clinically significant hops usage that are being done now, depend on current controlled clinical studies, for example, hops at a dose of 0.5 g dried hops or the equivalent volume hops extract is permitted to be labeled and given "for discomfort due to restlessness or anxiety and sleep disturbances"- with future research, hops remedies will hopefully be sold in a standard dose. Botanically speaking, hops is related to the marijuana, for this reason, some clinical writers suggest smoking the plant material to help induce a state of mild euphoria. Smoking the hops is not recommended, as similar to other types of smoke unpleasant side effects are frequently experienced, and the safety associated with smoking hops or smoking itself is questionable and unhealthy.
An herbal tea can be prepared from the dried hops fruits pouring 150 ml water to over one to two teaspoons of the powdered dried hops fruit in a pot. The dried hops fruit must be allowed to steep into the water for 10 - 15 minutes before it is ready for drinking by the patient. The hops based herbal tinctures can be used at doses of 1-2 ml taken two or three times daily during the treatment regimen. Thrice or twice daily, supplements of the tablet or capsule form can also be taken - these supplements are typically 500-1,000 mg per dose. Combination herbal remedies, using mixtures of the hops with other herbs are common; typically herbal sedatives like the valerian, the passion flower, and the skullcap are used in such mixed herbal preparations.
There exists no known or verified contraindications for the use of hops with other medications and the herb is generally considered to be very safe. At the same time, some reports indicate that a few persons may experience allergic skin rash following the handling of dried hops flowers - pollen sensitivity may be the cause of such allergic reactions. At the same time, pregnant women must avoid using large doses of hops as the herb has an anti-contractive effect if taken in excessive amounts.
Hops cones are harvested late in the summer or early in the fall when the cones ripen. The ripened cones take on a bronze coloring and are slightly open at one side. When stored too long at room temperature, hops lose its property and effectiveness, while also producing a bad smelling chemical, called valeric acid signaling spoilage. All storage of commercial hops is carried out under cold conditions, a refrigerator can also be used for this purpose, the hops must be protected from excessive exposure to atmospheric oxygen in the air. If you plan to store hops for periods of months, refrigeration is a very good idea. Place well dried and fresh hops in a plastic bag, in order to minimize exposure to oxygen. As much air as possible must be squeezed out of the bag before it is sealed, while crushing the hops in the process must be avoided - this is the best method of storing hops for the long term. For craft uses, harvesting the cones must be done while the hops cones are still light green in color and in a raw state. This is because, ripened cones tend to crumble up and are difficult to preserve for such uses.
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