Effectiveness of Hops on Influenza
Updated: Oct 3
How todays Medical Researchers are providing scientific evidence of the effectiveness of Hops (Humulus lupulus) as a Traditional Medicine for Influenza.
In the spring of 2020 as Covid-19 spread around the globe, doctors and researchers scrambled to find drugs to combat this pandemic threat. The National Institutes of Health in the United States chose to publish on their website a research lead by the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Sapienza University of Rome, regarding Hops and their effect on influenza viruses. Antiviral and Antioxidant Activity of a Hydroalcoholic Extract from Humulus lupulus L. was originally published in the Journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in July of 2018. The conclusion of this research “Hop extract significantly inhibited replication of various viral strains at different time from infection…..Viral replication was partly inhibited …suggesting a direct effect on the virions….highlighted anti-influenza and antioxidant properties of Hop extract”.
Was this ground- breaking research? Was this something new and potentially important to human health?
It was in fact, research that corroborated what our ancestors had known for centuries. But it was only one of more than 100 research papers written on the medicinal properties of hops over the last 10 years.
Japanese use of hops for influenza
A scientific research team, that included members of the Research Institute for Microbial Diseases at Osaka University, found that the use of hops for influenza viruses, supported the Japanese Traditional Medicinal use. The findings were published in The Japanese Society for Clinical Molecular Morphology 2013. “These findings suggest that humulone (Hops) has protective effects against the replication of the virus assembly and the inflammatory responses … and that it is a useful biological product for the prevention and therapy for RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus )infection .”
Doctors in Europe in the 19th century, noted at the height of the Tuberculosis epidemic, 1 in 4 people were contracting TB. However, only 1 in 10 brewery workers and hop farmers were getting Tuberculosis. By 1930, clinical research involving the inhalation of hop lupulin (pollen) into the lungs of TB patients began. However, the discovery of anti-biotics stopped this research.
The North American Indian Tribes have been using hops as a Traditional Medicine for influenza for centuries. They passed their knowledge down through oral history; therefore, no written historical records exist. However, historians today, have included chapters on the use of hops by North American Indians for medicinal use. In The Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World (Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield, 2003) and author Daniel Moerman’s “Native American Ethnobotony” , the Mohegans, Dakota , Cherokee, and Delaware tribes used hops for pain relief, fever, and earaches. The Navajo specifically used it for the treatment of influenza, calling it “Big Medicine”.
Europeans will joke about getting over the flu with a pint of beer, and The WHO (World Health Organization) Monograph on Hops lists them as anti-microbial, effective as an analgesic (pain relief) sore throats and fever.
How did our ancestors prepare and apply the hops as Medicine?
The 1862 Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America describes two methods of preparation of hops for Medicinal use by our ancestors.
Infusion tea: Infusion tea was a process of extracting the essential oils, (containing medicinal compounds), by boiling water, adding the hops and waiting for a period of time for the oils to float to the top. The uppermost liquid was used as an infusion tea, taken 30 -60 minutes before bed for insomnia. For infections (such as influenza) you prepared a very small amount of infusion tea every 3 hours, taken over the course of a week until symptoms subsided.
Hop Compress: A hop compress is a cloth soaked in infusion tea and applied to the area. This method was used topically for ear infection pain and by North American Indians for skin infections, earaches, swelling and bruising. As a remedy for toothache, they would soak a cloth in infusion tea, and bite on the cloth at the location of the infected tooth.
Doctors and Pharmacists in the 19th century classified hops for use as a traditional medicine by degrees of effectiveness. A Number #1 hop for medicine was within 1 month of harvest and was classified as the most effective. After a couple of months, the hop was then downgraded to #2, and a few months later it was downgraded to a #3. The Doctors and Pharmacists realized the effectiveness of the hops wore off over time. It was not until 2010, with ground-breaking research by the University of Oregon, (Schellhammer, 2010) that showed the essential oils in the hops were volatile and were affected by numerous factors, especially oxygen and light ,and degraded quickly if not protected properly. Our ancestors may not have had the technical scientific research we have today to prove their grading system, but they had clinical patient skills, that recognized the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the hops in their patients over time.
Personal experience with Hops and Influenza
As a hop farmer, I undertook a significant amount of research into the uses of hops as medicine by our ancestors, and to understand the link between food as medicine.
In the winter of 2019, the seasonal flu was hitting our area. I was skeptical, of the historic use of hops for influenza, but decided to give it a try. I contracted the flu after babysitting my 1-year old sick granddaughter. I was so congested I could not open my one eye and began to get worse.
As a hop farmer I know and understand the different varieties of hops and their oil profiles. I chose a hop we grow, that was around when our ancestors were using hops for medicine. I prepared the infusion tea with a modern version concentrated form, (based on our quality processing system) versus what the old pharmacists and apothecaries had on hand. On our farm, we deploy the method for farming and processing hops to preserve the essential oils recommended by the research team at the University of Oregon.
I boiled 1/3 cup of water in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until it came to a rapid boil. I dropped 4 pellets (aprox. 1 teaspoon) of our 1862 Ancestral Hop Infusion Tea, and stirred it vigorously. This releases the oils and lupulin and separates it away from the plant material. I did not drink or eat anything 30 minutes before taking the tea, or 30 minutes after. I let the tea cool down to lukewarm, and then gently poured off 1 – 2 tablespoons of the upper liquid tea and swallowed it. By using the glass measuring cup you can see the separation happen and pour off just the top most infusion tea that contains the essential oils. I did not mix anything with it like honey or sugar. The oil must come in contact with the throat and using another substance may affect that contact. I immediately felt the oil coating my throat. Within 20 minutes my sinuses had completely cleared, my eye opened, and my fever had come down. Needless to say, I was shocked.
Through experimentation, I concurred with our ancestor’s methods, that I needed to take it every 3 hours 4 times a day, to keep all symptoms at bay. I also learned you cannot make it ahead of time, as it will not work. It must be made immediately before taking. I also learned that I had to take it for a minimum of 4 days before reducing the amount per day. I felt so good after 24 hours, I stopped taking it. Big mistake, as the symptoms came rushing back. I will never forget it, as I was at a conference, and had to leave quickly to get home to the tea.
Based on recent scientific research, hop compounds “suppress several crucial steps in viral replication” (Wang and others 2004). Both the Japanese research and the research posted by the National Institutes of Health mentioned earlier, support my own experience that the hops are disrupting the reproduction of the virus, and the 3 hour interval is necessary to continue the action of the hops on the reproduction of the virus in the nasal passages. It is my theory, based on my experience, this gives our bodies own immune response time to kick into action and finish the job. My symptoms were gone by day 5. During the 5-day period, if I continued the 4 times/day regime, I had minimal physical symptoms. Nasal Congestion stopped, sore throat stopped, the fever was gone, and I was able to sleep comfortably all night without congestion.
I provided the same hop tea to a few other people who were suffering from the flu as well. When they followed the Infusion tea instructions, they all had the same experience I did. One participant said, “It is unethical not to have this available to people”.
Are Brewing Hops the same as Infusion Tea hops?
Today there are over 170 different varieties of hops for brewing beer. More than 60% are newly bred hops developed for the Craft Brewing industry within the last 10 years and bred for flavor. Most Hop growing for the beer industry is done on a large commercial scale, with the average sized farm in the USA exceeding 1000 acres. As a small family owned farm, we follow the method of farming and processing of hops, developed by the University of Oregon, to protect the critical and volatile essential oils. This requires a huge investment in time, specific temperatures, and specialized packaging. Large corporate hop farms, devoted to the brewing industry, have found this method impractical on a large scale. We believe our 1862 Ancestral Hop Infusion Tea is unique and provides choice for those looking for what our ancestors used.
There was a time in human history when the farmer and the pharmacist / doctor, worked together to provide effective herbal remedies for many illnesses. Today the news is full of fear about COVID-19, and the arrival of the seasonal flu. Governments are panicking about the strain on the Health care system. They are begging all of us to get seasonal flu shots while we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to be approved.
We have provided this information in the hopes that you have found this blog informative and enlightening, as to how our ancestors used hops as a Traditional Medicine to manage influenza and my own experience using them, for this purpose.