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Hop Oil: A Safe Sleep Aide

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Mercola.

If you’re familiar with the plant hop or hops, you’re probably aware that it provides beer with its bitter flavor, and added as a preservative.1 However, as an essential oil, it has several uses and offers a number of health benefits. Discover more about hop essential oil by reading the information below.
What Is Hop Oil?
Hop oil is steam-distilled from hop flowers. Also known as Humulus lupulus, hop is a perennial plant that produces vines from a permanent root stock or crown. From the root stock also grows underground stems called rhizomes. Attached to these are numerous buds which are used for vegetation.
Hops are dioecious,2 meaning they have separate male and female species. Male plants possess no commercial value, except to pollinate the female plant. The female produces the flowers required for the brewing of beer. It also has the plant’s therapeutic properties.
Hops belong to the same plant family as marijuana. Like hemp, hop stems were used for fiber to make cloth and paper. Across history, the hop plant was used as a sedative in the United States and Europe. When used therapeutically, hop oil also induces a sedative effect, as well as calming, antibacterial, and astringent characteristics.
Uses of Hop Oil
Hop flower oil isn’t only popular in breweries, but it has also gained much attention in aromatherapy because of its ability to treat several health conditions, specifically insomnia. In the past, the hop herb was used as a mild sedative and was placed inside a pillow. Referred to as a “hop pillow,” its scent helped people relax. Today, people who have difficulty sleeping can use three drops of the herbal oil in a diffuser.
The hop plant is also known worldwide because of its flowers that grow from its vines. Within the flowers’ petals are very fragrant resins that are responsible for hops’ fragrant spicy scent, making hop essential oil very valuable in perfumery. When mixed with other herbs, hop oil can be used in the reduction of fever and pain. It can also stimulate the appetite of those who are anorexic or are recovering from certain diseases.3
Composition of Hop Oil
Hop oil is harvested from the dried flower cones of the H. lupulus plant. Each of the cones has resin glands that come with a permeable membrane. The glands contain molecules, which include hop resin that is made of 250 chemical compounds, many of which are antioxidants.
Chemical constituents4 found in the essential oil of hop include myrcene, dipentene, carophyllene, humulone, linalool, and methyl nonyl ketone. The most important compound in the oil is myrcene, which is about 30 percent of the oil.5 It is a type of monoterpene, which are found in most essential oils and are most known for their antiseptic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.6
Benefits of Hop Oil
Hop essential oil is known to help ease sleeping problems by way of steam inhalation, baths, or aromatherapy techniques. Hop oil is often combined with valerian root oil in order to treat insomnia and anxiety. In fact, studies have proven the efficacy of the hops-valerian combination as a remedy for sleep disturbances.7
One study published in the journal Sleep8showed mild sleep-inducing effects from the combined mixture of valerian root and hops relative to placebo. Improvement in sleep was found and was associated with better quality of life. The study also suggests that the blend could be used against mild cases of insomnia.
Another study9 helped explain the beneficial effects of the plants’ impact to sleep. Valerian helps support sleep with its adenosine-like function, while hops had properties similar to melatonin, which helps regulate sleep. Hop flower oil contains the chemical compound dimethylvinyl carbinol, which may help relax your nervous system. The plant oil can also help heal health conditions like tuberculosis, cancer, cystitis, digestive problems, and menstrual issues.10
How to Make Hop Oil
The volatile oil of the hop plant is obtained through steam distillation from the dried membranous cones of the female plants. The product is a light yellow to greenish-yellow liquid, with an aromatic scent.
How Does Hop Oil Work?
You may experience the benefits of hop oil in a number of ways. You may use it in a bath or through steam inhalation. It also blends well with citrus oils, and nutmeg and pine oils.
Exercise caution when using this essential oil. Exposure to air for long periods can cause the oil to form resins, which can affect the fragrance and efficacy of the oil. Proper storage of hop oil can help avoid this and retain stability for up to a year. Store it in a tightly capped glass container, in a cool, dark place.11
Is Hop Oil Safe?
Studies have shown that hop essential oil possesses estrogenic activity, which suggest that it’s beneficial for some women who are dealing with menstruation pains and menopause. The phytoestrogens daidzein and genistein have been detected in hop essential oil but in very low amounts. The compounds imitate the natural female hormone, estradiol.
These two phytoestrogens also appear in soy, although in larger concentrations. High exposure to these compounds may disrupt endocrine function, which may increase your risk of estrogen-related cancers and diseases.12 I suggest erring on the side of caution when using hop essential oil.
Because it has sedative and narcotic properties, people suffering from depression or are taking sedatives should avoid hop oil. If you’re having sleep problems, it’s best to consult your physician before trying hop oil. Pregnant and nursing women should also seek the advice of a doctor or an experienced aromatherapist before using hop oil, while children should be kept away. Hop oil is also toxic to dogs and should be kept away from them.13
Hop Oil Side Effects
While hop oil is considered non-toxic and non-irritant, it may still cause sensitizations in certain people. Like other essential oils, it should not be used without dilution. Blend it with a carrier oil like coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil. Afterward, you can check for any adverse effects through a skin test, or by simply applying a drop of hop oil on a small area of your skin.
Despite the many benefits of hop oil, it is always wise to use it, as well as other essential oils, with the guidance of an experienced aromatherapy practitioner or with the advice of your doctor.

 Sources and References

1 Gritman Essential Oils, Hops Essential Oil
2 Freshops.com, Hop Gardening
3 Jeanne Rose, The Aromatherapy Book: Applications and Inhalations, p.102
4 George A. Burdock, Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, Fifth Edition, p.842
5 H. Panda, Essential Oils Handbook, p.349
6 Beneforce.com, Myrcene Information
7 Sleep Passport, Hops: Great Herbs for Beer. Good Herbs for Sleep
8 Sleep, November 2005;28(1):1465-71
9 Wien Med Wochenschr, 2007;157(13-14):367-70
10 Essential Oil Exchange, October 5, 2011
11 Camden-Grey Essential Oils, Hops Flower Essential Oil
12 Mercola.com, August 4, 2009
13 Healthy-healing-oils.com, Hops Flower Oil

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