The family name Humulus, coined in the middle ages, is said to derive from the Slavic word chmele (hops) or from the old Germanic Humel or Humela (fruit-bearing). The speculation that the name comes from the Latin humus (earth) is improbable. The species name lupulus is the diminutive of lupus (wolf), which refers to the mistaken idea that the hop bine (creeper) strangles plants. The origin of the English name hop is unsure, but maybe traces through the Norwegian hupp, which means «tassle» or «tuft», or comes from the Anglo-Saxon hoppan (to climb).
The hop was known in antiquity, but does not appear to have been used either as a medication nor as an ingredient in producing beer. The 8th-century Arab physician Mesuë praised the syrup as a good medication for bilious fever and to purify the blood. It subsequently appeared in the herbal books of the middle ages. Lonicerus writes: «The water mornings and evenings, each time drunk on three Loth, and its drink mixed therewith, for three or four weeks, purifies the blood and drives out melancholy, which causes scabiousness, impetigo, manginess, leprosy, and all that comes of impure blood. The water, drunk, opens the constipation of the spleen, drives off stabbing pains, and all illnesses arising from or caused by a constipated spleen.» The physician Bohn wrote at the beginning of this century: «Hops have a strong diuretic effect and can be used to combat the uric constitution. Hops is considered a calming substance.»
The hop is a 4 to 8-meter-long climbing plant that likes to twine up hedges, fences, and the edges of forests. In spring, annual, thin, rough stalks with anchor-like, astonishingly adhesive reflexed hairs rise from the branchy perennial rootstock. In contrast to most European climbing plants, the hop twists in a clockwise direction. The broad, cordate, three- to seven-lobed leaves are sharply dentate and opposing. The hop is dioecious, i.e. there are male and female plants. The male flowers form loose axillary, hanging panicles with whitish-green, five-tipped bracts. They are not planted, because they do not develop lupulin glands. The female plants form cone-shaped catkins, small, oval infructescences composed of yellowish-green scales. The interior surface of the scale bears small, yellowish-reddish glands that give the hop its characteristic bitter taste. The hop pollinates by wind.
The hop flowers from July to August.
The hop originated in eastern Europe and western Asia. It loves deep, nutrient-rich soils and sites protected from the wind at the edges of forests, fences, and hedges at altitudes up to 1000 meters. In Europe, hops have been cultivated since the end of the Merovingian culture (ca. 3rd to 8th centuries), when beer supplanted mead. Today, hops are cultivated on high poles or wires in large hops gardens in many countries with moderate climates.
A.Vogel/Bioforce uses the alcohol extract from fresh hop catkins gathered in August from conventional cultivation.
Hops were once eaten like asparagus. Today, hop catkins are mostly used in brewing beer. They give beer its characteristically bitter, hearty, and aromatic flavor. Hops also help keep beer from spoiling, since the hop bitter acids destroy gram-positive bacteria.
Dried hop catkins are stuffed in sleep-promoting pillows and are often an ingredient in tea mixtures. But hops must not be kept longer than a year or they lose their potency. The hop glands (lupulin) are also used medically.