Podcast 165: Does Hops Cause Depression?
Recently it seems like there’s been a proliferation of hop-flavored beverages on the market. Not just beer, but also sodas, fizzy waters, and other gently bitter elixirs are competing for attention with kombucha and fancy herbal infusions. This seems like a good thing to us – more people getting some bitters in their lives couldn’t hurt! But it also brought to mind this week’s topic: a common warning herbalists make, that there’s potential for cases where hops cause depression, or worsen it.
This can absolutely be true in some cases, and we ourselves regularly pass on this caution! But as with most things in herbalism, it’s not so cut-and-dried as it seems at first. In this episode we’ll discuss historical and contemporary info sources on the subject, and try to get a more nuanced perspective. In certain situations, the cold and sedative nature of hops does make it contraindicated for depression. But in others, the term ‘depression’ is used as a catch-all for a variety of mental states, some of which hops can improve.
So does hops cause depression? It depends on the context! But a good grounding in herbal energetics helps us see through the superficiality and understand which situations are which.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Herbal Tinctures in Clinical Practice, Michael Moore
- Hops, Henriette Kress
- Humulus lupulus, Marisa Marciano
- Hops, Richard Whelan
- Hops in A Modern Herbal (1931), Maude Grieve
- Humulus in The Eclectic Materia Medica (1922), Harvey Wickes Felter
- Humulus (U.S.P.) – Hops in King’s American Dispensatory (1898), Felter & Lloyd
- Effects of a hops (Humulus lupulus L.) dry extract supplement on self-reported depression, anxiety and stress levels in apparently healthy young adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot study, Kyrou et al (Hormones 2017, 16(2):171-180)
- Assessment report on Humulus lupulus L., flos (2014), European Medicines Agency, Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products
- The Holistic Herbalism Podcast, Episode 101: How Herbs Are Different From Drugs
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Hi. I’m Ryn, here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts, and on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. As I’ve been finding myself in grocery stores and other such places, I’ve been seeing a lot of hoppy things out there lately. By that, I mean, things like hopped cider, hop soda, hop water, a whole bunch of different things where people are working with hops in unusual formats. Certainly here in the U.S. people have had hoppy beers for a long time. And herbalists have worked with hops as an herb to help people sleep and to relieve pain and for digestive issues and for a bunch of other things as well. But it’s been intriguing to me lately to see this kind of shift towards some hop-based beverages. It seems good to me, you know. Get people to have a little more bitter in their life. That’s probably a good thing. So, it’s kind of interesting, but it did bring to mind something that I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while. I had actually sketched out most of this material over a year ago, and just kind of have been sitting on it ever since. So, I thought today would be a good time to chat about it.
So, this week what I’m going to be discussing is actually a contra-indication attached to working with hops as an herb. Namely the warning that the herb may induce or worsen depression. This is a common warning that you’ll actually find in most contemporary write-ups or monographs about hops, including our own. You know, in our material medica course we mentioned this caution as well when discussing hops. So yes, I, we, Katja and I, we do regard this as a real issue. But as we’ll see today, this also, as we investigated, actually becomes a lesson about vague terminology versus very precise terminology or use of language. And also about specific claims made about a plant, and how they can be easily over interpreted. And how these things don’t always match up very well. So, we’re going to chase it down a little bit.
But before we dive in, I just want to give you our reclaimer and our reminder that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators. The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States, and these discussions are for educational purposes only. We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to. Everyone’s body is different. So, the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and some ideas to research further. Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.
Herbalists’ Take on Hops
Okay, so let’s talk about hops. And first, let me start with some herbalists as an example of this general warning or contraindication. So, you can find this in some material from the herbalist, Michael Moore, not to be confused with the documentary filmmaker. Michael Moore has a large amount of his teaching material available online at swsbm.com. I’ll put a link to this particular file in the show notes. And all of the other ones I mentioned will be in the show notes links as well. But in a list of simple tincture preparations and indications and contraindications there from 1996, Michael Moore listed emotional or physical depression as a contraindication for hops tincture. And there is actually a little bit of a secret note of advice right in there, where it’s physical or emotional depression where he’s listing those as contraindicated. So, we’re going to cycle back around to that a little bit later on but put that little seed in the back of your head there.
Another author writing about this, Henriette Kress, Finnish herbalist, who again has a ton of excellent information available online. In one of her entries about hops she writes this: it’s a soporific, but it’s also depressive. Depressive meaning it’ll make you depressed. She shares a story where she writes a UK herbalist didn’t believe the stories of hops being depressive and gave it as a sleeping aid to several clients with depression. Their depression got worse. And then the UK herbalist told other herbalists about it actually being true. That hops is depressive. She’s writing this in 2005. Okay. Interestingly enough, by the way, when you read that entry Henriette also comments that if you don’t have the cones or the flowers, or if you want a botanical term, the strobiles. It’s like a flowering structure on the hops plant. If you don’t have those, then you can work with the leaf. So that’s something to try. I haven’t actually tried that yet, but we do have a little bit of hops growing. So, maybe I’ll gather some leaves later this year and try that out. See what I think. But anyway, you know, another mention of that warning. And you find many, many examples of this. You know, for instance, Marisa Marciano, who’s both an herbalist and a naturopath, has a hops monograph available and indicates there. It may potentiate symptoms of depression.
There’s a more nuanced statement available from Richard Whelan, who’s an herbalist from New Zealand. I’m trying to get people from lots of different places in the world and from different points in time as well here. But anyway Whelan writes as part of this hops may not be so good for people who have what is called anergic depression, a low energy state that is not associated with increased anxiety. However, if someone has depression and anxiety, it may well be a helpful medicine for them to use for a time. We’re going to come back to that later. So again, just kind of put that comment in the back of your mind. One thing I should note is that a lot of times when there is a discussion of hops, this effect, this depressive tendency of it is connected in statements or in writing about hops to the phytoestrogen content of the plant.
You find that especially when these comments are being made with reference to cis-gender males. You know, perhaps just the sort of stereotype of cis guys sitting around drinking beers. And oftentimes in those connections, the activity here is referred to as antiandrogenic or anaphrodisiac, not with a space, but all one word. Anaphrodisiac, saying that it is like the opposite of an aphrodisiac. And you’ll even see statements, for example, not a direct quote, but I’ve seen a number of things written about hops. And then talking about, you know, para quote, men becoming affectionate and crying into their beer, you know, that kind of thing. So, a lot of times that connection does get made. But interestingly, if you keep on digging, you’ll also see some places referring to hops as supportive to people who are undergoing symptoms of menopause, or what’s called the climacteric, including hot flashes, anxiety, and you guessed it, depression. So, the takeaway here is that it really matters a lot. Who’s taking the herb what’s going on in their body. And what that particular part of the context is like.
So, again, you can see this kind of caution about hops and depression in, in a lot of different monographs and herbalists’ writings about the plant. And as I was starting to get interested in this, I was trying to figure out when did this become like common in the literature? When did this warning enter the literature? This is something that it’s good to ask yourself when you see a statement like that, especially when you see it repeated often. And I’d say even more so, if you see it repeated in the same language or very similar terminology. Because to be honest, there has been a problem of copy and paste book building in herbalism for a very long time. And by that, I mean at least as far back as the 1800s. And certainly even further back, there are books written in the 1500s that are copy and paste jobs from a prior herbalist, with some slight expansion or maybe some kind of bioregional commentary or that kind of thing. So, I’m actually not saying that this is all bad, but it is a real factor when you’re looking at herbal information. And one that can happen and has happened many times, is that a particular statement about a plant is written in a book that is either popular or influences another book that becomes popular. And so then that kind of becomes received knowledge in the herbal or in the research community. And then it may be uncritically passed on from there forward and spread out and end up on webpages and databases and, you know, all kinds of different things like that. Meta analyses, even.
So, you know, it can, it can spread really, really deeply and kind of get entrenched. And it’s often a good idea to go back a little and say, when did people start saying this? Can I, can I try to find an originating source of some kind? It may not always be possible, but it’s worth a dig. So, you know, I went back through a few key books in the Western herbal tradition. I looked in Maude Grieve’s book, A Modern Herbal from 1931. And there she does have an entry for hops, but depression isn’t really mentioned at all. She doesn’t particularly have any warnings about contraindication for hops related to depression. In a book by Harvey, Wickes Felter from 1922, again, a big, long entry about hops, all the different ways that they worked with it. This is one of the eclectic herbal doctors of the age. And again, in this book, it’s not mentioned. Nor in King’s American Dispensatory, a similar work from 1898. Again, it’s not mentioned there. So, it seems that if you go back a bit of a ways, this caution around hops and depression isn’t really found. Even older books, you know, if you look in Nicholas Culpeper or other places like that, you don’t really see that same kind of caution about the hops.
But I want to make a comment here that all of these authors would have well understood this general principle, that sedative agents are contra-indicated in depressive states. So, maybe just to step back for a moment and say when herbalists are writing about hops, what are some of the things they’re going to say about it? Well, you’ll see lots of comments about it as a digestive bitter, you know, or certainly as a bittering agent in beer or things like that. And so, there’ll be discussion of the effects of hops on the digestive system, and getting those juices firing, and getting your digestion ready to receive food. You know, that’s a big piece of what folks will do with hops. You might see some places talking about hops as a topical antimicrobial, or like a dental or stomach antimicrobial. Because it can have impact in those organs when you drink it or swallow it. But topical hops applications are quite effective for combating infection of a variety of types.
A Sedative Hypnotic
But the real, I’d say primary, arena of work that folks have pretty much always done with hops has been as a sedative agent. Something to calm down over excitation and agitation. Today we might call it anxiety. To slow down overactive metabolic movement and functioning in the system, to have a cooling effect. And also to help people sleep, you know, as a sleep aid or what we would call a hypnotic plant. Something that is strong enough to make you feel sleepy, even if you are well rested at the time that you took it. So we use that term hypnotic to differentiate from the kind of more general idea of a sedative. Which is not always acting on the nervous system, not always acting on your wakefulness state. But sedatives are more about cooling, calming, slowing down functions in the human body. So hop stands apart as one of the hypnotics. And I can say from my own experience, that hops is a pretty powerful sleep-inducing herb. You know, I often go back to this particular story about working with hops, where a student of ours had prepared a foot bath blend of herbs for doing foot soaks and had given me a sample of it. And I was, you know, sitting on a bed. And I had my feet in the soak. And I was starting to read a book. And then I woke up a few hours later, because it turned out there had been some hops in the formula. And it had knocked me out. I had been soaking it in through my feet. And that was enough for me. So I’m a strong responder to hops, we say. A small doses go a long way in my particular body. But it’s illustrative, I think, of the effect of the plant, and the way that most herbalists tend to work with it and have talked about it through the years.
But again Felter, Maude Grieve, Culpeper for that matter. Any of these folks from history would certainly have understood that when you have a sedative, or you have a hypnotic like this, that that’s not really going to make sense for people who have depressive states. Sedative, hypnotic, like I’ve been saying, these are you could say tightly defined terms. Or that in the context of doing herbal work, or if you’re back in the 1800s being a physician who works with herbs as your medicinal materials, they would have very specific meaning to each of these terms. This was particularly true in that era. And in fact, the term depression was also tightly defined at this time. And it didn’t only mean or refer only to psychological depression. What today we might, if we want a fancy term, call anhedonia, right? And anhedonia means like a loss of enjoyment in things you experience, or even just something general like the blues. You know, to use the term depression in this context, didn’t always connect directly to the blues, or a loss of joy and excitement. Instead, depression was one of their terms for tissue states, as opposed to something like excitation or agitation. So, depression in this context meant a reduction in metabolic or functional activity in any organ or tissue of the body. So it’s a descriptor of a state of an organ. Like say if one was to say that there was a depressive state affecting the liver, that would mean that the liver was slow in processing you know, hormones or metabolic wastes, or exposures that you encountered. And that we needed to get some kind of a stimulant. We needed to wake up the liver. Maybe that would be a reason to take some bitter herbs and get that moving again.
From Not for Depressed Tissue State to Being Contraindicated for “Depression”
So, this idea of depression, it could be located in any part of the body. It could be in the mind. It could be in the blood circulation. It could be in the liver. It could be in other organs. But it was a general term for slow down. Okay. And connected to it, you know, physiological or body depression wouldn’t have been viewed as like walled off from mental depression. It was understood that these states go together. And that mental states would be included in the calculus of assessment that you would make before giving an herbal recommendation. So, there would have been little to no chance for a trained eclectic, let’s say, to give hops to a person who had depression, whether that was physical or mental, even if that person was having trouble sleeping, right? So, they wouldn’t just say oh, you have trouble sleeping. Let me give you a hypnotic plant. I’ve got hops. It’s the closest one to me. I’ll give it to you. They would at the very least have paused at the point of saying I want to give you a hypnotic. And said hmm, which one matches your need the best, right? Hops wasn’t simply a sleep herb. It was a, you know, we could hyphenate or put slashes. It was a sedative hypnotic. It was appropriate for states of agitation/excitation. So, you know, in that case they might be more likely to give somebody valerian instead.
So, that’s a little way to look back and to understand that even if the, the terminology of mental depression wasn’t directly included in those older discussions about hops, the very fact that it was a strong hypnotic, a strong, sedative herb, a cooling herb, and herb that we could even say had depressive effects. That would kind of inherently say to anybody practicing in that style or in that tradition, that this herb doesn’t make sense when we observe depressive states, whether those are physical or mental. Think back to, you know, a kind of a legacy of that in Michael Moore’s description, where he was talking about both emotional and physical depression as being contraindications for working with hops. Hmm. So, my assessment here is that this sort of general language term, like hops contraindicated in depression, with like no more detail or clarification to it. That started to enter the herbal literature, maybe some time in the seventies, maybe sometime in the eighties. Certainly we see it in resources after that. For instance, in the book Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevalier published in 1996 discussing hops, he writes that it should not be used if depression is a factor. David Hoffman in his book, Medical Herbalism from 2003, writes do not use hops in patients with marked depression as the sedative effects may accentuate symptoms. And you see similar comments in other books that I have in our home library here, you know, basically from that point on forward.
Hops May Help Anxiety/Depression
So when we’re looking for information about this kind of issue, we can also of course, turn and see if there’s any, let’s call it scientific or laboratory or trial-based evidence available for this concept as well. And in searching for this, there’s not a ton available. There aren’t dozens and dozens of studies about this. But one keeps coming up as, as being relevant here. And it’s a fairly good one, because this is one of the very few studies of hops alone rather than in a combination product or a combination formula. And also in humans, rather than in vitro studies or rodent studies. This study, I’m going to call it the Kyrou study, because that’s the lead author here. The Kyrou study is still number one if you do go to PubMed today, and do a search for hops and depression or Humulus depression. Humulus lupulus is the botanical term for hops. And when you’re doing PubMed searches, it’s often a good idea to use the botanical term, or at least try both versions to see what you get. But in this case, either hops depression or Humulus depression will bring you to this study. Its long title was Effects of a hops (Humulus lupulus L.) dry extract supplement on self-reported depression, anxiety and stress levels in apparently healthy young adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot study. Okay. This was published in 2017. And basically what they did was they had a dry extract of hops. So, that was something that would have probably involved a liquid menstruum to make an extraction from the hops, kind of like making a tincture at home. But then they dry that, and they weigh the dried kind of resinous, you know, extract product that you get.
They gave either 400 milligrams of that or a placebo per day to the participants for four weeks. And then they had a two week wash out, and then they crossed over. That means that if you, in that first month, took the hops extract, then after the two week wash out, they would cross you over and now you would take the placebo for a month. Or if you started on placebo, you have a two week period in between, and then you take the hops extract for four weeks. This kind of study design is really a good thing to do because it allows you to see what happens for people who… you get a better read, because you get to see how each body responds both to the placebo and also to the actual herb extract or supplement here. They also did some other things in the course of the study that were helpful to get clear information here. Like they had people abstain from alcohol, from sleep supplements, from major changes to their diet and their lifestyle habits during this period of time. So trying to control for some variables there. And just to see the influence of the hops. Okay. And again, what they were looking at was self-report of depression, anxiety, and stress levels.
So, these were things they would have the people fill in these kinds of questionnaires. Oftentimes in studies like this, questionnaires are used. And sometimes you’ll have a kind of sort of a standardization. Like there will be certain questionnaires that people running this type of study will use frequently. And so when you have a large base of studies that have all used the same questionnaire, it’s a lot easier to compare between them, than if everybody was asking different questions or even wording them slightly differently. From survey science we know that that can kind of throw off your results in one way or another. So the one, the major questionnaire they were using in this was a fairly common one, and fairly well standardized and checked in that manner. So here’s a quote from this study. So, they write here, interestingly, it has been suggested in the literature that hops should be taken with caution by individual suffering from depression, because of the known sedative effects of hops. Which may accentuate depressive symptoms and potentiate the sedative effects of existing therapy. Did you hear that phrase may accentuate depressive symptoms? We actually heard those exact same words prior from yeah, from David Hoffman writing in Medical Herbalism in 2003. Sedative effects may accentuate symptoms.
So, you know, there again is an example of what I was mentioning, copying and pasting from in this case a study abstract, and then putting that into your herbal reference book. Again, I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of and to kind of keep a watch for. After that statement they put a citation in. And I actually wanted to like pause here. We’re going to chase that down and see where that comes from. So, that citation, and they’re citing that claim – that hops may accentuate depressive symptoms, may potentiate the sedative effects of existing therapy – that takes us to a report from the European Medicines Agency and the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products. So this is a committee that’s basically tasked with evaluating herbal products in the European market. And they have this assessment report on hops, Humulus lupulus. In their section on contraindications or warnings, they write this: it has been suggested that hops should not be taken by individuals suffering from depressive illness, as the sedative effect may accentuate symptoms. Again, that same kind of phrase there, turning up again. The sedative action may potentiate the effects of existing sedative therapy and alcohol.
So again, you know, we’re kind of digging further and further down through the chain of citations here. But we can see that that’s been repeated many times. Okay, bouncing back out to the Kyrou study again, and what they write about it. In regard to this point – this contraindication warning – our study findings suggest that hops may have an overall beneficial mood enhancing effect without significant adverse or side effects in treatment naive individuals presenting with symptoms of both depression and anxiety/stress. Of note, this presence of depressive/anxiety comorbidity – that means occurring together in the same person – that is a frequent problem in everyday clinical practice, since anxiety and mood disorders, often co-exist, particularly in individuals in the general population. Additional clinical studies are required to further explore potential effects, beneficial and adverse, or side effects of hops in patients with depression not associated with increased anxiety or stress, and in cases of anergic or atypical depression. So, there’s that reiteration of something that we mentioned earlier, right? That if “depression” is a blanket term to cover a variety of specific, uncomfortable mental states, then hops might actually end up being helpful there. But if the depression is a true, or let’s say undiluted, depression, where the whole set of experiences is lack of joy, lack of energy, slow mind, slow body, all of this not accompanied by any anxious or agitated symptoms or emotional states, then hops may actually make that worse.
An Herbal Energetics Explanation
And again, we should expect this based on the fundamentals of herbal energetics. Hops is not just a cool herb. It’s a cold herb, you know, if you ask me. And this anergic depression that’s been mentioned here a couple of times now is classic cold state. You know, it’s lack of movement. It’s lack of circulation. It’s lack of energy generation. It’s lack of metabolic fire all the way down. And so, we don’t give cold herbs to cold people. A very simple baseline maxim of herbal energetics. But hey, if a person is a mixture of hot and cold, well, maybe there the cold herbs could be helpful. And in that case, it may be for reasons aside from the cold or sedative or depressive influence, right? Herbs are rarely very simple, or let’s say unmixed, in their qualities, right, even in their tastes. We make a special note when we have a plant that has a very clear presentation of a single aspect of taste, like centaury as a pure bitter. That’s worth noting, because most bitters have a bit of a mix. They have maybe some sweetness mixed in, maybe some pungency, and maybe some other flavors. And it’s the same with energetic qualities as it is with the flavors that help us to detect or to understand those qualities. So, you rarely are going to find a plant that is only cold and doesn’t really have a lot of other interesting aspects to it. Like has noticeable dryness to it, or has a noticeable relaxant effect, or something like that. Hops here is quite cold, quite dry, quite relaxing in nature. Those are kind of its polarities on those three fundamental axes.
But you know, hops is more than just an herb that is sedative and cold in its effect. Hops is, as we’ve been saying here, a bitter plant. And all bitter plants are going to help to improve digestion and have some anti-inflammatory effects. You get that from hops as well. And these things can help with physical symptoms which lead to the psychological discomforts, right? And certainly we could say that in a lot of cases somebody could have upsets digestion. And that can lead to impairments in their sleep, or maybe that leads to some liver stagnation. And then that in turn leads to changes in the hormonal or the endocrine balance inside of this body. If your liver is feeling kind of sluggish and not working too well, then that can slow down its processing of hormones that you’ve generated over the day and need to actually eliminate from your system. So, hops as a bitter, as a liver stimulant here, it could actually help to resolve some of that state. And then of course, a lot of times the major symptom of quote unquote depression is impaired sleep. You know, you have difficulty sleeping. You wake up feeling tired. You kind of zombie through your day. Maybe you rely on caffeine to accomplish anything. You feel kind of low. And then you get home, and then you want to go to bed, but now you have trouble sleeping again. So, in a case like that, then a hypnotic herb like hops taken at the right time at an appropriate dose for your system, where you’re just getting the push you need to go to sleep and to sleep well, that could be appropriate. That could be very helpful for someone in that situation.
So, we need to be very clear both about what we mean by depression. And we actually need to ask people what they mean when they say that they’re feeling depressed. It’s very easy in our current world to kind of default to the medical model. And I’m going to put a little asterisk on that, and we’ll come back to that in a minute. But let’s say to default to that, and to default, especially to its language of diagnosis and prescription. A sort of mental logic, like if depression, then take St John’s wort and avoid hops, right? Simple thing, you know, very, very straightforward. A lot of people are drawn to statements like that. But this doesn’t accurately reflect what people experience and it doesn’t match the material that the herbalist is working with. Because listen, herbs are different from drugs. And if you haven’t heard it already, go back and listen to episode 101 of this podcast for much more on that distinction between herbs and drugs. The ways they work and the targets that each one of them operates on. Drugs are specific to a given molecular target or receptor site. Herbs are acting at the level of the system or the tissue and the kind of states that they induce there. Those are very different levels of effect and areas of impact. And so, it’s not very helpful to use that kind of medical model of identify the problem. Diagnose it to a molecular level. And then insert the appropriate molecule in the form of a pill. That model doesn’t really work out very well with herbalism.
My asterisk from a moment ago was that perhaps it would be more accurate to say rather than the medical model, but the popular image of the medical model. Since, you know, to be fair, a robust diagnosis would differentiate between what’s called major depression – something without anxiety elements to it – versus depression plus anxiety, versus other variants, right? So, you know, psychologists, psychiatrists, they work with something called the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s cumbersome. It has some well documented drawbacks to it. But you can’t say it doesn’t have lots of entries. There are for sure a number of different depressive types that are included in there. And if somebody was to get down to that kind of level of specificity, then that too, I think would also steer them away from working with a depressive agent like hops in the cases where that doesn’t make sense. But to be honest, I don’t know that many trained herbalists who are also board certified psychiatrists or psychologists. There’s probably some out there, and if you’re listening, Hi. But again, we don’t often get a crossover between those types of specificity. So, for herbalists and herbal students and folks listening to this podcast, I do think it’s better to kind of stay within the herbalists model and framework for working with this.
Formulating with Hops
So, the effect of any given herb like hops is also something that’s altered by formulation. You know, one classic herbal pairing in the European, or let’s say the Western, herbal tradition is to combine hops together with valerian. So, both of these herbs are famous as plants that can help with insomnia, that can induce sleep. But they are quite different from each other. So while hops is cooling and depressive, and remember, I mean that in a precise sense of sedating or quieting or slowing down function in the body, depressing activity levels. So that’s hops, but valerian on the other hand is warming. And in some ways, even stimulating. Specifically, it’s a cerebral circulatory stimulant, which means that it moves blood up into the head. The two of these herbs have almost opposite direct actions, like the immediate effect of the herb on the body, on where energy and activity is happening. They’re almost opposite in that direct moment. But both of them share the end result of calming an individual and improving sleep. And the way this works basically is that each one alone as an individual has a swath of the population that they just don’t make sense for, right? So, hops, a cold herb, it doesn’t make a lot of sense alone for people with cold constitutions. Valerian, a warming herb, doesn’t make sense by itself for people with hot constitutions. In fact, sometimes it can actually agitate them and make it hard for them to sleep instead of making it easy. So, the thing is that if you combine the two of them together, then each one moderates the other. And the combination is effective and is appropriate for many more individuals than either one of them alone. In fact, in Germany and a few other places around Europe, it’s very common to go into like a pharmacy or a drug store and find over the counter sleep remedies available, herbal remedies. And a super popular one for many decades now has been a simple combination of hops and valerian. And it’s a good herbal formula, because it’s appropriate for a much broader array of humans than either plant on its own.
So altogether, right, we need to consider the whole person. What’s the context. What’s the situation. What’s the actual, specific, detailed set of symptoms that they’re experiencing, the whole person. We also want to know the whole herb, right, and all of its detail and all of the varieties of effect that. It can influence the body with. And then the whole formula, right? We’re trying to get the whole context, to make a good match. Okay. So, you know, the takeaway about hops and depression, if we want to summarize all of this, is essentially that there are a number of cases where hops is contraindicated. And the more simple or uncomplicated or unmixed the depression is – whether that’s only manifesting as emotional and mental states, or whether that includes some physical aspects of depressive slowdown, and what we’d consider cold patterns in the body itself. If that’s what we’re presented with, then yeah. Hops by itself doesn’t make sense. But maybe we could formulate and make it appropriate in that situation. Maybe it’s the strongest hypnotic herb we’ve got around, and we do really want to help this person’s sleep. And so we’re going to formulate together with some warming plants. Maybe some ginger, maybe some angelica, maybe some calamus, but something to warm it up and prevent it from only having these depressive type influences. We’re going to retain the hypnotic effect of the hops, but we’re going to moderate it through our formulation. So, that’s how we could approach that. And then we can also know that if somebody has… they come in. They say oh yeah, I’ve got depression. But you start talking to them. You ask some specific questions. And it emerges that they do have anxiety-type symptoms of agitation, or are kind of more like worry, racing mind-type insomnia, that kind of thing. Then in that case, we could say all right. I understand that from that tissue state terminology, there’s more than depression going on here. In fact, agitation or over excitation may be actually what’s dominant. And so in that case, yeah, hops does make plenty of sense, right?
So, that’s the kind of nuance that we want to get to when we’re working with plants. As you can see a good understanding of herbal energetics is kind of the foundations of what allows us to make these nuanced assessments. So, I just wanted to make sure that you know that we have an online video course that’s all about herbal energetics and holistic practice. Like all of our courses, once you sign up you have lifetime access to the material. And whenever we add new content, you get it free of charge. You also receive access to our twice weekly live Q & A sessions, so that you can bring your questions right to me and Katja. And by the way, that course is of our Community Herbalist program. If you really want to get the whole picture on holistic herbalism, or if you’re working toward a clinical herbalist practice of your own, Community Herbalist is for you. It’ll give you everything you need to know to take care of your family and your community with herbs and holistic methods. You can even try out the energetics course by itself, if that’s where your attention is focused right now. And if you like it, and you want the whole program later, then let us know. And we’ll give you a discount equal to what you’ve already paid for that single course. And that way you’re not paying for the same material twice. So, I’ve got links to both the energetics and holistic practice course and the larger Community Herbalist program in the show notes. I hope you’ll give them a look. But anyway, thanks for listening this week. And I hope to see some of you in our course discussion threads and our live Q & A sessions soon. We’ll have more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you coming up real soon now. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. And get hoppin’. Bye.
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