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How Hemp and Hops Are Related

Leslie kahn

Did you realize that hemp and hops share a common ancestry? In this article I will be discussing what makes hemp and hops similar but different. They both belong to the Cannabaceae family and they both contain flavonoids and terpenes. I have written a previous article about hemp to which I will link. I will focus this article on the surprising medicinal benefits of hops and cite a research study with exciting prospects.


The botannical name of hops is Humulus lupulus. It was one of the first food additives used by humans and was considered to be a health beverage. It was discovered, as far back as Roman times, that using hops in beer acted as a preservative, often making beer a safer drink than tainted water. The use of hops gave beer its distinctive bitter smell and taste.

Hops had other historical uses. It was used throughout the world as a sedative or sleep aid. It was the primary ingredient in Native American, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines for the relief of anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Europeans filled pillows with hops, as prescribed by herbal physicians to treat mood disorders and sleep problems. It was also used to relieve upset stomach and indigestion.


They have similar physical characteristics, especially the leaves and the flowers and they both contain terpenes. Those shared by both plants include these 3 main oils:

  • Myrcene is the most plentiful terpene. Due to its volatility in air, it contributes enormously to the beer aroma. It is described as “citrusy.”
  • Humulene is the 2nd most plentiful terpene and is described as “hoppy.” Its flavors are woody or spicy
  • Caryophylene is spicy, earthy, sweet and contributes to the “hoppiness.” It aids in digestive health and acts as an anti-inflammatory.

The levels of these essential oils are variable from one year to the next due to weather conditions and other factors. 


Flavonoids give plants their pigment and act as protection from harmful ultraviolet rays. They also play a big role in giving plants their aroma and flavor. Both hops and hemp contain flavonoids but there are some which are only found in the cannabis plant. These are known as cannaflavins which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Hop Flavonoids
1. Xanthohumol (XN) is the principal flavonoid and it has the potential to provide anticancer properties
2. Isoxanthohumol (IX) is an important flavonoid but less abundant
3. 8-Prenylnaringenin (8-PN) which is a strong phytoestrogen, is used as a dietary supplement to control menopausal symptoms

Research indicates that they have chemoprotective and detoxifying properties.

Anatomy of a Hop

Genus Humulus Lupulus
Hops are a hardy perennial that grow best at latitude 35 to 55. They prefer a cold period in the fall when they lie dormant, followed by a revival in the spring when they begin growing again.

Hop vines are technically called bines where the vines wrap around a support using stiff hairs or bristles instead of tendrils or suckers. Unpollinated female flowers are known as hop cones or strobiles. They grow as side arms off the main hop vines. Hops thrive in well-drained sandy loam with a PH of 6-7.5. New hop plants are taken from the cuttings, measuring 4-6”, of mature rhizomes which are underground stems with growth buds. When commercially grown, the rhizomes are planted 3 1/2” apart in each row with a distance of 7’ between rows. The most common pest problems for hops are spider mites and aphids. 

A hop cone is made up of bract and bracteroles, the strig and the lupulin glands. The bracts give the hop cone its framework. Bracteoles are leaf- like structures that surround the entire cone and attach to a central axis. The strig, which contains the majority of the tannins found in the hop cone, is the stalk that connects it to the vine or bine of the plant. 

The tannins, by way of polyphenols, provide medicinal properties. Underneath the bracteoles are the lupulin glands which house the resins and essential oils and are protected by the bract. When you open the glands you can see a yellowish pollen. The 3 most important compounds are alpha acids, beta acids and essential oils. 

Polyphenols are nutrients that come from certain plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants. Benefits include:

  • Improved digestion
  • Treatment of digestive disorders
  • Weight management
  • Controlling diabetes
  • May fight gum disease
  • May improve symptoms of neurogenerative diseases
  • May improve symptoms of cardiovascular diseases

Alpha Acids Iso-α-acids (IAA) and Beta Acids Matured Hop Bitter Acids (MHBA)
Alpha acids (humulones, isohumulone and cohumulone) and Beta acids (lupulones), which give beer its bitter flavor and aroma, also have many health benefits which include the following:

  • Strengthen immune function
  • Support gastrointestinal health
  • May protect the liver
  • Support brain health
  • Help maintain a normal inflammatory response

Research Study on Hops 

A 2017 study, Hop Phytochemicals and Their Potential Role in Metabolic Syndrome Prevention and Therapy, conducted at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, Czech Republic, by Pavel Dostalek, et al, concluded the following:

1. Hop flavonoids, especially Xanthohumol (XN), are shown to have hypoglycemic, antihyperlipidemic and antiobesity properties which may be used to treat metabolic syndrome (MS).
2. Iso-α-acids (IAA) and Matured Hop Bitter Acids (MHBA) influence lipid metabolism, glucose tolerance and body weight. These findings open up the possibility of using hop flavonoids to prevent diabetes and diet-induced obesity.

More research is needed to raise awareness about the many potential medicinal benefits that hemp and hops provide. Spread the word!

Sources:, Understanding the Relationship Between Hops and Hemp, Jacqueline Jacques, The Anatomy of a Hop, Brian, Nov. 21, 2014, Poyphenols Food List: Seasoning, Berries and More, Ana Gotter, May 23, 2017, Terpenes and Flavonoids Explained, June 17, 2019