Magic, Spells & Potions



The Hop (Humulus lupulus) belongs to the Nettle tribe (Cannabineoe) of plants, and grows wild in our English hedges and copses; but then it bears only male flowers. When cultivated it produces the female catkins, or strobiles which are so well known as Hops, and are so largely used for brewing purposes.

The plant gets its first name Humulus from humus, the rich moist ground in which it chooses to grow, and its affix lupulus from the Latin lupus a wolf, because (as Pliny explained), when produced among osiers, it [263] strangles them by its light climbing embraces as the wolf does a sheep.

The word Hop comes from the Anglo-saxon hoppan to climb. The leaves and the flowers afford a fine brown dye, and paper has been made from the bine, or stalk, which sprouts in May, and soon grows luxuriantly; as said old Tusser (1557):—

"Get into thy Hop-yard, for now it is time
To teach Robin Hop on his pole how to climb."

The Hop, says Cockayne, was known to the Saxons, and they called it the Hymele, a name enquired-for in vain among Hop growers in Worcestershire and Kent.

Hops were first brought to this country from Flanders, in 1524:—

"Turkeys, Carp, Hops, Pickerel, and Beer,
Came into England all in one year."

So writes old Izaak Walton! Before Hops were used for improving and preserving beer our Saxon ancestors drank a beverage made from malt, but clarified in a measure with Ground Ivy which is hence named Ale-hoof. This was a thick liquor about which it was said:—

"Nil spissius est dum bibitur; nil clarius dum mingitur,
Unde constat multas faeces in ventre relinqui."

The Picts made beer from heather, but the secret of its manufacture was lost when they became exterminated, since it had never been divulged to strangers. Kenneth offered to spare the life of a father, whose son had been just slain, if he would reveal the method; but, though pardoned, he refused persistently. The inhabitants of Tola, Jura, and other outlying districts, now brew a potable beer by mixing two-thirds of heath tops with one of malt. Highlanders think it very lucky to [264] find the white heather, which is the badge of the Captain of Clan Ronald.

At first Hops were unpopular, and were supposed to engender melancholy. Therefore Henry the Eighth issued an injunction to brewers not to use them. "Hops," says John Evelyn in his Pomona, 1670, "transmuted our wholesome ale into beer, which doubtless much altered our constitutions. This one ingredient, by some suspected not unworthily, preserves the drink indeed, but repays the pleasure with tormenting diseases, and a shorter life."

Hops, such as come into the market, are the chaffy capsules of the seeds, and turn brown early in the autumn. They possess a heavy fragrant aromatic odour, and a very bitter pungent taste. The yellow glands at the base of the scales afford a volatile strong-smelling oil, and an abundant yellow powder which possesses most of the virtues of the plant. Our druggists prepare a tincture from the strobiles with spirit of wine, and likewise a thickened extract.

Again, a decoction of the root is esteemed by some as of equal benefit with Sarsaparilla.

The lassitude felt in hot weather at its first access, or in early spring, may be well met by an infusion of the leaves, strobiles and stalks as Hop tea, taken by the wineglassful two or three times in the day, whilst sluggish derangements of the liver and spleen may be benefited thereby.

Lupulin, the golden dust from the scales (but not the pollen of the anthers, as some erroneously suppose), is given in powder, and acts as a gentle sedative if taken at bedtime. This is specific against sexual irritability and its attendant train of morbid symptoms, with mental depression and vital exhaustion. It contains "lupulite," a volatile oil, and a peculiar resin, which is somewhat acrid, and penetrating of taste.

Each of the Simples got from the Hop will allay pain and conduce to sleep; they increase the firmness of the pulse, and reduce its frequency.

Also if applied externally, Hops as a poultice, or when steeped in a bag, in very hot water as a stupe, will relieve muscular rheumatism, spasm, and bruises.

Hop tea, when made from the flowers only, is to be brewed by pouring a pint of boiling water on an ounce of the Hops, and letting it stand until cool. This is an excellent drink in delirium tremens, and will give prompt ease to an irritable bladder. Sherry in which some Hops have been steeped makes a capital stomachic cordial. A pillow, Pulvinar Humuli, stuffed with newly dried Hops was successfully prescribed by Dr. Willis for George the Third, when sedative medicines had failed to give him sleep; and again for our Prince of Wales at the time of his severe typhoid fever, 1871, in conjunction then with a most grateful draught of ale which had been heretofore withheld. The crackling of dry Hop flowers when put into a pillow may be prevented by first sprinkling them with a little alcohol.

Persons have fallen into a deep slumber after remaining for some time in a storehouse full of hops; and in certain northern districts a watery extract from the flowers is given instead of opium. It is useful to know that for sound reasons a moderate supper of bread and butter, with crisp fresh lettuces, and light home-brewed ale which contains Hops, is admirably calculated to promote sleep, except in a full-blooded plethoric person. Lupulin, the glandular powder from the dried strobiles, will induce sleep without causing constipation, or headache. The dose is from two to four grains at bedtime on a small piece of bread and butter, or mixed with a spoonful of milk.

The year 1855 produced a larger crop of cultivated Hops than has been known before or since. When Hop poles are shaken by the wind there is a distant electrical murmur like thunder.

Hop tea in the leaf is now sold by grocers, made from a mixture of the Kentish and Indian plants, so as to combine in its infusion, the refreshment of the one herb with the sleep-inducing virtues of the other. The hops are brought direct from the farmers, just as they are picked. They are then laid for a few hours to wither, after which they are put under a rolling apparatus, which ill half-an-hour makes them look like tea leaves, both in shape and colour. They are finally mixed with Indian and Ceylon teas.

The young tops of the Hop plant if gathered in the spring and boiled, may be eaten as asparagus, and make a good pot-herb: they were formerly brought to market tied up in small bundles for table use.

A popular notion has, in some places, associated the Hop and the
Nightingale together as frequenting the same districts.

Medicinally the Hop is tonic, stomachic, and diuretic, with antiseptic effects; it prevents worms, and allays the disquietude of nervous indigestion. The popular nostrum "Hop Bitters" is thus made: Buchu leaves, two ounces; Hops, half-a-pound; boil in five quarts of water, in an iron vessel, for an hour; when lukewarm add essence of Winter-green (Pyrola), two ounces, and one pint of alcohol. Take one tablespoonful three times in the day, before eating. White Bryony root is likewise used in making the Bitters.

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