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The Amazing Cannabaceae Family: Hemp and Hops

February 6, 2020 in General Education

Hemp and Hops are closely related in regards to their origin, genetics, taxonomy and terpene content. I have written extensively about hemp but this is my first article about hops. I will link to my previous hemp article and will devote much of this article to hops. In this article I will examine the similarities and differences between them, list the many medicinal benefits of hops and cite a study about the potential benefits of using hop acids to control metabolic syndrome.

Cannabaceae Family

The cannabaceae family of 170 species of flowering plants includes Cannabis (hemp and cannabis) and Humulus (hops). The genealogical relationship is stronger between Cannabis and Humulus than between other types of the Cannabaceae family. It is thought that the two species shared a common ancestor which originated in central Eurasia millions of years ago.

Differences Between Hemp and Hops

Free standing, tall single main stalks
Cultivated for production of fiber, textiles, building materials and oil

Twining or trailing vines called bines that grow 20-30 feet in length.
The resin in hop flowers or cones produces the bitterness of beer while acting as an antimicrobial used to preserve it. Hop cones also contain essential oils and alpha and beta acids which provide a myriad of medicinal benefits. These include:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anticarcinogenic
  • Estrogenic
  • Sedative as a sleep aid
  • Antihyperlipidemic which may reduce LDL cholesterol
  • Hypoglycemic properties
  • Antiobesity properties
  • Controls Metabolic Syndrome (MS) which includes management of lipid metabolism, glucose tolerance and body weight
  • Diuretic properties
  • Increases the secretion of bile
  • Boosts gastric system function
  • Bolsters immune function
  • Promotes better brain function
  • Protects the liver
  • May improve symptoms of neurogenerative and cardiovascular diseases

Similarities Between Hemp and Hops

They both contain flavonoids and terpenes

Cultivation Processes
With both hemp and hops plants, the unpollinated female plants are selectively grown for their rich production of resin and oils.

Terpene ContentThe terpene content of Cannabis is more varied than that of Humulus. While there are about 15 terpenes with appreciable amounts that occur in Cannabis, the following are found in Humulus:
1.Myrcene is the most abundant terpene 
2.Humulene is also very abundant
3.Caryophyllene is the 3rd most abundant terpene

  • Limonene -small amounts
  • Pinenes; alpha and beta forms – small amounts


Flavonoids give plants their aroma and flavor, their pigment and protection from ultraviolet rays.

Hop Flavonoids

The principal flavonoid in hops is Xanthohumol (XN) which demonstrates the potential to provide anticancer properties. 
Other flavonoids include Isoxanthohumol (IX), and 8-Prenylnaringenin (8-PN) and 6- Prenylnaringenin (6-PN).
Hemp Flavonoids
There are some flavonoids that are only found in cannabis, called cannaflavins. They provide anti-inflammatory properties.

A Brief History of Hops

Use of hops was documented as long ago as Roman times, mentioned in a book by Roman scholar, Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the Elder. They were originally used as an herb you would find in your kitchen. Available in the spring, the edible shoots were eaten like you would asparagus.

Hops began to be used as a flavoring and a preservative in beer by French and German brewers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Bavarian hops became well-known in the 11th C. It wasn’t until the 16th C. that British brewers replaced hops with their traditional beer herbs of Alehoof and Alecost.

Hops were introduced to North America in 1629 by the Massachusetts Company. It took another 170 years before hops gained traction as an important commercial crop. Today, hops are grown mainly in OR, WA, ID, and CA.

Structure of the Hop Cone

  • The Strig connects the hop cone to the bine. It also contains the majority of hop tannins found in polyphenols which are full of medicinal properties. Polyphenols are nutrients full of antioxidants that come from certain plants. At 4-6% of their weight, hops contain some of the highest levels of polyphenols which play a big role in determining the harshness or smoothness of the bitters.
  • Bract provide the entire structure of the hop cone. They also contain polyphenols
  • Bracteole, considered to be small bracts, are the inner, leaf-like structures of the hop cone
  • Lupulin glands, which contain the resins and essential oils, are housed by the bracteoles and protected by the bracts. When you open a hop cone you will immediately see a yellowish pollen which contain essential oils and the 2 main types of acids:

1. Alpha acids which include humulone, cohumulone and adhumulone, are responsible for the bittering of beer. They are not bitter in themselves but during the beer boiling process, they convert to iso-α-acids (IAA) which are bitter. They provide a mild antibiotic and antibacterial effect against certain bacteria, are antioxidants, prevent diet induced obesity and improve hyperglycemia.

2. Beta acids add the aroma and are added at the end of the brewing process to preserve the unstable essential oils.

Hops Research Study

A Japanese study, which appeared in Frontier in Aging Neuroscience, was conducted at the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan and the Kirin Company Research Lab for Health Science and Food Technologies, Yokohama, Japan by Yasuhisa ano, et al. They examined the effects of the alpha acids, iso-α-acids, on the brains of aging mice. The outcome suggested that there was a reduction of inflammation in the brain which prevented cognitive impairment associated with aging. It also demonstrated that iso-α-acids impede the formation of disease pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease in mice. This is a very exciting development in neurodegenerative disease research.

Humans have been using both hemp and hops for their medicinal properties for thousands of years, for good reason!

Sources:, Hemp versus Hops: Past, Present, and Future for an Unlikely Pairing, Damon Anderson, PHD., Hemp, Hops and Their Synergistic Future, Mojave Richmond & Robert C. Clarke, Feb. 6, 2018, Information About Hops, Anatomy of a Hop, Iso-α-acids, Hop Derived Bitter Components of Beer, Attenuated Age-Related Inflammation and Cognitive Decline, Feb. 4, 2019

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