People have been using hemp for hundreds of products for thousands of years, “with hemp fibre imprints found in pottery shards in China and Taiwan.” The most common type of industrial hemp, technically called Cannabis sativa, can be used for many purposes, ranging from food products and textiles to fabrics and building materials. The usefulness of hemp does not stop there. It is also great because it rarely needs any pesticides or herbicides, it produces oxygen, and it can help battle corrosion of topsoil. Even with all these wonderful uses, hemp cannot legally be grown in the United States (except in a few states) and must be imported from other countries, which are mostly Canada, China, and France.
The United States has made it illegal to grow the very useful crop known as hemp. Hemp is a member of a strain of plants which produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the ingredient in marijuana responsible for creating a “high,” or drug-induced feelings and reactions. Industrial hemp production uses strains of cannabis that produce only miniscule amounts of THC at about 0.5% or less. Typically, strains of cannabis grown for marijuana, or drug, purposes produce at least 6% of THC and can produce even 20% or more of it. However, because it does produce a slight amount of THC, the United States classifies all strains of cannabis as illegal to grow, except for in a handful of states. The US does produce products with hemp that’s been imported to the country and grown elsewhere.
Hemp fibers are very strong and durable. In Europe and China they have been used to reinforce cement and other building materials. Hemp has also been widely used in “green” or eco-friendly clothing because it’s easy to grow, grows quickly, and is good for the environment. When used for clothing the fabric can be made of 100% hemp fibers, or a a blend of part-hemp and part-cotton is commonly used at a ratio of approximately 1:1 (meaning about 50% of each fabric is used), and is sometimes alternatively blended with silk or flax. Some companies incorporate hemp into their lotions and lip balms. Many birdseed mixes contain hemp seeds. Hemp can also be used as mulch and cat litter. Hemp oil can be found in many plastics, oil-based paints, and even cooking oil.
As a food, hemp can be included into one’s diet in many ways and forms. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground, or toasted; hemp can be fashioned into milk (which is similar to soymilk) and teas; hemp sprouts (similar to bean sprouts); hemp leaves; hemp oils; hemp flour; and more. Hemp is found in some cereals, used in salads, ice creams, cooking oils, and other food products as well. Hemp seeds and products containing hemp are more common in health food stores and natural food stores.It has also been used for medicinal purposes.
Hemp contains many nutrients. The seeds and oil have an abundance of essential fatty acids (it’s high in fat, but it contains only the “good” types of fat, that is, no saturated or trans fats), linoleic acid, omegas, protein, calcium, iron, fiber and other minerals as well. Hempseed oil lasts longer on the shelf than many other common types of cooking oil. It can also be frozen for long periods of time without breaking down or turning rancid. Hempseed oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Hemp fiber, called bast, is incredibly strong. The natural colors of these fibers can range from creams, browns, greens, grays, and blacks. The fiber has been used to make ropes and threads (including clothing), carpets, paper, and other products. The oils in hemp can also be used to make fuels. Because it grows very dense it can help farmers avoid weeds. Hemp used to be very widely produced and used until it was attacked around the 1930s and associated with marijuana and THC.
According to Wikipedia, “[e]very industialized country in the world, excluding the United States, produces industrial hemp including Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain. From the 1950s to the 1980s the Soviet Union was the world’s largest producer.” In more recent years, the countries producing the most hemp include France, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
Hemp has been becoming an increasingly popular choice for health food enthusiasts because of the many benefits it offers. As of late, hemp has been getting much support and is again beginning to distinguish itself from marijuana and from the drug association it had at one point. More laws are being passed in the United States to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. In the past couple decades, hemp has grown from nearly nothing into almost a billion dollar a year industry. This plant is becoming more popular as the years pass, and it should continue to be used for centuries to come because it offers not only health benefits, but many other non-food uses as well.