By Asha Kreiling
From fiber to food, hemp is a wonder plant. You can eat the seeds, drink the milk, wear the clothes, write on the paper, and even build your home with the fibers. The multifunctional plant grows rapidly year-round, producing a large bulk of useful plant material, and doesn’t require pesticides, fungicides or intensive watering. The hemp plant is the epitome of sustainability. Unfortunately, public misperceptions of hemp, along with strict government regulations, remain barriers to industrial scale hemp production in the U.S.
Hemp is a tall, fibrous variety of Cannabis sativa, making it a close relative of marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical that makes marijuana a popular recreational drug. Smoking hemp does little in the getting high department, but the U.S. government makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana, and federally classifies both (along with heroin and LSD) as Schedule I drugs.
That means it is illegal to grow the hemp plant in the U.S., but hemp products that do not cause THC to enter the human body are considered lawful and are freely imported from countries including Canada, China and the UK. The multitude of hemp products are renewable, sustainable, nutritious and delicious. Some sources tout the thousands of uses of hemp. Here are just a few:
- Food — Hemp food products can be found at most health food stores and online. Hemp seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids. Seeds can be eaten raw and whole or hulled (hemp nuts or hearts), and can be added to baked goods, cereals, etc. Hemp protein powders are made from seeds and can be added to smoothies and other recipes. Hemp milk is a delicious dairy alternative.
- Oil — Hemp oil is made from pressed hemp seeds and has a strong nutty flavor. It is mainly used as a nutritional supplement because of its desirable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids. Hemp oil also is used in body care products such as soaps and lotions, and as a potential biodiesel.
- Fiber –Hemp is one of the longest and strongest soft fibers in nature. It is more durable than cotton but, unlike cotton, does not require intensive pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, or water use. Hemp fiber can be spun into threads and yarn for rope, or can be knit or woven into fabrics to make everything from shirts to shoes. Clothes made solely from hemp fiber are biodegradable and compostable.
- Paper — Hemp plants produce more pulp per acre than timber, and can be recycled more times due to its greater durability. Hemp paper manufacturing requires less harsh bleaching and produces less wastewater. Hemp plants grow faster and can be replanted faster, reducing deforestation that results from our need for paper.
- Construction Materials — Hemp fibers and hurds (the leftover fragments of hemp stems and stalks) also can be used for foundations, walls, roofing, insulation, and other building structures. Read more here: http://hemphealer.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/hemp-habitats-homes-of-the-future/
- Plastics –Hemp produces a significant amount of cellulose, which can be used to make biodegradable plastics.
Hemp has the potential to become a major renewable and economical resource to improve the sustainability of various industries. A few U.S. senators recently have made efforts to legalize domestic hemp production, but for now, hemp still faces significant obstacles in replacing conventional, non-renewable resources.