By Kim Robson:
Recently we discussed the unparalleled ability of industrial hemp to remediate polluted soil. More and more states are enacting laws to allow the licensed cultivation of hemp for its fiber and nutritious seeds.
History of Hemp
Industrial cannabis goes back 4500 years, when the Chinese used it for textile fiber. Nomads spread hemp from China to the Middle East, to the Mediterranean, and to Europe.
During the Middle Ages, around the year 600, German, Frankish and Viking tribes produced rope, cloth, sandals and clothing from hemp fiber. In the 17th century, sails and rigging on Netherlands ships were woven from braided hemp fibers. Workers in Rembrandt’s sketches (on hemp paper) wore hemp clothing. During the Dutch Golden Age, the Dutch East India Company encouraged the cultivation of hemp because, after wood, hemp was the most important material in shipbuilding.
In the United States, the first marijuana law (enacted in 1619 in Jamestown Colony, Virginia) actually required farmers to grow hemp. Benjamin Franklin used hemp in his paper mill (one of the country’s first), and the first two copies of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
In the 20th century, hemp again became important during the WWII effort. The inexpensive, tough fiber was prized by the war industry. Hemp fiber was used to make parachutes, uniforms, ropes, tarps and tents, to name just a few products. Check out this U.S. government propaganda film from that era. Cultivation of hemp again ended after the war, due to lobbying pressure from the petrochemical and lumber industries, and the rise of cheap textiles.
Hemp paper is stronger than wood pulp paper, can withstand more folding, and is the strongest natural fiber of any source. Hemp paper aged for hundreds of years (found in museums) has not even yellowed, making it a high quality archival paper.
Hemp Fiber & Cloth
Hemp fiber is the strongest and longest plant fiber in the world. Levi jeans were originally made from hemp sailcloth and rivets. Gold miners in California would fill their pockets with gold and generally abuse to death the tough workman’s trousers. Hemp fiber is resistant to rot and abrasion, making it perfect for a ship’s rigging, military uniforms, parachute webbing, baggage and more.
For ten years, I worked in a 110-year-old brick building in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. The service elevator, which had an 800-pound capacity, was hung from a single, one-inch-thick hemp rope. And we tested that capacity when we hauled up a 650-pound, car-sized reprographic machine, plus my own weight.
Hemp as a Building Material
Hemp can be used in composite materials to make anything from skateboard decks and surfboards to car panels and stealth fighter skin. Another composite material made with hemp, limestone and water forms a type of concrete called hempcrete, which is suitable for home building but with a fraction of the weight of standard concrete. Hempcrete also acts as an insulation barrier and repels vermin.
Finally, there is amazing nutritional value in hemp seeds. Just the other day, I had to do a double-take at the grocery store. There, among the other varieties of bagged, pre-washed salad mixes was “Hemp Salad,” which included hemp seeds! A typical nutritional analysis of 100 grams of shelled hemp seed is as follows:
- Calories: 567
- Protein (Nx5.46): 30.6%
- Fat: 47.2%
- Saturated fat: 5.2%
- Monounsaturated fat: 5.8%
- Polyunsaturated fat: 36.2%
- Carbohydrate: 10.9%
- Oleic 18:1 (Omega-9): 5.8%
- Linoleic 18:2 (Omega-6): 27.56%
- Linolenic 18:3 (Omega-3): 8.68%
- Cholesterol: 0.0%
- Total dietary fiber: 6.0%
- Vitamin A (B-Carotene): 4 IU
- Thiamine (Vit B1): 1.38 mg
- Riboflavin (Vit B2): 0.33 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.12 mg
- Vitamin C: 1.0 mg
- Vitamin D: 2277.5 IU
- Vitamin E (dl-A-Tocopherol): 8.96 IU
- Sodium: 9.0 mg
- Calcium: 74.0 mg
- Iron: 4.7 mg
Rhode Island’s Hemp Growth Act, which took effect January 1, 2017, was originally written so that only members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe could grow hemp, but lawmakers later expanded the language to allow any licensed grower. Under the Act, growers can purchase a state license to cultivate hemp for items like clothing, food, or other commercial products. Hemp is now treated as “an agricultural product that may be legally produced, possessed, distributed, and commercially traded. The Department of Business Regulation will be responsible for establishing rules and regulations for the licensing and regulation of hemp growers and processors. The Department is also authorized to certify any higher educational institution in Rhode Island to grow or handle or assist in growing or handling industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research.”
Thirty-three states now have laws governing industrial hemp: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.