Cannabis sativa L. is a species with hundreds of varieties including marijuana and hemp. While marijuana is bred to produce high yields of THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element), industrial hemp is bred to maximize fiber and seed. A woody, herbaceous annual, hemp can reach 12-20 feet in about four months. The long, strong fibers that surround the stalk make it a bast fiber plant similar to flax, jute and ramie.
Hemp can be grown almost anywhere but does especially well where corn flourishes. While it needs nitrogen-rich, well-drained and non-acidic soils, it requires little, if any, pesticides, and a third of the amount of water required to grow cotton.
Hemp tends to crowd out other plants so growing hemp in rotation can eradicate weeds such as quack grass and thistle and leave the field in better condition for the next crop.
After the hemp crop has been harvested it is retted (a process that separates the primary fibers from the hemp stalk). One retting process is leaving it in the field where it is broken down by bacteria and humidity to allow the primary fiber to be separated from the core fiber.
The primary fibers make a fine, linen-type fabric that is used for textiles from clothing to carpeting. The anti-microbial and anti-mildew properties also make hemp fabrics suitable for exterior uses such as sails and tarps. Primary fibers can also be cut shorter so they can be blended with other fibers making wool and cotton, for instance, stronger and more durable.
The core fiber or “hurds” come from the woody, hollow stalks and are processed into animal bedding and garden mulch. It is twice as absorbent as wood shavings and, because it has high cellulose content, it can be used for the manufacturing of plastics.
Hempseed is a valuable source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It is better tasting and more digestible than the soybean. The seeds can be roasted, toasted, ground into flour or cold-pressed for oil. Even after being pressed for its oil, hempseed meal is still highly nutritious and suitable as a food supplement or source of dietary fiber. It can even be used to brew beer!
Rivaling flax oil, hempseed oil contains essential fatty acids but is the only edible seed to contain gamma-linolenic acid. It has a nutty flavor and is used in the same way as flax oil.
Since February 2004, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the DEA rule and held that hemp seeds and oil used in foods couldn’t be defined as drugs, many forms of hempseed are beginning to show up on grocery store shelves. Items such as protein bars and powders, snack foods, breads and salad dressings are now readily available. Soon, even milk, cheese and ice cream made from hempseed may be part of our standard American diet.
The lingering question that many people are concerned with is “Can you get high from consuming hemp foods?” Dr. Andrew Weil answers this question recently on his website, saying that “Even if you ate nothing but foods containing hemp, you wouldn’t test positive for drugs.”
With all the serious issues to contend with in the past several years, I hadn’t given much attention to how the legal battles over the deregulation of industrial hemp were progressing. While researching this article I found more interesting developments than I could possibly share in a coherent manner other than to briefly summarize the headlines that I found by searching the 2004 news section on GlobalHemp.com. I think you’ll read this information and be as truly amazed as I am.
Testing in Germany has demonstrated that a mixture of flax and hemp fiber used in dashboard moldings is safer than polyurethane because it doesn’t splinter when an airbag is deployed.
This company sells CD and DVD trays made from hemp.
One Canadian high school student findings on a fungus that breaks down hemp into pulp may have commercial value in Canada’s growing hemp markets.
Australian researchers are testing hemp along with other fiber plants to serve as ‘mop crops’ that absorb sewage once it has been treated at a sewage treatment plant. This method could prevent effluent from being dumped into the sea.
Tilley hats are certified as having maximum UV protection and are guaranteed for life.
In Latvia there is an ambitious plan to introduce a centuries-old recipe to the world.
A cattle rancher created a special recipe for his herd and says his cattle are healthier, happier and heftier.
Currently only in use in the pro audio world, a hemp-fiber loudspeaker may offer real benefits when it hits the mainstream.
Two homes in Britain have been built using the specially-produced sheets of hemp, lime and timber as the main materials.
A plan has been developed by an organization called Spirit Aid to replace opium poppies with hemp to provide Afghan society with heating, shelter, food and revenue.
With all these uses, hemp is clearly a multi-purposed plant.
Hemp fabric existed as early as 8000 B.C. and has also been used for lamp oil, paper, incense, cordage, food and medicine.
Our first American flag was sewn with hemp fabric, as were the original Levi jeans.
In the early 1600s, it was mandated by law to grow Indian hempseed in the American colonies.
Hemp oil is the richest known source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a rare nutrient found in mother’s milk is also present in hemp oil.
Hemp requires less energy and chemicals to pulp because of its low lignin content. It can be whitened with hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach and can last 1,500 years.
Because of hemp’s long fibers, construction products like beams, studs and posts will be stronger and lighter when made from hemp.
Hemp farming can replace timber farming. Hemp can yield four times the fiber per acre of what an average forest can yield.
Fabrics made of at least fifty percent hemp block the sun’s harmful UV rays more effectively than other fabrics.
Henry Ford experimented with hemp to build car bodies and interiors. He wanted to both build and fuel cars from farm products.