Over the years the hemp plant has been demonized, whether intentionally or not, due to its links with marijuana. However industrial hemp, which this article is about, is a different strain of hemp to the plant needed to manufacturer the drug. Industrial hemp has many qualities that can become powerful tools for saving our planet, as it is a versatile crop particularly because different parts of the plant have different uses. The United States Government currently makes no distinction between the drug marijuana and industrial hemp.
Versatile in nature and easy to grow when compared with other popular crops such as cotton, there is evidence that hemp was one of the earliest plants cultivated for human use. It’s use across history and globally has included food sources, medical uses, spiritual uses, clothing, toiletries, textiles, dietary supplements, cleaning products and building materials. The inner fibers of hemp are tough and can be used as animal bedding or mulch. The hemp plant has strong potential for furthering sustainability ventures due to its low impact on the environment, as it requires significantly fewer amounts of pesticide and herbicide when grown on a large scale, compared to crops such as cotton or wheat.
Laws surrounding hemp cultivation that were made in the 1920 and 30s prevent most people now from making good use of this hardy and eco-friendly plant. Many countries including the US have strict laws dictating hemp production, which is theorized to have happened once the synthetics boom began, as competitors in the market encouraged people to rely on products made of wood pulp and synthetics, which are less durable than hemp and therefore require us to continuously consume them. Hemp paper can be recycled many more times than paper made of wood pulp. Before paper made of wood pulp was in common use, people used to write on hemp products, but the widespread use of hemp was phased out. As the hemp industry dwindled, China became the world’s leading producer of hemp, and now the US imports more hemp than any other country.
Hemp seeds are frequently in the news today due to their many health benefits. They can be eaten raw and easily added to routinely-eaten meals such as cereals or granola. For maximum nutritional value they can be sprouted and eaten with salads or in sandwiches. Hemp leaves can also be added to these. Hempseed can also be ground into flour for baking, or for adding to smoothies, or made into hemp milk which is a nutritious dairy alternative. Hempseed is high in natural oils required for good brain function and development and safer than other choices, such as fish which has had radiation and mercury found in it. Hemp oil is beneficial to skin health and brain development because it contains naturally high amounts of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) and EFAs (essential fatty acids). Hemp powder is an excellent complete protein which naturally contains all the essential amino acids required by the human body. Hemp also contains all three Omegas: Omega-3, -6 and -9, a various vitamins and minerals including the B group and iron. Hemp is an excellent addition to any diet and particularly useful for people with allergies because it is naturally gluten, nut, egg and dairy free.
Due to its hardy nature the hemp plant adapts well to varied growing conditions and therefore requires less unnatural intervention. It’s arguable that hemp can be grown to help feed populations across the world that lack access to nutritious food sources. Unlike other crops such as rice and soy, the hemp plant tolerates strong weather conditions and can therefore be cultivated in different areas of the world, with minimum chemical use. It has also been found to be easier to digest than soy.
Hemp clothing produces a texture similar to linen, but is stronger and more durable than cotton. There is some evidence that hemp cloth allows the skin to ‘breathe’ better than other materials do, including cotton. Because hemp has hollow fibers and cotton does not, hemp clothing can aid the body in regulating its natural temperature. Hemp bark contains bast fibers that can be used to make pure-hemp clothing products, or blended with other fibers to make furnishings and other household products.
Cotton production is intensive as it requires high pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use. It is then bleached to give it a uniform color. Hemp does not require these practices and is therefore a healthier option to wear against your skin. Hemp fiber also has anti-microbial properties, making it useful not only in clothing, but also for wound dressings and bandages.
Hemp fiber has always been popular in societies across the world due to its durability and the voracious-growing nature of the plant. Hemp is many times more productive than cotton due to larger amounts being grown per hectare. The plant also succumbs to fewer natural diseases when compared with cotton crops. According to a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation, ‘$2 billion’s worth of chemicals are sprayed on the world’s cotton crop every year, almost half of which is considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.’
Hemp can be used to build foundations of houses from concrete-like blocks made of a mix of hemp and lime called hempcrete. The blended material acts as natural insulation for a house, and during the building process it locks carbon dioxide into the structure, keeping it out of the atmosphere. In 2009 in the UK, The Renewable House was made from a hemp and lime base, and boasts that ‘Enough hemp to produce one house can be grown in just 14 weeks in one hectare of land’. In North Carolina in the US, a house house constructed using hempcrete was made in 2010.The builders of the house have attested that as the lime in the hempcrete mixture hardens over time, the walls of the house actually become stronger, instead of weakening as traditional walls do.
Hemp produces so many tonnes of usable resources per hectare that it is one of the faster growing biomasses of our time. As with most nutrient-rich crops, growing hemp also improves the land, as it improves the soil quality and the nutrients found in the soil.
With human reliance on fossil fuels and synthetic fibers comes mass deforestation for wood pulp agriculture. If a single crop can provide a solution to the environmental destruction for resources, it’s certainly hemp. Hemp is a renewable natural resource that can be used to manufacturer thousands of different products, and when the plant is harvested almost every part of it can be put to use. Also, more uses for the hemp plant are being discovered every day. Although growing any crop as a monocrop is not particularly good for local diversity, hemp is the most environmentally friendly option due to requiring significantly fewer pesticides and providing much larger yields per hectare when compared to other crops, such as cotton.
While allergies and immune system disorders are on the rise, hemp oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can provide essential nutrients for people on restricted diets or living in areas of the world where food is scarce. Growing hemp is a powerful solution for a wide array of environmental problems on our planet, from locking CO2 away into long-lasting and durable buildings, to reducing chemical use during the growing procedure, by reducing emissions through importing hemp goods from China, by creating long-lasting reusable goods such as clothing and paper, and even by detoxifying nuclear waste, as demonstrated in Chernobyl. Growing hemp for fuel could replace the dangerous and costly nuclear power industry, and would certainly reduce carbon emissions due to the less intensive farming methods required to grow it. Hemp can also be made into a type of plastic which biodegrades much faster than oil-made plastic, thereby reducing our dependence on oil and its derivatives.
Hemp is an immensely profitable crop. Growing hemp in the US could provide a huge boost to the local economy, to the job sector, and to the health of US citizens, who would not have to pay import prices for hemp products and could therefore afford to include them as a part of their daily diets. Growing hemp is actually a strongly American thing to do, as it was once strongly encouraged in early American towns, and was even a legal requirement in a few of them. In fact, the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and George Washington himself once said ‘Make the most of the Indian hemp seed…and sow it everywhere’.
Currently one of the largest negative effects of the ban for the average consumer is the cost to import hemp, which is very high and which creates unnecessary carbon miles. There is a growing body of hemp activists across the US, from medical professionals to green groups to clothing manufacturers, who all want to see a federal policy change that will lift the ban on hemp farming in the US. Visit www.hemphistoryweek.com to write a letter to the US Government asking to lift the ban on hemp, and to add your voice to the debate. By fighting for hemp, you may be fighting for a much greener, safer, healthier world.
June 4-10 is the third annual Hemp History Week. For further information, also visit www.votehemp.com
Image Source: Public Domain Photos/Flickr
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