What is Hemp?
Hemp is an annual plant commonly found in the northern hemisphere and is part of the cannabis sativa family. It is exceptional in its variety of uses, so it has been grown for both industrial and consumer purposes. The word “sativa” means useful in Latin, which means hemp boasts its potential beginning with its name. It is used to make a variety of every day products and has recently been noted for its medicinal benefits.
Hemp is noted as having the “longest and strongest” natural fiber which is used to create over 25,000 products. The fiber is found in the stalk of the plant and can be used to make things like paper, clothing, rope and canvas… to name a few. The fibers are harvested by hand, which reduces the environmental impact from factories and chemicals. Its fibers can also be used for building materials, which could reduce the impact of deforestation that comes from harvesting trees.
Although it is in the cannabis family, the hemp plant is distinguishable and unique. In fact, marijuana and hemp cannot be grown near each other. It is a dominant plant and will actually alter the chemical composition of marijuana when they are grown too closely together.
There are three types of hemp grown:
Oil seed: these plants will produce a high yield of seeds that are grown to produce hemp oil. The oil is harvested by pressing the seeds and using one of many methods of extraction to create a final product.
Fiber: these plants will be planted in high density in order to maximize quality bast fibers. Bast fibers is found in the stem. It is soft and woody in nature.
Hybrid: these plants have been selectively bred. They are known as “cultivars” and this means that they haven’t been grown by seeds. For example, a cultivar may be grown from a plant cutting. The new growth will retain the characteristics of the mother plant.
How is hemp grown?
Hemp grows well in mild climates with a well-aerated, draining soil that has a strong organic matter composition. Crops are generally plants after the risks of hard freezes have passed. Good, substantial rainfall is important for proper seed germination and is most important in the first one to two months of planting. It can be planted in the same soil for several years and still produce high yields. Nitrogen is critical during first couple of months of growth, then phosphorous and potassium are necessary during the flowering and seeding stage.
It is recommended that hemp is rotated in order to prevent the buildup of disease within the crop. A small number have pests have some damaged crops like grasshoppers and armyworms, but there is not any pesticides registered in the United States in order to treat hemp. A more challenging issue is diseases that affect the plant. Variations of fungal molds, fungal/bacterial leaf spots, viruses and root rot pose more of a threat to the crop. It is not recommended to grow plants like sunflowers, canola and soybeans because this increases the risk of mold among hemp.
Hemp is considered to be a “short day plant.” A short day plant only flower when there is less than twelve hours of daylight. Anything over this will prevent a plant from blossoming, so there are specific times of year when growing hemp is critical.
There are both male and female varieties of this plant. Male plants tend to flower quicker, make less seeds and die quicker than female plants. As a result, most farmers tend to plant more female plants with just a small number of male plants used to pollinate. Female plants will also produce more fiber and create less of an impact on the yield.
When did hemp cultivation begin?
The farming, harvesting and use of hemp dates back over 10,000 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest agricultural crops. Cords made from it were discovered in Taiwan in an ancient village that date back past 8,000 B.C. It was cultivated in China as early as 6000 B.C. to use the seeds and oils in foods. Writings about hemp were discovered in India in 600 B.C. and noted the “intoxicating effects” of the resin.
Early cultures used it in ceremonies and spiritual rituals, in meditation, for pleasure and use to make clothing. The plant was viewed as having a divine connection and some considered it to have “magical powers.” Some cultures believed the plant was a gift from a higher power, so hemp had a sacred, valued purpose among its users.
Additional to cultural and spiritual practices, hemp was recognized early on for having medicinal benefits. Herbalists noted that it was beneficial in treating disease, illness, infections and other disorders. In 1621, the Anatomy of Melancholy was published and referenced it as an anti-depressant. In 1764, the New English Dispensatory encouraged that topical application could treat skin inflammation. W.B. O’Shaughnessy reported in 1839 that it was effective in treating ailments like epilepsy and tetanus. He also noted that a tincture of it was being used as a pain reliever.
In the Americas, cultivation of hemp was mandated by European colonists due to its noted value. In 1606, Britain began growing hemp in Canada and then Virginia in 1611. Hemp was already existing in the Americas and the Native Americans were instrumental in helping the colonists cultivate these plants. Punishments were imposed on colonists to ensure that they continued to grow crops for England. Colonists did not process and use the hemp, as it was forbidden to ensure dependence on England. Hemp was mainly used as an export, until immigrants began weaving their own fabrics from the fibers and boycotted English products. After the War of Independence, the American paper industry developed and used hemp paper as a major means of communication.
Where does the world stand on hemp today?
Currently, there is a worldwide movement in both research and growing hemp. There are many countries that currently grow hemp for commercial use across the continents of Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Japan, Netherlands and the United States are the main countries engaging in the research. China is the largest exporter of hemp in the entire world for the paper and textile industries. Canada is produces and exports more hemp seeds than anyone else in the world. They produce high quality seeds that are non-GMO and free of pesticides. The US currently imports 60-90% of its current hemp from Canada. Europe’s focus has been on producing hemp for industrial uses, like automobiles and building materials.
Overall, the United States is far behind its counterparts in utilization, application and appreciation of the hemp industry. Many countries see hemp for its true value and potential. Hemp is able to produce high quality products, have less environmental impacts and are significantly boosting financial revenue in the countries where is cultivated. While some countries have restrictions on the industry or prohibit it altogether, the general consensus points towards the growth and importance of hemp’s development. As education and awareness continue, the restrictions and stigmas unfairly associated with hemp are expected to diminish further.
What are the uses of hemp?
As mentioned previously, there are over 25,000 products currently produced using hemp. The items that utilize hemp continuously expand and will continue to do so over the coming years. Although it would be nearly impossible to discuss each product in detail, some of the major categories of the use will be mentioned below:
Food: hemp seeds can be used in several ways in the kitchen. The seeds can be eaten on their own, sprouted or ground into powders. Similar to other oils, the seeds can be cold pressed to create hemp oil. Hemp is being mixed with coffees and teas in dried form and made into a liquid for products like hemp milk. Hemp can be mixed into baked items like muffins, cookies and granola. Extracted hemp oil is being used in candies. Nutritionally, hemp is a healthy choice to incorporate into one’s diet. Hemp is notable for its high protein content, as well as being a rich source of dietary fiber. It provides significant amounts of B vitamins and minerals like manganese, zinc, potassium, magnesium and iron. More benefits include high content of essential fatty acids and amino acids.
Fiber: the fibers of the hemp plant can create a large variety of products. Hemp paper can be utilized in any capacity that paper made from trees are used like stationary, notebooks and cards. Items like rope, canvas and fabrics are produced with extreme durability and strength. Clothing is also made from hemp and has a similar texture to linen. Most hemp clothing is blended with another fiber in today’s market. Certain types of jewelry are woven from the fibers to create beautiful, durable accessories.
Building Materials: hemp is mixed with other products in order to create insulating products used in buildings. Hemp blocks are not strong enough to be used structurally alone, but can be reinforced with other materials. Hemp fibers are also used in place of wood in many construction projects. Hemp is often mixed with lime to make panels, blocks and plaster. The European Union in conducting studies on hemp-line panels for buildings testing for durability, energy efficiency and rapid on-site erection. The first home in the United States constructed of hemp based products was built in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010.
Plastic and Composite Materials: hemp is also being combined with other products like fiberglass in order to create composite panels in automobiles. Examples of this can be found on interior door panels and gloves boxes. Major luxury car companies such as Audi, BMW, Lotus and Mercedes have all started utilizing it in their vehicles. Other companies like Honda, Ford, GM and Volkswagen are joining in. It can also be combined with other materials to create things like composite bath vanities.
Biofuels: which the production of fuel created from hemp is small, this is another environmentally friendly example of a product that comes from hemp. Biodiesel is derived from the oil in the stalk and seeds and is sometimes referred to as “hempoline.” Properly filtered hemp oil can be used directly to fuel diesel engines.
Medicinal: Hemp is making huge impacts throughout the medical community through its wide application in treating illness and diseases. It produces a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD). CBD working through two receptors in the biological system within the body known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). By providing the ECS with the necessary cannabinoids to create balance within the system, there are notable improvements on ailments like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, mood regulation, epilepsy, pain, and inflammation and bacterial/fungal/viral infections. Hemp oil is also being used in the prevention and treatment of cancer. The listed examples are not a complete list of the medicinal benefits that it can provide. There are even hemp products geared toward our furry friend’s health, including calming drops and coat sprays. Pets’ health care can be costly, but hemp offers natural and more cost effective alternatives.
Agriculture and Livestock: some farmers have used it to manage weeds from killing their other crops. Since it can be planted densely, they essential smother out the weeds. This prevents farmers from having to use chemicals to kill weeks. Additionally, the core of the stem has been used to create bedding for farm animals and to be utilized as mulch.
Environmental Purification: hemp is able to remove impurities from water, like chemical run off and sewage waste. Soil can also be purified by the hemp plant using a process called phytoremediation, which is a technology that uses living plants to remove contaminants.
Cosmetics: hemp is used in a wide variety of cosmetics. Hemp oil is added to things like lotions body creams due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Soap, bath bombs, shampoo and conditioners are also increasing in popularity in the beauty market. More therapeutically, hemp oil is combined with other analgesic ingredients like arnica for topical pain relief qualities. Its antioxidant rich properties make it a benefit when added to anti-aging facial products. A recent interest in hemp infused makeup arose, due to the hydrating and skin relieving capabilities.