Hemp – A growing Phenomenon

hemp-desert-sand_204Hemp was one of the earliest of all cultivated plants, prized by the ancients for its use as both a food source and a textile fiber. Additional benefits of hemp, in fact, are being discovered to this very day.

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a species of the Cannabis sativa plant that has been specifically bred to produce long coarse fibers. For thousands of years, hemp has been used to manufacture hemp rope, hemp paper, hemp shoes and hemp clothing. Hemp seed also has a high nutritional value, and in addition to being used as food, the oil pressed from hemp seed has been used as fuel and in biodegradable plastics.

The hemp plant is closely related to the cannabis plant that is harvested to produce marijuana; however, only one percent of the hemp plant is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that produces marijuana’s psychotropic effects. In contrast, marijuana typically contains 1 to 15 percent THC by weight. Nonetheless, the confusion between the two plants has restricted the use of industrial hemp in some parts of the world, notably the United States where the federal government prohibits its cultivation. Raw hemp fiber and seed, and hemp products can be imported into the U.S., however.

Is Hemp Eco-Friendly?

Hemp is an extremely environmentally friendly plant that has multiple uses both as a food and textile source. Products made from hemp fibers have a natural resistance to molds and mildew, are extremely durable and naturally flame resistant. Best of all, hemp products are completely biodegradable.

Hemp plants grow well without the use of pesticides, and they’re known to leach impurities from soil. Following the 1986 disaster at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, industrial hemp was planted in the surrounding area to help decontaminate the radioactive soil. Hemp grows quickly, and is a natural weed blocker. It requires far less water that other vegetable fiber plants like cotton, and it has a much higher crop yield.

Where Does Hemp Grow?

Hemp grows in a range of soil types, and prefers a mild climate with a rainfall of at least 30 inches per year. Botanists believe the cannabis plant is indigenous to Central and South Asia, but it now grows wild in many parts of the world. By the end of the Neolithic era, the plant could be found in all parts of Europe. The Spanish brought hemp to South America toward the end of the 16th century.

The world’s largest commercial hemp producer is China, which grows 79 percent of the hemp used worldwide for industrial purposes. Other leading hemp producers are France, Chile and Russia.

The History of Hemp

Archeologists have found evidence of hemp use in China that dates back to the 5th century BC. Hemp was initially used in the production of ropes, paper products, and the sails of ships. In fact, the word “canvas” is derived from a Dutch word for cannabis. The ropes and sails on Columbus’s ships, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, were all made from hemp. The Dutch artist Rembrandt painted primarily on hemp canvases.

Until the invention of the cotton gin in the 1820s, hemp was the most popular source of vegetable fibers used in textiles, bedding and clothing. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp on their plantations. Hemp fibers were also the source of most of the world’s paper until the late 19th century.

In 1937, the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law effectively brought the commercial cultivation of hemp to an end in the U.S. Nevertheless, during World War II, the U.S. manufactured canvas, rope and soldiers’ uniforms from hemp. The U.S. government even produced a propaganda film entitled “Hemp For Victory,” advising farmers to grow as much hemp as possible.

What Textiles and Products Are Made From Hemp?

A variety of products are made from hemp including:

• Hemp fabric: Pure hemp yarn when its woven into textiles has a texture similar to linen. Hemp dresses, hemp slacks, hemp shirts, hemp bedding, hemp bags and hemp carpet are becoming increasingly popular choices among eco-conscious consumers.

• Hemp rugs: A hemp rug is strong and also soft, thick and also pliant, and will hold up under heavy use making a hemp area rug the perfect choice for any high traffic area of your home.

• Hemp paper: At present, hemp pulp has relatively high processing costs when compared to wood pulp for use in paper production. However, scientists are looking into ways to streamline hemp paper production.

• Hemp plastics and building materials: Since 2002, many top automobile manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler and Honda, have been blending hemp fiber into fiberglass to produce molded automotive parts such as door panels. Hemp has also been combined with lime to create eco-friendly, breathable insulation materials for construction projects.

What Hemp Products Are Edible?

The list of hemp seed benefits is long. Hemp seeds are highly nutritious, and have a flavor that many consumers liken to pine nuts. Hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids as well as Vitamin E, several B vitamins, proteins, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper and dietary fiber. When hemp seeds are soaked in water and ground up, they yield a beverage called hemp milk, which is a great source of protein for those on vegan diets.

Approximately 30 percent of the hemp seed is made up of oil. Hemp oil benefits are numerous since the oil is a source of the Omega 6 and Omega 3 that have been proven to boost immune system functions. Additionally, hemp seed oil is used as an ingredient in many cosmetics and skin care products such as hemp lotion.

Hemp is an extremely versatile plant, and the fibers spun from the hemp plant have natural anti-microbial, flame retardant and stain resistant properties making it a natural choice for rugs and carpet in your home.


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