Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to humanity. In fact, according to the Columbia History of the World book by John A. Garraty, the oldest relic of human industry is a hemp fabric scrap dating back to 8,000 B.C. Its history is a long one and thanks to its versatility, it has been used for many applications over thousands of years. Some of the uses of hemp include making clothes, boat sails, canvas, paper, twine, ship rigs, fishnets and much more.
The hemp plant grows fairly quickly, reaching maturity in between 3 to 6 months. It is great at absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, and that’s why it grows so quickly, not to mention tall (up to 15 feet). It can also grow anywhere in the world, except Antarctica due to the unfavorable cold climate.
But exactly what is hemp and how does it differ from its intoxicating cousin, marijuana, that people use for recreational purposes? Let us delve into the details to help you understand this versatile plant.
What is Hemp?
There are numerous cannabis plant varieties. Hemp, also known as industrial hemp, is the non-intoxicating variety of Cannabis sativa L (containing less than 0.3% of THC). Both marijuana and hemp come from the same species, they are different. The two can be further distinguished by chemical makeup, cultivation methods and of course, utilization.
The hemp plant is generally taller than marijuana. Most of its leaves are found at the top of the plant, staying closer as the hemp plant grows. In addition, it has the ability to be cultivated in a wide array of conditions and does not call for the same care as marijuana.
Both industrial hemp and marijuana come from the same species and contain psychotropic THC. However, hemp contains much lower amounts of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the ‘high’ feeling experienced from marijuana consumption.
The Most Common Uses for Hemp
Food and Beverages
Hemp can be consumed by human beings, and has many health benefits. You can make salad oil using hemp and include it in an array of recipes. Hemp seeds can be consumed in the same way as most nuts, and can be added to cake batter for baked goods.
Hemp is rich in amino acids and fatty acids, both essential for your diet. Ideally, you can crush hemp seeds to make flour or oil. As a food, hemp is extremely versatile. You can consume the seeds raw or convert them into hemp milk or oil. Given hemp oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, you can use it as an alternative to other cooking oils. Even hemp plant leaves can be eaten, and you will come across people including them in salads or blending them to make hemp juice.
Hemp seeds are high in protein and provide over two-thirds of the daily value of protein in every 100-gram serving. They are also rich in B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus and dietary fiber. Hemp can also be infused in iced tea, fermented into wine, brewed into beer and distilled into other alcoholic drinks.
Hemp has been used for textiles for centuries, with samples of its fabrics dating back to 8000 B.C. Contrary to the slightly tough and rough properties it once had, hemp has since entered into high fashion domains. It can be mixed with silk for lingeries, and applied to areas where its durability is utilized to best advantage: providing material for jeans, shoes, and other tough clothing.
Some of the high-end labels that utilize hemp fibers are Calvin Klein, Armani and Ralph Lauren. Hemp is one of the lightest fibers out there, lending clothes a breathable and lightweight feel.
Hemp has been used to manufacture paper for over two millennia, even though hemp paper today only accounts for 0.05% of global paper production. It’s more economical to use hemp to produce paper. It also contributes to the conservation of trees, forests, and wildlife. Given the current state of our world, using hemp to make paper is a great way to protect the environment. Hemp also grows faster than trees, making it a sustainable, renewable resource for paper production.
Pet Food & Animal Bedding
As earlier mentioned, hemp is rich in nutrients, and so, it is not surprising that it can be used to make pet food. When fed to cats, it makes their coats healthy and shiny. It can also be utilized as a supplement for nourishing cows, horses, and dogs.
The plant is also used to make bedding for animals like rats, guinea pigs, etc. It can also be used as bedding for horses to lay on. The shives from the hemp stem are used to make animal bedding and mulch.
The hemp plant can also be transformed into construction materials that replace huge portions of plywood, conventional insulation, drywall, and even sealants and glues. After harvesting, the hemp stalks go through a decoration process, and the fibers are concentrated into a pulp.
The fibrous material is then mixed with water and lime to create a composition called hempcrete, which is a lighter, stronger, and more eco-friendly version of concrete. Hempcrete is fire, mold and pest resistant and with the recent changes in hemp laws, it might become a primary choice of builders down the line. If you enjoy a warm and comfy home, you will certainly appreciate the heat and noise insulation hemp construction materials provide.
If you can manufacture something from plastic, chances are you can achieve the same with hemp plastic. Conventional plastic takes years to breakdown, but this is not the case with plastic derived from hemp. Biodegradable plastics made from products like hemp are known as bioplastics and can help reduce landfills.
Bioplastics can reduce CO2 emissions and have less of a negative impact on the surroundings compared to conventional plastics. Hemp plastics are made from the hemp plant’s stalk and can be used for an array of products such as bottles, bowls, forks, knives, spoons, straws, bags, etc.
Unfortunately, hemp plastics aren’t produced on a large scale because it’s harder and more expensive to produce compared to their petroleum-based counterparts. Even so, there are companies taking the initiative to develop hemp plastic, and this makes the future look promising.
Yes, it is possible to derive biofuel from hemp! Like any vegetable oil, it’s possible to process hemp oil into two biofuel types: bioethanol and biodiesel. Hemp seeds are used to make the latter, which can extend the life of a diesel engine with better lubrication. The rest of the plant can be processed into bioethanol, which has an array of uses.
Fuel from hemp offers an alternative to the current dependence on fossil fuels, and the fact that it emits less ozone-damaging toxins makes it an appealing option.
Soaps and Skincare Products
Nowadays, it’s not hard to come across soaps and lotions made with hemp and their benefits for the skin have been well-established. Through an extraction method known as cold press, hemp seed oil retains fatty and amino acids, vitamins A and E and several minerals.
Hemp seed oil is known to prevent the loss of moisture in your skin and can alleviate dryness or dermatitis. Additionally, it is non-comedogenic, meaning it will not clog the skin pores.
Hemp oil cleansers extract excess oil and dirt from the skin, leaving you with a clean and glowing look. These cleansing properties make hemp oil a popular ingredient in natural laundry soaps as it gets rid of grime without affecting the dye on fibers.
Another intriguing use of hemp is soil contamination cleanup. In the late ’90s, hemp was tested at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site to aid in healing the soil. Due to its fast growth rate, planting a substantial number of hemp plants can help clean land contaminated with sewage sludge, fly ash, and other heavy metals. However, the plant’s use in phytoremediation is still in its infancy.
When fed to cattle, the plant increases health and performance. Hemp seeds are rich in Omega 3, 6, 9 and GLA, all of which are vital in rearing healthy cattle. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC when compared to marijuana, which usually contains between 5 and 35 percent THC.
Thanks to the recent changes in hemp laws, the opportunity to use hemp more in animal feed has emerged. Hemp is an excellent substitute for the detrimental corn-based or chemical-laced feed. These have caused many issues, both health-related and environmentally for animals and individuals who eat them and their nutrients. More and more companies are looking into using hemp in animal feed, and this is a big positive step for the cattle and farming industry.
Hemp can be used to produce consumer-grade CBD oil. As a matter of fact, extracting CBD oil from hemp is the safest and most effective way of making and distributing the product. Hemp makes it much easier for cannabis products to avoid federal prohibition laws. That’s because industrial hemp does not have enough THC to be considered illegal. However, they have numerous other potent cannabinoids.
In particular, hemp contains CBD, the compound responsible for most of the reported therapeutic properties of cannabis. CBD oil from hemp is also an excellent choice for people who want to enjoy the effects of cannabis without getting high from THC.
For the past few years, researchers have been hard at work developing “supercapacitors.” These are a sort of battery that can store energy in a cleaner and more efficient manner. Currently, supercapacitors made from graphene nanosheets are the best, but they are too costly to be commercially viable.
However, in 2014, Canadian scientists figured out how to create nanosheets from hemp fibers, which can then be utilized to manufacture supercapacitors.
You can grow hemp naturally in almost any farmland in the world. There are numerous varieties to pick from for their varying characteristics. You can go for high oil content hemp, varieties with certain fiber lengths, and anything in between. Some seed banks hold more than 100 strains of hemp. Given how fast hemp grows, the plant chokes out weeds and has a strong resistance to pests. As such, you can grow it with other legume plants, maturing in just 3 to 6 months.
Thanks to long taproots, hemp plants are able to reach water, aerate and bind the soil in places other plants cannot. As such, hemp can be used to reclaim land in regions prone to drought and flooding.
Other Environmental Benefits
Hemp has roots that penetrate deep into the soil, and this helps prevent erosion. For ideal growth, hemp requires very little fertilizer and no pesticides. This not only makes the crop environmentally friendly but also reduces agricultural costs. Additionally, hemp’s paper manufacturing saves the felling of trees and doesn’t require harsh chemicals, unlike the tree-based process.
The fuel extracted from industrial hemp is free from sulfur and other heavy metals. It’s a clean biomass fuel and causes very little air pollution in comparison to other forms of fuel. The level of CO2 emitted from burning hemp fuel is also negligible, and so, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and other unpleasant occurrences can be minimized.
Final Thoughts on Uses for Hemp
So, is hemp a plant for the future? With modern forms of farming in trouble, farmers are being encouraged to decrease land cultivation, and billions are going hungry in developing countries while food surpluses are being wasted in developed nations. Hemp proves to be a lifeline plant for rural regions and areas prone to hunger. A village facing famine could feed, clothe and house themselves from a single hemp field, thanks to its organic nature and versatility.
In developed countries, we still depend on machinery from the beginning of the century to harvest and process hemp. Thankfully, new equipment is being developed with the intention of making hemp plants as easy to process as hay and cotton.
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