Benefits of Hemp
The hemp plant has a long history of being grown and harvested for its fiber and seeds. It’s a plant that produces fibers similar to jute and flax. The annual plant is easy to grow, especially if it is planted well-drained soil. Because it’s such a fast-growing plant, it requires very little pesticides. Depending on whether the goal is fiber or seed, it can either be harvested as soon as the plant comes into flower, or after seed production has taken place. It produces a long fiber that has excellent strength, absorbency and durability. The hemp fiber also exhibits good anti-microbial and anti-mildew properties.
Unfortunately, although there are many benefits of hemp, the industrial hemp plant is in the same classification with marijuana. As such, the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency puts industrial hemp and marijuana plants in the same category. Although it’s theoretically possible to legally grow hemp plants in the United States, the security requirements needed would make doing so cost prohibitive. However, the same is not true in all countries. In fact many industrialized democracies make a distinction between marijuana and hemp, allowing hemp to be legally grown and harvested.
The History of Hemp
Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants. In fact, hemp fabric relics exist that date back to 8,000 B.C. It has a long history of being used for fuel, fiber, food and even medicine. Up until the beginning of the 1900s, hemp was considered to be a very important source of fiber for making paper, fabric, rope and other valuable commodities. The growing of hemp was even mandated in early Colonial America because of the usefulness of its fiber. It was common for ships to be fully outfitted in hemp rigging, such as was the case with Christopher Columbus’ ships and the U.S.S. Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides.”
However, in modern times the growing of hemp for industrial purposes has fallen out of favor. Some blame the “war on drugs,” while others cite the “big business” that surrounds lumber and other industries that could be displaced by hemp.
Positive Qualities of Industrial Hemp
Industrial hemp is generally grown in order to harvest its stalk, which can be used to make a variety of products. It’s long been used to make paper. Because hemp’s cellulose level is higher than that of paper, it produces a high-quality acid-free paper. Hemp is a sustainable crop that can be harvested in just a few months, as opposed to the years that it takes for a tree to reach maturity. Hemp also requires less processing in order to produce paper, making it more energy efficient and easier on the environment.
Because hemp produces such a long and strong plant fiber, it has historically been used to produce canvas, rope, twine and webbing. Long before there was nylon, there was hemp. It’s an extremely versatile fiber that can be used to create durable fabrics for a wide variety of uses. Growing hemp doesn’t deplete the soil in the same way that cotton does, nor does it require the high amounts of pesticides and fertilizers in order to grow. Producing hemp fabric also doesn’t require a dependence upon animals, such as is the case with wool.
Many people feel that the many benefits of hemp could also be used in a myriad of other ways, such as a wood alternative or as the ideal rotation crop for farmers to use as a soil rejuvenator. There are also many creative ways to use the hemp fiber, such as using it to create a high-strength and yet low weight concrete.
Hemp is fast-growing plant that is simple to grow. Additionally, when harvested for its stalk or seeds, the leaves and roots can be worked back into the soil, thus preserving its nutrients. It doesn’t require heavily fertilized soil or large amounts of pesticides in order to grow, and it doesn’t deplete the soil like some plants do. In fact, when grown properly, it can actually leave the soil more fertile than before hemp was planted.
Uses for Hemp Seeds
In addition to the fiber produced by the hemp plant, the seeds are also extremely useful. Hemp seeds have a long history of being used as a combustible fuel. Hemp oil can also be used in varnishes, paints and eco-friendly biodegradable inks. As far back as 1941, Henry Ford was experimenting with using hemp-based plastic for his automobiles.
As a source of food, hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are perhaps one of the best possible sources of plant protein. Hemp seeds can be ground into flour, pressed into oil, or simply eaten whole. They are an excellent natural source of the essential amino acids, which of course have many healthy benefits. In places where most plants will not grow, hemp could be a very valuable source of food that could eliminate malnutrition and hunger. The same high nutrients that make hemp seed and hemp seed oil valuable as a food also make it ideally suited for body care products. Skin and hair care products made from hemp oil provide the body with a rich source of a wide variety of healthy nutrients.
The Hemp Controversy
Although hemp was commonly grown in the past because of its many useful qualities, in modern times people often categorize industrial hemp with marijuana. However, the industrial hemp plant and the plant grown for the purpose of harvesting marijuana are actually quite different. Industrial hemp contains a very low, or in some cases almost non-existent level of the THC that makes marijuana desirable. The industrial hemp plant, because it is grown primarily for its stalk, also looks much different than the leafy marijuana plant.
Many people feel that industrial hemp is a highly beneficial plant that should be explored further, instead of being banned. However, because of the various political, legal and financial controversies surrounding the plant, growing industrial hemp is currently very difficult in many countries. Many hope that in the future people will become more enlightened about the many benefits of hemp, so that it once again can be grown as a useful industrial crop.