Arguably the world’s best known renewable natural resource, hemp is viewed as a one point source for an industrial society. From fiber to food to fuel to cosmetics to paints to medicines to paper and plastics, the hemp plant can be used for any or all, making it not only one of the oldest known cultivated plants, but also a very versatile and controversial plant. Its Latin derivative sativa actually stands for ‘useful hemp’. All parts of the hemp plant are useful. From its seed to its bark, everything has its uses.
It is considered controversial because of its relation to marijuana or cannabis. But as research and studies have shown, the industrial hemp plant does not have much in common with the marijuana plant. The hemp plant is less dense, has smaller leaves, is much taller and grows tightly packed. Hemp is a variety of the plant species Cannabis Sativa, but it has negligible psychoactive properties that is associated with marijuana.
A variety of the plant species cannabis sativa, hemp grows on a number of different soils but they must all be well drained, nitrogen rich and non acidic. Normally hemp plants do not require much pesticides as they have a natural inbuilt capacity to repel most pests. Hemp plants grow to about 2 to 5 meters in height and need only about 70 to 110 days to become fully mature. Where most other crops take the nutrients from the soil, the hemp plant replaces the nutrients in the soil, thus making it a great rotation crop. The hemp crop is harvested at different times for different products. If making fiber is the intention, then the crop is harvested as soon as it flowers but for production of seeds and stalks, the harvesting happens around 4 to 6 weeks after flowering when the male plants have started shedding pollen.
Hemp has a history going back almost 10,000 to 12,000 years. From the ancient Egyptians to the Mesopotamian and the Chinese civilizations, people have been using hemp and its by-products. Hemp was being used to make cosmetics, to manufacture textiles, to produce oil and as a food product. It is also a well-known fact that for centuries, the fiber from hemp is what was used to make most of the world’s sailing canvases, ropes and rigging nets. The reason for its popularity lay in the fact that it had properties that made it resistant to the corroding effects of salt water. Ancient civilizations also used it to make paper, carpet strands and other indigenous articles of daily use.
Modern Day Uses
Even today hemp is used to manufacture a variety of products .
Hemp Oil – The oil from the hemp plant is rich in essential fatty acids which is beneficial to health. Hemp seeds comprise about 25% high quality protein and around 40% fat. The composition of hemp seeds makes it a good source for high quality oil. According to research, hemp oil is supposed to lower the risk of heart attacks as it is rich in linoleic and linolenic acids. It is also supposed to be good for people with arthritis and other immunity related disorders as it has a natural inbuilt anti–inflammatory effect.
Refined hemp oil has little nutrients but is widely used in the manufacture of cosmetics, lubricants, paints and other varied industrial uses. It also makes a useful base for detergents, shampoos and soaps because of its antimicrobial properties. Hemp oil is highly nutritious and helps promote hair growth and slows the aging process. In fact even after the oil has been crushed from the seed, there still remains around 25% protein which makes it an excellent source of dietary fiber - an important nutritional supplement.
Textiles - One of the most common uses of industrial hemp is as fiber for textiles. The hemp stalk contains bast fibers which is one of the longest naturally soft fibers available, making the clothing from it, warmer, softer and more absorbent. Indeed, hemp is the world's strongest natural fiber and was the first crop ever cultivated for textile production. It has been used to make cloth and rope for over 10,000 years.
Bio fuel - Hemp hydrocarbons are also processed into a wide range of biomass energy resources, which can become an eco friendly way to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Hemp is presently, a viable environment friendly energy source. Fiber board produced from hemp is almost twice as strong as wood based fiberboard. It is also used to process and produce every quality of paper. It reduces waste water contamination and its low lignin content reduces the need for acids used in pulping, making it extremely environment friendly. Thus hemp is the world’s best paper making material from both environmental and sustainability standpoint. Paper made from hemp resists decomposition and does not become yellow like other wood pulp manufactured paper and because it is a strong natural fiber, it can be recycled many more times than ordinary paper.
It is also said than one can build an entire house using products made of hemp -- cement, flooring, insulation, particle board, plaster, roofing and almost anything else, making the house resistant to pests, providing thermal and sound insulation, more stronger and ensuring that it is resistant to cracking and breaking.
The high fiber content of hemp makes it a good natural resource for building materials, paper-making, and even biodegradable plastics.
Did You Know?
- Hemp is the oldest cultivated fiber plant in the world.
- In ancient Egypt the Pharohs used hemp in building the pyramids.
- George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp.
- Ben Franklin started one of the first paper mills that made hemp paper.
- Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
- Lipton Tea has been using hemp in their tea bags forever.
- Hemp seed is one of the most nutritional foods on the planet.
- Hemp oil is the richest known source of essential fatty acids - even more than fish oil.
- Hemp produces 10 times more methanol than corn and is earth’s number one biomass resource.
- One acre of hemp can yield as much usable fiber as 4 acres of trees or 2 acres of cotton.
- One acre of hemp produces as much paper as 4 acres of trees.
- 50% of the world’s pesticides are used to grow cotton. Hemp can be grown naturally.
- Hemp fibers make a garment 4 times stronger than cotton and eliminate shrinkage.
- Hemp clothing is easy to care for and can be put in the washer and dryer safely.
- 100% of the hemp plant can be used commercially - fibers, biomass fuel and animal feed.
- The US Government paid farmers to grow “Hemp for Victory” during WWI and WWII.
- Henry Ford made a hemp car that would not smash with a sledgehammer.
- Rudolph Diesel designed his original engine to run on hemp oil.
- Hemp beer has been brewed for centuries.
- Hemp Defined
- GLOBAL HEMP WEBSITE
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- Why Hemp?
- Hemp Facts