Hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of the cannabis sativa plant that can be grown for industrial uses, is truly a multi-functional and fascinating type of flora. From houses to lingerie, hemp’s fiber (extracted from the stem), leaves, and oil (pressed from the seeds) are all quite useful—Hemp.com shares that hemp can be used to make over 25,000 products, including
“clothing, shoes, diapers, rope, canvas, cellophane, paints, fuels, chain lubricants, biodegradable plastics, paper, fibreboard, cement blocks, food, cosmetics, and soap.”
Here we will look at five uses for hemp and a bit of hemp background and news.
- Building Materials
Hemp building products are famously strong and Collective Evolution shares that they are also “rot free, pest free, mold free, and fire resistant.” Hemp can be made into stucco, insulation, fibreboard, pressboard, and “hempcrete,” which is a lighter and more environmentally friendly concrete alternative. Hempcrete Australia says it is an acoustically favorable, insulating, and carbon negative product. Hempcrete absorbs carbon through the air in a process called biosequestration.
Here’s a beautiful house made primarily of hemp in Asheville, North Carolina:
Hemp based plastics can be used to make carpets, shower curtain liners, various product cases, and more, all of which are biodegradable. In 1941 Henry Ford unveiled a lightweight and strong plastic car that some sources say was made out of cellulose fibers from hemp, soybeans, wheat, and other natural sources. The Henry Ford site explains that the “exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today.” Regardless of whether this mystery is ever solved, Ford made it clear that he was a fan of hemp crops:
“Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines which required ages to lay down if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?”
Treehugger explains that hemp fabric has been dated in China back to 8,000 B.C. Clothing and other textiles made from hemp are durable, soft, and diverse; because of its strength it is commonly used for jeans, shoes, or athletic apparel, but can also be made into lovely frocks like the one below from Isoude, formal gowns, bedding textiles, and more.
Hemp is a great textile crop when compared to cotton because it can produce two to three times as much fiber annually and is a long-lasting, mildew resistant material. Hemp is said to soften exponentially as it is washed as well. Hemp is tolerant of frost, can be grown in every US state, and requires low amounts of water. According to Hemp Basics, hemp requires “no pesticides, no herbicides, and only moderate amounts of fertilizer.” Vote Hemp explains that nearly half of U.S. agricultural chemicals are used in cotton production.
A related stylish product is this awesome vintage 1960’s hemp pin on Etsy:
- Paper Products
Hemp paper has been in production for thousands of years. One acre of hemp can produce two to four times the amount of paper that one acre of trees can produce. Hemp can be made into versatile papers, grows quickly, and can help us to preserve forestlands. It can be whitened with hydrogen peroxide (versus wood pulp’s chemical bleaching) and can be recycled twice as many times as pulp based paper. Below are some hemp paper products from Rawganique.
- Food and Drink
Hemp seeds have a nutty flavor and both the seeds and the oil derived from them are very healthy. They offer protein, calcium, essential fatty acids, potassium, magnesium, and more. Hemp can be used to make tea and milk. While hemp does not contain enough THC to cause a marijuana high (it must be cultivated with a THC concentration lower than 0.3 percent), it can be brewed, fermented, and distilled into beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. Humbolt Brewing Co. offers a Hemp Ale which is a Brown Ale with a toasted hemp seed flavor kick.
Pressed hemp seeds or fermented hemp stalks can be used to make a biofuel. While it’s a non-toxic fuel, it does have the issue, as many biofuels do, of using up large amounts of land for fuel production. Treehugger points out that leftover stalks could be used as feedstock.
A Few More Hemp Facts
Hemp is one of the oldest agricultural crops and was found over 10,000 years ago in Taiwan. Early English colonists in the U.S. were required to grow hemp and it was used for sails, ropes, maps, and books. While marijuana, and hemp along with it, was criminalized in 1937, PBS tells us that the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a “Hemp for Victory” campaign to ensure additional supplies for WWII. Many hemp farming advocates believe that hemp production was criminalized along with marijuana because it threatened the plastic, timber, and synthetic fiber industries.
In 2014 President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014, AKA the Farm Bill. In Section 7606— Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research—it is stated that,
“an institution of higher education (as defined in section 1001 of title 20) or a State department of agriculture may grow or cultivate industrial hemp if—the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research,” and if hemp cultivation is legal in the state.
The National Conference of State Legislatures shares states’ industrial hemp statutes, and reports that
“at least 16 states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes and 20 states have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs.”
Maryland and Virginia both approve pilot, research, and commercial hemp programs, and Virginia “has established a framework for regulating commercial hemp but still consider[s] hemp illegal outside of research programs unless federal law changes.”
In Virginia, The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition leads the way in campaigning for farmers’ rights to grow hemp; as they put it, to “restore the free market for Industrial Hemp, a low-THC oilseed and fiber crop, a variety of Cannabis.” They have produced an informative Environmental Benefits of Hemp Lobby Packet PDF. It explains that hemp can be planted on unproductive soil or soil leached of minerals to re-enrich the land. McGraw-Hill’s Botany page explains that hemp was even used to counteract soil pollution through phytoremediation (green plants removing toxins from the soil) in the 1990s near the Chernobyl site.
The VA Industrial Hemp Coalition’s PDF report also explains how hemp is powerful in the realms of:
“climate change mitigation, toxic pollution abatement, natural resource protection, endangered species preservation, air quality enhancement, [and] agricultural sustainability.”