by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 15th September, 2018
Hemp is gaining a lot of media attention lately, both positive and negative - but what is this plant really, and how useful is it?
Hemp is an incredibly versatile and useful plants we can grow, and has been used by humans for centuries to produce a wide variety of tools and foods. From clothing, to paper to oil and cars - hemp has been used across the globe in almost every situation imaginable. Recently however, our usage of hemp has declines drastically due to legislation against it, and lack of education surrounding it's many uses.
It's not only a very versatile plant, but an eco-friendly alternative to many different products. It grows quickly and in many different conditions, is incredibly disease-resistant and actually enriches the soil that it grows in, leaving it in a better condition for the next round of crops. Plus, it requires absolutely no pesticides or fertilizers to grow, making it non-toxic, something we definitely need more of.
Hemp vs Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are often confused for each other, although they are not the same plant. It's understandable why people may not see the immediate difference however. They both belong to the same plant species: Cannabis Sativa, bit there's an important distinction to be made between them.
The hemp strain of cannabis contains less than 3% THC content and is therefore non-psychoactive (it has no effect on your mental state), whereas it's cousin, marijuana contains over 5% THC and is therefore psychoactive (will get you high).
There's a lot of confusion surrounding hemp because of this, especially because the two strains of hemp and marijuana look similar, and can therefore confuse the untrained eye and lead to hemp growers being wrongfully accused of cultivating illegal drugs.
Why Hemp Is Illegal In Some Countries
Despite the fact that hemp has no psychoactive properties and therefore cannot get you high, it is illegal in some countries, most notably the US.
The controlled substances act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug and because hemp is a type of cannabis, it was put in the same category too, despite having no ability to get anyone high. There are a lot of theories surrounding why exactly this happened, but all you need to know is that to this day, hemp remains an illegal plant to grow in the united states.
There is now a growing movement to get the hemp plant de-criminalized in the US, in order to catch up with the rest of the world in the production of hemp products, and allow US residents to grow their own hemp for a variety of different usages. Luckily however, in most developed nations other than the US, hemp is perfectly legal and can be grown by anyone.
Hemp milk, made from hemp seeds is seeing a huge growth in popularity as consumers learn about the many wonderful properties of hemp seeds.
Hemp seeds are rich in fatty acids, an amazing source of protein and contain high amounts of vitamin E, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. Plus they're pretty cheap, and easy to turn into milk at home.
How to make hemp milk at home:
Hemp milk is surprisingly quick and easy to make at home, so much so that many people are starting to rely on hemp milk solely as their plant based milk alternative.
Start by taking one part hemp seeds (a cup should make a good amount) and combine with 2 parts water. If you want to be extra careful, use filtered drinking water.
Blend the seeds and water in a blender until fully combined, and then strain through a nut milk bag or piece of muslin cloth. The result should be a deliciously creamy, silky smooth batch of white hemp milk - perfect for coffee, breakfast cereals and baking.
Hemp has been used to make fabric for many years, but due to the illegalization of hemp in some countries, there has been a steady decline in hemp textiles. Only now are we seeing hemp coming back as an alternative fabric, and for good reason.
The fabric hemp creates provides warmth and comfort, while being incredibly durable and odor-resistant. Hemp is now providing an awesome eco-friendly alternative to cotton, as hemp can produce far more fabric per square meter than cotton can, and the methods used to process it have a much less detrimental effect on the environment, and bypass the need for toxic chemicals.
How Hemp Fabrics Are Made
In order to be turned into a workable fiber, hemp has to go through a rigorous process, but luckily it's fairly straightforward and eco-friendly.
First, the hemp is harvested and the hemp fibers are separated out from any seeds that are also being harvested.
The hemp is then "retted" by laying out the stems of hemp on the ground for several weeks. This allows the hemp to decay, and the pectin inside the hemp which binds the fibers together decomposes, exposing the long fibers that can be used for fabrics.
The woody core of the hemp stems is then removed and the damp fibers peeled of and dried. Once the fibres are completely separated, they are put into bale form and processed into yarn. Once spun, very little else happens to the hemp, and it is ready for sale. This whole process can take as little as a week or two depending on the machinery and climate available, and requires absolutely no chemicals.
Hemp has been used to make paper for over 2000 years, and is actually far more suitable to paper production than wood. It grows a lot quicker than wood does, meaning it can produce more paper in the same amount of time, and there's no need to deforest so much land, as hemp quickly and easily grows back. The paper it creates is very high-quality durable paper, and was originally the paper the US constitution was written on before being transferred to parchment.
How Hemp Paper Is Made
Hemp paper actually originally started off life as hemp fabric. The hemp fabric was smashed down into thin sheets to create the paper that many historical documents were originally written on.
Nowadays however, the process is similar to the production of hemp fabric, in which long hemp fibers are left to ret and separate and then washed with water to remove the excess pectin. They are then fed into a beating machine that turns the fibers into a pulp which is then pumped into a paper machine to produce thin, workable pieces of paper.
Modern building methods are having a huge impact on the environment. Common building materials such as concrete and insulation are substantially increasing the carbon footprint of our housing, and making our lives less and less sustainable in the long term.
Luckily, hemp can provide a solution. Hempcrete is an alternative to concrete that is waterproof, lightweight, fire retardant and flexible but even more importantly: it's renewable, recyclable and eco-friendly. It isn't just used to replace concrete either, it's also being used to replace insulation in walls.
The hemp plant has a high silica content, which is rare property amongst natural fibers and allows it to bind well with lime (otherwise known as calcium hydroxide) to form a unique insulator and alternative to concrete. The usage of hemp instead of traditional materials also means that the concrete is a lot lighter, so less materials are needed in order to frame and support the structure. Not only that, but because of it's low density, it is perfect for building in areas that receive a lot of earthquakes as it is much less likely to crack.
A particularly useful property of hemp in building it's natural ability to regulate humidity and temperature within a building, thus reducing condensation and helping to keep energy bills down. There are even projects happening around the world to build livable houses made entirely of hemp. Hopefully these houses can become the norm one day.
As a species, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic every year. That's insane. While some of that plastic is recycled, the majority ends up going... nowhere. Realistically, we are running out of space for our ridiculous consumption of plastic and now we are seeing the devastating effects it is having on both land and marine life. Plastics primarily come from oil, a non-renewable resource that emits a lot of carbon into the atmosphere during production, and then when we are done with the plastic, they stay in their plastic form for millions of years before biodegrading.
Hemp plastics offer a solution to this global crisis. It's a bioplastic made out of industrial hemp and there are lot's of different types ranging from plastics reinforced with hemp to a 100% hemp made plant based plastic. Not only does it create a biodegradable alternative to plastics, it's also non-toxic, stronger and far more affordable! Although there are some problems with using hemp as a plastic alternative, and we still need to drastically decrease our levels of plastic production, hemp plastic shows a lot of promise - especially because of it's ability to be inserted into industry standard injection mold machines that are commonly used with petroleum based plastics, and work exactly the same. There is an increasing in hemp plastics as an alternative to standard plastics, with the biggest investor in hemp plastics being the automotive industry and hopefully we will one day be able to replace all plastic products with a biodegradable alternative.
The majority of the fuel we use on the planet comes from non-renewable sources and when burnt, releases tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is already a huge problem- as global temperatures rise we are seeing more and more extreme weather events and a reduction in biodiversity. It doesn't stop there either; to get the oil we need to create the fuels that run our planes, cars, homes etc, we need to drill deep into the earth, which has the potential to cause massive oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon all spill, an industrial disaster that had an enormous impact on the life of both marine and land animals living around the gulf of Mexico. We need to find alternatives for this oil, not only so that we can prevent disasters like this happening again but also to supplement our dwindling oil stocks. Which is where hemp steps in. The hemp plant has been used as an alternative to traditional fuel, called a "biofuel". It's possible that in the future we could create a biofuel from help that's chemically identical to gasoline, but without the massive environmental ramifications that gasoline poses. Unfortunately, progress is slow, especially with the ban on cultivation of hemp in the US, but there is promise for the future as more and more companies start investing in biofuel research.
Hemp has some seriously amazing qualities, but what about it's nutritional value? Often overlooked as a superfood, hemp and hemp seeds actually hold a vast amount of essential nutrients and can even be used to replace fish oil supplements.
Hemp seeds are seeing a huge amount of growth in popularity (although they are technically a nut, not a seed). Hemp seeds consist of over 30% fat, but not the kind of fat that we find in friend foods and baked goods. They are rich in two primary fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, both of which are essential for maintenance of human cell membranes (the "walls" of your cells). Hemp oil extracted from hemp seeds has been shown to help mitigate the effects of various neurological diseases and improve heart health. In fact, over 85% of hemp oil is essential fatty acids. This makes hemp seeds and oil superior to other common sources of fatty acids such as fish oil.
The hemp seed is also composed of around 25% protein, with three tablespoons of hemp seeds giving you around 10g of protein. There are not protein powders being produced from hemp as an alternative to highly processed, artificial protein powders.
As if that wasn't enough to convince anybody of the hemp seeds superfood status, they are also an abundant source of vitamin E, potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron, sulfur, calcium, zinc and phosphorus.
Hemp seeds are also a great source of vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.