George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Ford were all big fans of hemp. Jefferson had said, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country,” and Ford had posed the question, “Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and lay 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?”
These two men understood the versatility and importance of the plant that continues to serve multiple purposes today. George Washington also pushed for the growth of hemp as a “cash crop” that could be used for fabric and rope. Unfortunately, things started to change in 1937 with the Marihuana Tax Act, which levied a tax on anyone who commercially dealt with hemp, marijuana, or cannabis. This act essentially destroyed the United States hemp industry at the time.
Despite its early popularity, hemp hasn’t always been legal in the United States. Due to misconceptions and misunderstandings, it was considered a drug or a material found only in new-age shops, along with crystals and incense. It wasn’t until October 2019 that hemp became legal to grow in 46 states under federal law. Prior to this, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp as a Schedule I drug and made it an agricultural commodity. This made it easier for farmers to grow the plant. And although it is easier now, the farming, production, and processing of hemp are highly regulated, requiring licensing and specific permits.
The primary reason hemp’s reputation had changed from a superior plant for textiles and “cash crop” to a controlled substance is due to a lack of understanding. Hemp is often confused with marijuana, but there are significant differences. Both come from the same species of plant, cannabis, but vary in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC in “marijuana” is responsible for the high feeling. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC as defined by law. Cannabis that has more than 0.3% is then legally defined as marijuana.
On January 19, 2021, the USDA published the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, which finalized rules surrounding production. As a result, farmers must dispose of plants that exceed the 0.3% THC level. In addition, labs would test sample collections, allowing the crops to be used, or if they exceed 0.3%, they would be disposed of.
The botanical name for the plant is Cannabis sativa. One of the reasons Henry Ford felt it was better to harvest hemp than forests is because it is one of the fasted growing plants. This means you can plant and harvest year after year.
China produces more than 70% of the world's hemp, making it the world’s leading producer. However, because of its easygoing, versatile nature, it is grown in 30 other countries, including Europe, India, Chile, and Canada.
As mentioned, hemp has many purposes. It is one of the most versatile plants that can be used in the following ways:
The Many Uses of Hemp
Hemp hulls are the hemp shell that contains the seeds known as hemp hearts. They are roughly 50% smaller and more granular than buckwheat hulls yet bigger than millet hulls. Hemp pillows are filled with these hulls and are great for those who like a firm yet flexible pillow. Sleeping on a hemp pillow can be compared to sleeping on a sandy beach but with a soft pillowcase between you and the filling.
The oil found in hemp seeds and stalks can be used to create biodiesel which is often referred to as hempoline. It can also create alcohol fuel when the whole plant is fermented. The diesel engine was built in 1892 with the intention of being powered by a variety of fuels, including hemp. As a result, filtered hemp oil can power disease engines directly.
3. Building material
Hemp is an excellent construction material that has been used in buildings since the 17th century. It is mold-resistant, breathable, and lightweight, making it very helpful to builders.
According to the NNFCC Renewable House at the Building Research Establishment (BRE), hemp is one of the most sustainable construction materials available as it can reduce secondary pollutants and energy consumption costs. Although its use declined when it became illegal, more and more people are now using it in the development of green housing. Today, it is used in insulation, as a concrete additive, as varnish or plaster, and as rope or wood.
In late medieval Italy and Germany, hemp was eaten, often used in pies and soups, and added to other dishes. Today hemp is still used as food or as a hemp tea. Hemp seeds can be ground into hemp meal or eaten raw. It can also be used to make oil or milk. Hemp is considered a superfood with a range of health benefits. When used as an oil, it contains vitamin E and acts as an antioxidant. It is also rich in healthy fats, including omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Another benefit is it is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which has been found to reduce PMS symptoms.
Hemp is widely used for its fibers, which have been used throughout history. Hemp fiber can make rope, fabric, and weaves that can be used for a number of purposes. Historically, it was often used to make sail canvas. In fact, the word “canvas” is derived from cannabis. Hemp is considered a more eco-friendly fiber. It requires very little water to grow and is naturally resistant to many insects so that it can be grown organically. It is also long-lasting and is considered one of the most durable and robust organic fibers available. In addition, it has triple the strength of cotton and blends easily with other fabrics. As a result, more clothing brands use hemp to create sustainable clothing, shoes, and bags.
Hemp is excellent for rope and cordage and has historically been used on sailing boats as it was stronger but it needed to be treated to prevent it from rotting. The treatment process was known as tarring and quite labor-intensive. Although it isn’t used for sailing now, it still is commonly used for rope or cordage.
7. Automobile manufacturing
When mixed with fiberglass, kenaf, and flax, hemp creates composite panels that have been used in automobiles since 2002. Many car manufacturers, including BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Porsche, and Volkswagen, use hemp in their cards. For example, the Mercedes C-Class contains up to 20 kg of hemp in the car.
Hemp paper is created from the pulp of the fibers from industrial hemp. You can find hemp paper used in cigarettes and filter papers as well as journals or sustainable stationery. The hemp pulp used to make hemp paper is up to five times stronger than paper made from wood pulp. That said, it costs a lot more to manufacture since the industry is still comparably underdeveloped. Hemp paper is also much better for the environment. The plant yields up to four times the amount of usable fibers per hectare than forests, and they don’t require any pesticides or herbicides. It is also much faster to grow as it only takes a plant 3 to 4 months to reach maturity, whereas trees take anywhere from 20 to 80 years! Hemp also doesn’t require any toxic bleaching, which reduces the waterway poisoning caused by wood paper. Lastly, hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, whereas wood paper can only be recycled three times.
9. Animal bedding
Hemp hulls are broken apart and used along with the stem for animal bedding for horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters. With industrial hemp production, these products which could be discarded are repurposed. This reduces waste but also makes hemp production more profitable.
10. Hemp Jewelry
Hemp jewelry has stood the test of time and has been used for centuries to create bracelets, rings, and necklaces. The hemp twine is knotted repeatedly to make hemp jewelry and may include additional gems or adornments like crystals, stones, shells, glass, bones, or wood.
11. Gardening and farming
If you are looking for an organic way to keep weeds away, try hemp. Hemp crops are tall and thick, and when they are planted densely, they can smooth tough weeds. In addition, farmers with organic certification often grow a crop of hemp to reap the benefits of crop rotation and prevent them from needing herbicides.