To celebrate the eighth annual Hemp History Week June 5–11, 2017, we’re going to clear up some of the confusion around hemp. It’s gotten a bad wrap because, like marijuana, it comes from the cannabis plant. But unlike marijuana, this nutritious oilseed and useful fiber crop, doesn’t contain enough of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, to produce a high when ingested.
Pretty big distinction, right? And yet it’s illegal to grow the crop in some states, which is part of hemp’s rocky history in the U.S. Grown here since European settlers arrived in the early 1600’s, industrial hemp quickly became a staple of early American agriculture. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper! But during Prohibition in the 1930’s, hemp came under increased scrutiny, requiring farmers to register their crops and purchase a pricey tax stamp. The thinking changed during World War II when the USDA began encouraging farmers to grow hemp for rope and other industrial supplies. But sentiment swung again in 1970 when hemp was lumped in with marijuana, and farming of the crop became illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
A complete, plant-based protein
The only feel-good vibes associated with hemp are purely of the nutrient-dense, superfood variety. Its seeds contain all 20 amino acids—and all 9 essential ones—making it a complete source of protein. A 3-tablespoon-sized serving contains 10 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 20% of the recommended daily serving of iron, making hemp protein powder a popular smoothie addition among vegetarians and vegans. The seeds also contain many important minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Their mildly nutty taste makes them great for sprinkling over salads, yogurt, and vegetables for added nutrients and texture.
Cold-pressed hemp hearts (as the seeds are also known) yield a nutritious oil that can be mixed into salad dressings, added to smoothies, or drizzled over freshly roasted vegetables. It’s also very nourishing on the skin when incorporated into lotions and soaps.
A versatile, eco-friendly material
Hemp’s versatility extends far beyond the household. The plant’s durable natural fibers and high cellulose content can be used for product packaging, bioplastics, and even car panels and interiors. Recent technological advancements are finding hemp fiber can be used in the supercapacitor batteries used to power electric cars and handheld devices. And hemp is also very sustainable. It doesn’t require a lot of water and is extremely hearty so it can be grown without pesticides or herbicides. When rotated with other crops, it can help improve soil conditions so farmers see great potential for its cultivation on sustainable and regenerative farms.
An uncertain future
Thanks to the efforts of farmers, researchers, companies, and supporters of the hemp industry, the U.S. is making strides in recognizing the benefits of this nutritious and environmentally beneficial crop. Currently, it’s legal to grow hemp in 32 states, but, according to Dr. Bronner’s, the company behind a line of organic castile soaps, lotions, and other personal care products that feature nourishing organic hemp oil, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Hemp farmers have a hard time getting insurance, financing, certified seeds, and processing infrastructure. And non-drug cannabis products are often wrongly regulated as pharmaceuticals rather than as nutritional supplements, which can make it difficult for hemp farmers and companies to bring their products to market.
Photo caption: Margaret MacKenzie, Colorado Hemp Farmer
Photo credit: Hemp History Week