From soap to clothing to fuel, the history of hemp as an agricultural crop dates back 10,000 years, giving it a potential claim as the earliest plant to ever be cultivated. While it might seem like a niche crop in the modern day, it has been used for a huge variety of purposes in cultures all over the world and was even recently as the 1930’s being described as the “new billion dollar crop”.
However in 2016, hemp accounted for less that 0.5% of the natural fiber textile market worldwide.
So, what happened?
Laws like the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made the cultivation of hemp completely unprofitable. At the same time a federal campaign to demonize cannabis impacted the public perception of hemp.
The legal definition of hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains 0.3% or less of THC, which is well below the levels required to have a psychoactive effect, but the potential negative social attitude of the community towards hemp is one of the key factors impacting the adoption of hemp.
However the 2018 Farm Bill, that saw the legalization of hemp has lead to a mini hemp-boom, so Parsl thought it was a good time to look at the powerful plant that is currently being used in 25,000 products globally.
A quick history of hemp
Let’s get you familiar with the fascinating story of our versatile friend:
Hemp dates all the way back to 8,000 BC Taiwan, where the earliest evidence of its usage was found in pottery. Fast forward 2,000 years to 6,000 BC and records show the use of hemp seeds and oil as a food source in China.
China was definitely onto something, because in 4,000 BC, textiles were found in the region that were made from hemp, and there was even evidence of hemp being woven into bowstring for the soldiers bows.
In 2,800 BC the Egyption Goddess Sheshat was shown with a hemp leaf above her head. Even The Founding Fathers of America utilised the benefits of hemp, using hemp paper to write the Declaration of Independence.
Hemp was widely celebrated across the globe for it’s versatile and durable nature, however, 20th century America changed that. In 1937, Congress passed the “Marijuana Tax Act” which placed a $2.00 per ounce federal tax on trade in cannabis this essentially put an end to the widespread popularity of hemp as a staple U.S. agricultural product. In 1970, under the Controlled Substances Act, there were no distinctions made between cannabis varieties, meaning hemp was listed as a schedule I drug (with the likes of heroin and LSD).
The many uses of hemp
Now that you know a little bit about the rich history of hemp, let’s delve into some of its many uses. With benefits for personal health and wellbeing, the environment, textiles, building materials, and more, it is quite clear why hemp is making a massive comeback to society.
Hemp and food
Considered a ‘superfood’, hemp seeds are bursting with many nutrients that are essential for maintaining a balanced diet and improving the health of the heart, skin and joints.
- Hemp seeds are packed with protein, in every 30 grams (g) of seeds, or about 3 tablespoons, there are 9.46 g of protein. Vegetarians (and meat eaters), pay close attention: As hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids they are a complete source of protein!
- A great source of essential fatty acids
- High in fibre: This helps to reduce your appetite, helps with weight management, and promotes a healthy gut
- Hemp seeds may reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause
- Whole hemp seeds may aid digestion
- Contain lots of minerals and vitamins: In particular vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, and zinc
Hemp Seed Oil
Very similar to the seeds themselves, hemp seed oil is highly nutritional, boasting essential fatty acids, plant cholesterol, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Hemp oil is created much like any oil product, by pressing seeds of the cannabis plant.
- Hemp seed oil for skin: Hemp oil is a great natural moisturiser, assists in anti-aging, and can help eczema and acne through counteracting the imbalance of essential fatty acids
- Hemp seed oil for inflammation: Ingesting and applying the oil can be anti-inflammatory and help with conditions like arthritis
- Hemp seed oil can reduce cholesterol and improve cardiovascular systems
Hemp milk is made by blending water with the seeds of the hemp plant (similar to how almond milk is made) and can be used as a dairy milk alternative.
- One cup of unsweetened hemp milk contains approximately: 83 calories, 1.3 grams of carbs, 4.7 grams of protein, 7.3 grams of fat, 2% of the daily calcium value, and 7% of the daily iron value
- Is easy to digest
- Contains all essential amino acids
- Naturally free from soy, lactose and gluten
A growing trend in the brewing industry is hemp beer/ale. It is a form of beer infused with elements of the cannabis plant. The beer is not brewed directly from hemp, but is later flavoured with hemp products such as the seeds.
Kombucha is another trend gaining a lot of traction in the health world. It is a fermented tea with many health benefits ranging from a source of probiotics to a way to help manage diabetes. Hempoz describes their Hemp Kombucha as a ‘hand-crafted ancient brew that blends the guy-health powers of fermentation with the wellness benefits of a live probiotic’
Hemp and the environment
Due to the use of single use items, traditional plastic is having a detrimental effect on the environment. They are also very difficult to dispose of, taking thousands of years to completely decompose meaning they’ll live a much longer life than you and I.
Hemp bioplastic is biodegradable, recyclable and toxin-free, the plastic is made from the stalk of the plant, which provides a high cellulose count that is required for the plastic construction and providing strength and flexibility. Hemp plants absorb a lot of CO2 from the atmosphere, grow quickly and require fewer pesticides, fertilisers and water than other bioplastic resources making hemp bioplastic a great alternative to help the environment.
Hemp energy: Hemp Biodiesel
Although there are currently no cars running on hemp fuel, there is huge potential for it to be possible in the future. Cannabis seeds contain the plant’s oils that can be turned into fuel. At the University of Connecticut, researchers discovered that industrial hemp contains feasible qualities for producing biodiesel.
If this can be realized as a genuine alternative, this would have a great impact on the environment helping to combat the amount of carbon that is currently produced by fossil fuels.
- Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel in the US to complete EPA Tier I Health Effects Testing under section 211(b) of the Clean Air Act
- Biodiesel is 11% oxygen by weight and doesn’t contain sulfur
- Biodiesel can extend the life of diesel engines because it is more lubricating than petroleum diesel fuel
Hemp and building materials
Hemp houses (or Hempcrete)
Hempcrete, the next big building material for homes? Hempcrete is a concrete made from nothing but hemp pulp, lime binder and water. It is non-toxic, insulating, termite-resistant, fire-resistant, mold-resistant, rot-resistant and will last for hundreds of years.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not! People in America are building whole houses from the material!
- Hempcrete is ten times stronger than concrete
- Carbon negative
Hemp and textiles
Prior to the 1920s, hemp fabric was present in around 80% of all clothes produced in the USA, and for good reason! Hemp clothing has many benefits that are lacking in other clothing materials. Hemp can be used in jeans, shirts, dresses, hats and bags. There are many reasons why hemp clothing may be the next big thing in the fashion industry.
- Strong and durable: Due to the nature of hemp fibres being long and coupled together, the material is incredibly strong.
- UV protectant
- Soft feeling
- Breathable and insulated
- Water absorbent
- Naturally biodegradable
- Zero chemical fertilizers or pesticides required
- Needs half as much water as cotton
Hemp was used to create the first recorded example of paper in history in 150 BC in China.
It wasn’t until the 19th century when more affordable methods for the production of paper with wood pulp were established that the use of hemp paper became less popular. However there are still some clear benefits from producing paper using hemp.
- The material can be grown in 20 weeks (compared the 20 years for wood pulp)
- Can reap 10 tons per acres (compares 2.5 ton for wood pulp)
- Can be recycled more than 3 times more than wood pulp paper.
- It is easier to break down in the paper process.
Diapers need to be particularly good at one thing; absorbency. That is why hemp diapers work so well, the fabric is incredibly absorbent while also being breathable which helps babies feel comfortable.
- Hemp diapers have natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that reduce diaper rash
- The fabric is resistant to mold and mildew, making it a healthy, non-allergic choice for babies
- Hemp diapers are organic: There are no pesticides sprayed during the farming process
Hemp and Body Care
Hemp soap contains the many benefits that come from hemp oil. It is a great alternative for people with all skin types because of the fatty acid profile which mimics that of our skin.
- Because of the 3 essential fatty acids (Omega 3, Omega 6, and gamma-linolenic acid) found in hemp oil, it helps maintain moisture content in the body
- Unlike antibacterial soaps, it doesn’t contain triclosan, which dries out skin
- Because of the anti-inflammatory properties, hemp soap can help people suffering from eczema and rosacea
Hemp Oil Shampoo and Conditioner
By now, you’re probably starting to realise a pattern in the benefits that come from hemp derived products. Hemp Oil Shampoo and Conditioner is again highly nutritional thanks to the high amounts of Omegas 3 and 6. Because of the Anti-inflammatory properties that come from the Omega EFA’s, hair follicles are able to open up and promote healthy hair growth.
- High in Vitamin E: May reduce cell damage and promote healthy and strong strands of hair
- The balancing properties of CBD can assist with dry scalp problems
- Doesn’t contain the harsh chemicals that damage hair
Serum, moisturizer, lip balm, hand cream, deodorant; just a few of the skincare products that include hemp. Hemp seed oil is used in most products, meaning all of the nutrients that come from the oil are packed into each product, resulting in happy skin!
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids help to balance out oily skin by moderating oil production and keeping the skin correctly hydrated leaving it not too oily but not too dry
- By balancing the oil in the skin, it helps to combat acne prone skin
- Can help strengthen nails and helps recovering cuticles
Hemp has been used for thousands of years and for good reason. The humble plant has many different uses and comes with outstanding benefits for humans, the environment, and everyday life.
We only scratched the surface of the thousands of products out there using hemp and with its growing popularity, there will most probably be thousands more to arise within the near future!
Leave a comment below with the hemp product that interests you the most!