The Versatility of Hemp – A Miracle Plant?
Whilst we advocate the use of hemp for the multitude of benefits that CBD (cannabidiol) can bring, what else can this incredibly adaptable, humble little plant be used for? The whole of this fascinating offering from nature can be utilised in a variety of ways, leaving no waste products, and brings with it many environmental benefits.
Hemp is well known in the food industry – primarily for hemp seeds and hemp seed oil, which provide a valuable source of EFAs (essential fatty acids). Whilst many consume fish for EFAs, the issue of toxicity - due to the pollution of our rivers and oceans - has become apparent in recent years and plant-based products have become a safer, and kinder, alternative. Hemp is also a great source of protein and hemp protein powders have become the norm, providing a nutrient rich alternative to whey protein.
However, there are many more possible uses of hemp that are little known due to its prohibition, which began pretty much in the 1900s, suppressing the exciting innovations that are re-emerging and newly emerging today. Hemp was unfortunately often not differentiated from marijuana, it’s botanical cousin - also part of the Cannabis sativa species - with regard to drug laws in most countries. Roll on to 2021 and there is still much confusion and controversy!
Although there are still many regulations and issues surrounding the cultivation of industrial hemp we are starting to reap some of the benefits. With sustainability at the forefront this fast-growing, high-yielding crop has huge potential in many different areas. Hemp has more impact than trees in sequestering CO2 which is one giant environmental benefit that must not be ignored! Hemp is also an excellent food source for bees, which are vital to our survival as a species and rapidly diminishing in numbers.
Many people will have now come across hemp in the clothing industry and it has had some success with sales of hemp increasing in the last decade. The environmental impact from the production of cotton, viscose, nylon, polyester, leather and other materials is bigger than you might expect, the fashion industry is one of the worst offenders from an environmental perspective. Hemp plants use very little water and don’t need pesticides, these are two huge pluses which need no explanation! Hemp can actually replenish the soil rather than deplete it like many other crops such as cotton, which requires heavy pesticide use. Hemp plants have long roots which are protective against soil erosion and hemp can also be used in remediation of soil contaminated with heavy metals. Not only this but there are some lesser known and exciting applications that range from cleaning up oil spills to the use of hemp in batteries and as a plastic alternative. Surprisingly this is nothing new as Henry Ford was actually a pioneer of hemp plastic using cellulose fibre! Hemp is also a fantastic eco-friendly source for 3D printing as it is biodegradable and reduces plastic waste from production errors.
Other benefits that can come from hemp are its multiple applications within the construction industry. Hempcrete and hemp insulation are gradually becoming more available. Hemp doesn’t need much processing which is another winner on the environmental front and it can also be made into roof tiles, fibreboard, structural timber, bricks and building blocks. It’s lightweight, non-toxic, breathable and non-flammable when mixed with lime to make hempcrete.
There are so many potentials for the cultivation of hemp to aid the environment including biofuels, hemp paper, plastic alternatives, construction, clothing and many more. We complain about a climate crisis whilst still producing so many unsustainable products when there are so many contemporary and ingenious alternatives. We need to stop demonising nature’s gift of hemp and start embracing all it can help us with.