Hemp is basically a miracle plant.
First recorded 50,000 years ago, hemp has been cultivated throughout human history to make ropes, clothing, boat sales and more. Hemp is a sustainable plant to produce, and all part of the plant can be manufactured into something useable. From the seed, you can make hemp nut, hemp oil, and hemp flour. The stalk, bast fiber, and hurd have a variety of uses we’ll get into below.
So what’s the difference between hemp and cannabis, and exactly what can you use hemp for?
Hemp is a varital of the plant Cannabis Sativa that has been bred and grown for industrial use. In the US, the federal government defined industrial hemp in 2018 as “cannabis containing no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.” Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, taking only 4 months to reach harvest maturity
The difference between Hemp and Cannabis
Hemp is a different strain of Cannabis Sativa than the plant that produces the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is the specific term for plants cultivated for non-drug uses. Hemp has low concetrations of THC and can have higher concentrations of CBD.
Why Hemp is Sustainable
Because of its short growing time, natural pest-resistance, and range of uses for all parts of the plant, hemp is considered the next big thing in sustainable crop production.
- Prevent soil erosion due to their deep roots
- Requires less water to grow
- Dense growth leaves little room for competing weeds, reducing the need for toxic herbicides
- Naturally pest-resistant, reducing toxic pesticides in our plants and soil
- Acts as a soil cleaner; absorbing toxic metals, reducing water pollution, clearing impurities our of waste-water
- Hemp is currently being used to clean nuclear contamination at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site through phytoremediation—the process of clearing radioisotopes and a variety of other toxins from the soil, water, and air.
- Carbon negative raw material
- Can be used in place of herbicides to reduce weed growth in fields, including tough to kill weeds like thistles
- Breaks down in soil after harvest
Hemp production reduces our dependency on deforestation:
- Yields three to four times more usable fibers per acre than forests
- Harvest ready in 3-4 months
- Containers high level of cellulose for faster paper production
Uses for Hemp
The seeds and the leaves of the hemp plant are edible. The seeds are high in protein and iron, while the leaves are high in vitamin C, K, and folate. Hemp seeds have a comparable nutrient profile to that of protein sources like milk, eggs, and meat. It also provides 20% of your daily dietary fibers as well as B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Seeds can be eaten raw, ground into hemp meal or hemp nut. Hemp nut is found in bread, granola, milk, ice cream and protein powders. Seeds can be pressed into a liquid and made into hemp milk or herbal teas or cold-pressed to become hemp oil. Hemp oil is high in unsaturated fatty acids, which have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including improving blood cholesterol levels, easing inflammation, and stabilizing heart rhythms. Hemp oil can be used as a cooking oil or in salad dressing
The leaves of the hemp plant are also edible and provide many of the same nutrients as other leafy green veggies. Try them pressed into juice, blended into smoothies, or as veggies in salad.
The first recorded use of hemp fiber was over 50,000 years ago. The hemp stalk’s outer bast fiber can be used to make fibers and over the centuries, hemp was extensively cultivated for everything from rope, and fabrics, to sail canvas.
Pure hemp has a similar texture to that of linen. In modern clothing, hemp is typically mixed with lyocell. Today, hemp is used in the production of clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars and home wares.
As a building material, hemp is light-weight, mold-resistant and breathable. The woody core of the plant, also called hurd, is turned into a range of construction materials including hemp-lime panels, insulation, concrete, and plaster as well as paper.
Hemp is both flexible and tough, making it ideal during compression within structural framing. To make insulation from hemp, the fibers are combined with calcium lime and sand. Hemp plaster insulation is light-weight and non-toxic. It absorbs double the heat of mineral insulation, and is comparable or even better than certain types of wood insulation.
The porous nature of hemp allows for both air and moisture penetration that far supersedes the ability of mineral insulations. Hemp insulation can increase in density up to20% without losing thermal properties, compared to just 2% in mineral insulations. It allows for even air circulation and replaces used air with fresh. Even with the porous nature of the material, it works well as a sound barrier, weakening the sound waves that pass through it.
Hempcrete is made by combining hemp with hydraulic lime and water. It’s 7 times lighter than typical concrete and can be made to a varying level of strengths, depending on the application. Hempcrete floors are typically strong and more resistible than walls and roofs.
Hempcrete is typically produced in concrete-like blocks, and must be supported structurally by brick, wood, or steel framing.
Hemp paper is made from pulp, which comes from the hurd of the plant, the woody core. Compared to wood pulp, hemp pulp fibers are longer, have a lower lignin fraction, higher tear resistance and tensile strength. Currently production of hemp paper is more expensive than wood, but that’s due to the lack of resources in the paper industry. Hemp paper is mainly used to make cigarette paper, technical filter papers, and bank notes.
Hemp paper doesn’t require toxic bleaching or the same list of chemicals as wood pulp, because it can be whitened with hydrogen peroxide. Switching to hemp paper would remove the poisonous byproducts of paper production, including dumping chlorine and dioxins into our waterways.
Hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, compared to just 3 for wood pulp paper. Hemp fibers are among the strongest natural fibers in the world, and hemp paper resists decomposition and discoloration.
Per acre, hemp produces four times as much paper as trees in a fraction of the time (4 months versus 1 year at minimum.) Dry fibers can be pressed into wood alternatives for construction, wall and ceiling paneling, and flooring. Hemp wood can also be made from hemp-based paper.
Hemp-based bioplastic is an environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternative to regular plastics. It works well as a replacement for PVC plastics.
Hemp plastics is biodegradable, taking 3-6 months to decompose (typical plastic takes over 1,000 years!). It’s non-toxic, BPA-free, stronger, lighter, and a better renewable resource than petrol-based plastics.
Hemp rope can be woven in a variety of diameters and the high tensile strength of hemp ropes makes them ideal for construction purposes, including installing frames in building openings and connecting joints. Large ropes are also used in tunnels, bridge construction and traditional homes.
Hemp can be made into consumable oil and non-consumable oil. Due to their high fat content, non-consumable hemp oil works well as a wood varnish, preventing water penetration while allowing the circulation of air and vapor. It also protects wood flooring from mold, pests, and long-term wear and tear. Hemp oil finishes are commonly used in wood framing construction. It has a low UV-resistance rating, so it’s best used indoors.
Biodisel called “hempoline” can be produced from the oils in hemp seeds and stalks. Ethanol can be made by fermenting the plant as a whole. In the past, filtered hemp oil has been used to power diesel engines.