Last week we discussed the amazing and fast-growing bamboo. This week we are going to discuss another fast-growing plant by the name of hemp. Hemp has been around for over 10,000 years and used during that entire time for various products. Many people associate hemp with marijuana and the psychedelic effects from THC. Although they belong to the same family of cannabis, there is a big difference between industrial hemp and hemp grown for the drug/THC effect. Industrial hemp contains less than .02% THC whereas marijuana has levels anywhere from 2% to 20% depending on the strain. We will be discussing industrial hemp in this discussion.
Hemp can reach maturity within three to four months. It will reach a lofty 8 feet in height and enjoys heat with well-drained organic soils. Plants tend not to do well in water-logged areas or sand dry locations. They require 90% less water than cotton production and their fibers have been used to make fabrics for centuries. The seeds of the plant are nutritious, the fibers of the inner stems are used for a variety of products, and the roots aerate the soils and keep them loose as they reach depths of 3 feet. This root depth also allows the plant to access moisture at deeper levels than most other crops.
The seeds are hulled and used as feed for birds, livestock and human consumption. The seed is high in protein, fats and fiber and can be eaten raw or ground into hemp meal for baking. Even the leaves can be eaten in salads but do not have as much nutritional value as the seeds. Oil is derived from this seed also which is used in the creation of paints, plastics, creams as a moisturizing agent and even in cooking. The oil itself has a short shelf life on its own and needs to be stored in a cool dark location for best longevity.
The stalks contain the product that is most used throughout the world. There are two inner layers of fibers that are grown within the core of the stem. The taller the plant, the longer the fibers that can be harvested. The innermost core of the stem is more solid and is commonly used as chipped mulch for landscaping and as bedding for livestock.
Once the fiber has been removed from the stem it is processed and refined for the creation of material similar to linen and cotton materials. It is also used as a blend between the various plant fibers used in the manufacturing of clothing and even shoes. These fibers can be used in the creation of rope, paper (although processing paper is about 4 times higher in hemp than other products), bioplastics, insulation and textiles.
Rope from hemp was used in the design of ships that sailed the seas around the world and the fibers also created the sails they used to power the ships. Today this material is known as canvas and derives its name from the scientific term of cannabis. Ropes on ships and boats need to be treated with tar to keep them from rotting due to being near water.
The fibers are also used as insulation products for homes and buildings. It is used to create a fiber board for walls or ceiling materials. It is also used in the manufacturing of cars shells mixed with fiberglass and other materials.
The plants themselves are planted close together to reach tall narrow heights and to choke out weeds without affecting plant quality. This asset means that the crops rarely need a herbicide to grow and rarely require the use of pesticides in production. The roots systems act as a "mop crop" that can take out toxins in the soil and waste that can otherwise be harmful to our environment. The fiber that is created within this plant is the longest and strongest of fibers throughout the world, even stronger than that derived from wood. One of the best results of the plant crop is the fact that it is naturally sustainable and can be planted over and over again. The ratio of the time it takes to create a crop and the final yield when harvested far outweighs that of trees.
In 2018 the Hemp Farming Act was passed allowing this plant to be grown and harvested throughout the country as an industrial crop. With medical marijuana being passed in many states, smaller treks of land can be planted as a crop with a higher oversight in regulation to monitor its consistency when it comes to THC and CBD oil.
The next time you go through a craft store and wander through the twine or roping, check out the fibers that are available made completely from hemp. The art section may even have a selection of hemp paper or canvas you can use for your creations. It is not just a plant that can create a drug, but it is also so much more than that and might just be a part of our renewable resource future. And now you know just a little more about this amazing plant.