The Best Uses for the Hemp Plant
Hemp is one of the most diverse crops in the world. Here are six ways to take advantage of the plant.
For the most part, mainstream markets today are completely missing out on the benefits of the versatile hemp plant, from its tiny seeds up to its hardy stalks.
Hemp is an excellent crop for farmers because it requires far fewer resources to grow than traditional crops, replenishes the soil with nutrients and has a relatively short harvest cycle. Hemp products contain only trace amounts of THC if any at all, and will not cause a positive drug test result or any intoxication.
Increasing consumer demand for hemp products is more important now than ever, as our planet’s resources face exponential stress, but knowing where to begin can be a bit overwhelming. Here are six uses for this versatile plant — including how to wear it, eat it and even use it to power the world.
Textiles & Paper
The fibers of the hemp plant stalk are strong and durable and can be used to create textiles for clothing, ropes, linens and more, as well as processed into pulp to make paper. There’s a tendency for hemp clothing to “wear in, not out,” becoming softer and more comfortable over time while still outlasting cotton thanks to the strength of the hemp fibers. Hemp is more environmentally friendly than cotton or synthetic materials and, because the lifetime of hemp textiles is long, we could produce less clothing overall if everyone wore hemp. Paper made from hemp is “tree-free,” meaning it does not contribute to further deforestation of our planet, and can be processed into results that are nearly identical to traditional paper.
Skincare & Soap
Lotions and soaps made with hemp are readily available in stores around the world and the benefits for your skin are plentiful. Through the cold press extraction method, hemp seed oil retains amino and fatty acids, as well as minerals and vitamins A and E. Hemp seed oil also prevents loss of moisture in the skin and can alleviate dermatitis or dryness. In addition, it’s non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores. Hemp seed oil cleansers gently pull dirt and excess oil from skin, leaving it clean and glowing. The cleansing properties of hemp oil also make it a popular component of natural laundry soaps, where it removes grime without stripping the fibers of their dyes.
Grow your own home with hemp — no, really! The hemp plant can be grown and processed into building materials that replace large portions of the plywood, traditional drywall and insulation, as well as glues and sealants. At harvest, the hemp plant stalks are run through a decortication process and the fibers of the stalk are concentrated into a pulp, which is then mixed with lime and water to create the composition known as hempcrete. Hempcrete is naturally mold, pest and fire resistant. Plus, each cubic meter of hempcrete can pull over 220 pounds of carbon from the air. As a carbon-negative material, it is an obvious choice for an eco-minded builder and anyone who enjoys a warm comfy home will love the fantastic noise and heat insulation hemp housing can provide.
Hemp can be processed into two types of biofuel: biodiesel and bioethanol. Hemp seeds can be used to make biodiesel, which will extend a diesel engine’s life with better lubrication than petroleum diesel fuel, and the remainder of the plant can be processed into bioethanol Hemp biofuels provide alternatives to the current dependence on fossil fuels, emit less ozone-damaging pollutants both in production and use and can be grown quickly with significantly fewer costs than corn.
If you can make it from plastic, you can likely make it from hemp plastic instead! Traditional plastic takes hundreds of years to break down. Hemp plastic waste is safe to dispose, while traditional plastic waste may be releasing toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, hemp plastic is not yet being produced on a large scale, in part because it is more difficult and expensive to produce than petroleum-based plastic. However, a few companies are taking the lead on developing hemp plastic and the future looks bright.
Hemp seeds are powerful little things. The oil within hemp seeds contains all 20 amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids, and is rich in the “good fats” of omega-3s and omega-6s. Hemp seeds also boast fiber in each serving, which helps the digestive system. The little seeds are also a cost-effective and nutritious option for livestock feed. Try hemp seeds on top of a salad or in a veggie burger patty blend, or mix the seeds or powder into a protein smoothie and enjoy the benefits of hemp without breaking the bank.
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.