Earth Day is a day dedicated to honoring and protecting our planet and all its treasures. Can hemp be what we turn to combat its depletion of natural resources?
[Updated March 3, 2023]
It wouldn't be a proper celebration of Earth Day if we didn't talk about hemp and all it does for us and the earth.
It's a plant that has seen use in human civilization for the last few thousand years - with its earliest recording being as early as 2800 BCE.
So, is it true that hemp is one of the most underrated plants on earth? And if it's so valuable, why has it been so controversial throughout this entire last century? Before we dive into that, let's revisit what exactly hemp is...
What is Hemp?
The real question should be—What is hemp NOT?
With over 50,000 uses, hemp is one of the few plants on earth that can be used as food, fiber, fuel, and medicine. However, for the past 50+ years, it has fallen into a gray area that shunned it and its countless benefits.
You may be thinking, "Hemp is just a fad...give it a few years, and it will eventually fade into the background."
Although it seems like hemp and its benefits came flocking out of nowhere with the passing of the Farm Bill back in 2018, it was actually a law for farmers to grow hemp seed in Jamestown Colony, Virginia, dating all the way back to 1619.
Not only that, doctors prescribed cannabis itself up until the 20th century. It was even included in the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1850.
Hemp's roots tie back to Central Asia. And from its records, it appears that China used hemp as fiber for ropes around 2800 BCE. Hemp has also been extensively used in Japan in the Jōmon and subsequent periods as an excellent material for ropes, nets, and clothing worn by the commoners.
From there, it went on to the Mediterranean countries of Europe and spread throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Fast forward to the 1500s, and it was planted in Chile, and a century later—in North America.
Alas, its popularity quickly faded when it was lumped together with marijuana with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937.
Despite the hundreds of years this plant has been used—and the countless benefits it provides—the United States placed a ban on cannabis back in 1970 with the Controlled Substances Act.
Through propaganda and fake news, hemp got placed on the list of Schedule 1 drugs. This is all because hemp is related to the cannabis Sativa family, which includes two species of plants—itself and marijuana. Thus, it got a bad rap.
You see, weed is infamous for getting people high, but hemp doesn't have those same properties. In fact, it has just trace amounts of THC (the chemical compound with highly psychoactive properties).
Growing hemp is a relatively easy process that does not require a lot of attention or resources. Hemp grows best in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil with a pH between 5 and 7, although the perfect conditions are closer to the pH range of 5.8 to 6.2.
The ideal climate for hemp growth is temperatures suitable to temperate, subtropical, and tropical plants, with plenty of direct sunlight and rain. Hemp is different from your typical wax plant, umbrella plant, or swiss cheese plant in that it requires direct bright light conditions to grow effectively - bright indirect light or low light conditions are generally not enough here.
Hemp seeds should be planted at a depth of 1-2 inches, with a spacing of 4 feet between seeds - this should be enough space to let each seedling develop into a perfect plant with deep green leaves we all recognize and love.
Hemp plants require regular watering and should be weeded to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients. Make sure to avoid over-watering early in the season - this may increase the likelihood of common diseases like root rot appearing in your plants.
Hemp is a bit more high-maintenance than your typical fiddle leaf fig or spider plants you have at home, but then again, it's also much more useful once it finishes growing.
Hemp grows faster than many other plants and can be harvested in as little as 70-120 days after planting (in the case of fiber and essential oil plants). Once the hemp is harvested, the growers may need to let the plant dry in direct sun before extracting anything from it.
Due to its many uses and relatively low maintenance requirements, hemp plants are an increasingly popular crop among farmers and entrepreneurs.
The Benefits of Hemp
Earth Day and hemp go hand-in-hand. Without this glorious green plant, we'd be frantically searching for sustainable ways to continue driving our cars, writing on paper, drinking from straws, and building our homes.
That's the beautiful thing about hemp - it is a very versatile material that has a large number of uses. Some of the more common ones include:
Hemp seeds are a nutritious and tasty food source that is rich in healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw or roasted and can also be used to make various hemp-based food products, such as hemp milk, protein powder, and oil. Including them in your diet can be a great well to support your physical well-being in a tasty manner.
Hemp is also a great source of material for clothing. The fibers from the hemp plant are strong and durable, and the fabric they produce is breathable and comfortable to wear. Hemp clothing is popular with eco-conscious consumers who want to reduce their environmental impact, as it is a sustainable alternative to conventional cotton or synthetic fabrics.
In addition, hemp clothing helps protect you from UV light and is naturally resistant to mold and mildew, which means it can often last longer than other fabrics. Hemp can be used to make a wide range of clothing items, from t-shirts and jeans to dresses and suits.
Another great benefit of hemp is its use as a building material. Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp hurds (the woody inner core of the hemp plant), lime, and sand that can be used as a sustainable alternative to traditional concrete. Hempcrete is lightweight, strong, and has excellent insulating properties, making it an attractive option for environmentally conscious builders.
In addition to its energy efficiency, hempcrete is also fire-resistant, breathable, and non-toxic, making it a safer and more eco-friendly building material than many traditional options. It's also biodegradable, which means it won't contribute to landfill waste once its useful life is over.
Extracts from hemp may also be used to directly support your well-being. The wellness use of hemp is related to its richness in cannabinoids, one of which you may have heard of - CBD.
What is CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of over 100 cannabinoids found naturally in the hemp and cannabis plants.
CBD can be isolated from hemp plants using special extraction processes. The oil is carefully extracted from raw hemp material through a variety of methods, such as CO2 extraction, steam distillation, or through a solvent like food-grade ethanol. Once extracted, its wellness benefits can finally be reaped among all living things (or at least all living things with an endocannabinoid system)...
Hemp-derived CBD has transformed millions of people's lives—all around the world. If hemp remained on the list of Schedule 1 drugs as it had for 48 years, we might still be limited solely to opioids and their dangerous side effects.
And when it comes to using hemp as a raw material to create clothing, rope, homes, paper goods, and even plastic cups, there are 3 big perks...
Hemp plastics are recyclable and biodegradable and decompose in just 6 months (In comparison, it takes regular plastic 1,000 years to decompose in landfills)
Hemp is naturally resistant to pests, so it needs minimal (if any) pesticides or fertilizer
Hemp only needs 300-500 liters of water for 1kg of hemp, compared to cotton, which takes approximately 10,000 liters of water for 1kg of cotton (basically the weight of raw material needed to make a T-shirt and a pair of jeans)
The Bottom Line
Without hemp, we would be scrambling to find a sustainable source to make, well, pretty much everything.
Now that it's once again available to ordinary people, hemp can serve us and the earth in more and more ways.