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What’s All the Hype About Hemp?

By Kelley Shirazi

More and more products on the market today are made from hemp. What’s so special about hemp? Read on!

Hemp: a quick history
Hemp was one of the most prevalent crops grown in this country up until the last century, grown primarily for paper, fiber and fuel. The majority of all twine, rope, ship sails, rigging and nets were made from hemp fiber until the late 19th century. It’s interesting to note that the first drafts of the American Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the King James Bible were all written on hemp paper.

Today, fabric made from hemp fiber is gaining popularity. Other uses of hemp are also becoming more popular based on hemp seeds’ nutritional value and hemp oil’s superior moisturizing and cleansing properties.

Why hemp?
The benefits of hemp are numerous. From a nutritional standpoint, the hemp seed is one of nature’s perfect foods. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is a rich source of high quality protein. Hemp oil is high in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), including Omega-6 linoleic, Omega-3 alpha linolenic and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), all of which are important for optimum health. EFAs cannot be produced by the body itself and are vital for the structure and functions of tissues in the body. GLA, the active component in evening primrose oil, may be successful in the treatment of eczema, premenstrual syndrome, menopause and arthritis.

Clothing made from hemp has a number of advantages. Hemp fiber is one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fabrics, outlasting the competition by many years. Hemp also holds its shape, stretching less than other fibers, so clothes retain the same look and feel as when they were brand new. And while hemp is extremely durable, it’s also extremely comfortable, becoming softer each time it’s worn. Hemp is naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light, and due to its porous nature, hemp not only holds dyes longer but “breathes,” keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Ecological benefits
Hemp is an environmentally positive crop, actually improving the condition of the ground. Hemp roots average 10 to 12 inches long, as compared to a one-inch root of rye or barley. These deep roots work to aerate the soil, promoting healthy microbial soil life and leaving the ground in a condition where it is easily worked and able to retain moisture during the next season. Hemp is naturally resistant to most pests, precluding the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds, so herbicides are not necessary.

Compare this to cotton, which is usually grown using excessive amounts of highly toxic pesticides. Hemp produces three times as much fiber per acre as cotton. And while cotton is grown on only 3 percent of the world's farmland, it uses a devastating 26 percent of the world's pesticides per year.

One acre of hemp in annual rotation produces as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees during the same twenty-year period. Hemp can be grown and harvested every year, unlike trees that take 50 to 100 years to grow back. Hemp can be grown in more areas throughout the world than trees. Making paper from trees creates five times more pollution than making paper from hemp.

Hemp and fossil fuels
From pre-industrial times to the present, carbon dioxide levels on our planet have risen by almost 30 percent due to deforestation and fossil fuel combustion. The United States currently burns fossil fuels for 93 percent of its energy needs, consuming 25 percent of the world's supply.

Hemp is the best sustainable source of plant pulp for biomass fuel to make charcoal, gas, methanol, gasoline and electricity in a natural way. It is actually possible to produce all of our energy with hemp! Hemp is ideal for producing ethanol, an environmentally safe alternative to gas. Even plastic can be made from hemp. Lowering or completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment: acid rain would be reduced, sulfur-based smog would be eliminated and the greenhouse effect (global warming) could be reversed.

How is hemp used today?
You can find hemp today in a variety of products, from lip balm, facial cleansers and moisturizers to clothing and food. Hemp oil is used quite extensively in cosmetics and cleansers, as well as a source of essential fatty acids in foods. Hemp seeds can be found in hemp seed waffles, tortilla chips, pasta, hemp milk, energy bars and even salad dressings. Hemp fabric is used for clothing, hand bags, coats, shoes, hats and jewelry. And of course, paper and fuel are made from hemp. Most of these products can be found at your local health food store, in specialty stores or by a quick search online.

Isn’t hemp illegal?
While it is illegal in most U.S. states to grow hemp, many manufacturers are able to import hemp products to sell in America. Canada, Germany, England, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, China, Thailand, Hungary and Romania all produce hemp and hemp products to ship to the U.S., and there is active legislation to decriminalize hemp crops in the United States.

Many people mistakenly think that hemp itself will get them “high.” This is untrue. The psychoactive component of marijuana, THC, is not present in significant amounts in hemp products.

For more information on hemp, including nutrition and products made from hemp, visit and For more information on hemp foods, see

© Kelley Shirazi

Kelley Shirazi’s interest in natural health and nutrition started in college, when she studied herbology and holistic health along with her women’s studies major. After graduation, she created Oceana Botanical Herbal Products, a line of petrochemical- and alcohol-free personal care and baby care products. A passionate advocate of organic, hormone-free foods, Kelley is currently studying toward her master’s of science degree in holistic nutrition. She lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter.


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