Hemp - Uses & Potential
 
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So, I can hear you asking...what is this plant useful for anyway?

Hemp - aka cannabis sativa L, (as aluded to in the HISTORY page), was historically used as fiber for rope, twine, tough sailcloth, and paper. Over the years, hemp slowly fell out of favor in the world due to the time-consuming process of harvesting hemp, as they had yet to invent a mechanical reaper capable of processing the plant. In later years a few bright fellows invented a reaper capable of handling the plant and the thermo-mechanical pulping process, permitting hemp to become economically viable once again. However, the businessmen in charge of various industries (timber and petrochemical corporations, for the most part) were not too keen to have a competitive product creep up on them and organized a campaign against them. The media blitz survives to this day in the term 'Reefer Madness', which later led to the ban of hemp growing in the US and elsewhere. Below is a list of some of the major uses for hemp, though it is stressed that this is NOT a complete list of all possible applications, commercially-viable or not.

Before we get started, most informational links are run through Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is continually updated by volunteer historians, professors, teachers, and craftsmen, in a similar fashion to the Linux operating system. It is an amazing site in its own right, and cannot be promoted enough - all information is free and provided without requiring fees or access accounts. However, all information shown can be cross referenced in the other major online encyclopedias, if you wish and have appropriate access rights.

Encyclopedia Britanica

Encarta

Columbia University

WorldBook

Encyclopedia.com (Cross-Reference site)

Paper

As a paper product, industrial hemp yields 3-8 tons of dry fiber per acre, around 4 times the yield a forest the same size produces. The average tree takes between 10 and 20 years to mature to harvesting size. Hemp, on the other hand, matures within 4 months. In addition, hemp fiber is substantially more durable than wood pulp fiber with nearly double the average fiber strength, greatly increasing the lifespan of any paper created from it. Paper created from hemp has a strength roughly comparable to a dollar bill, as an easy comparison. Quality-wise it is equivalent to the best wood-pulp paper. The longer and stronger hemp fibers provide superior bonding and printability.

Hemp fiber paper has been known to last for millennia in the form of scrolls and books with little degredation. Wood pulp fiber generally has a lifetime of 25-30 years on average before yellowing caused by oxidation causes the paper to become illegible. Modern acid-free wood-pulp paper has a longer span of centuries, but requires an additional process, a step that could be skipped with hemp paper.

Furthermore, hemp fiber contains a relatively low amount of lignin, the organic glue that binds plant cells together. This allows hemp paper to be bleached without the use of additives like chlorine.

On the other hand, hemp paper is expensive. Hemp pulp fiber is very high quality and therefore demands a high price on the pulp market. Also, due to the nature of the timber business, contemporary wood mills operate at high volume/low markup and literally dump wood pulp onto the market, making wood pulp distinctly more economical for low-end paper products. Other issues abound as well, regarding the economical transportation of hemp bales over distance compared to relatively compact wood as well as the potential location of suitable mills. So, you are unlikely to see hemp paper bags and notebook paper anytime soon. It would most likely be used in specialty high-end paper for photoprinting and business documents, high-end textbooks, and in applications requiring a high-tensile strength for the paper, such as money and storage materials. For more information on the specifics, please consult here.

Cloth and Clothing

Raised primarily as a fiber plant during its heyday, hemp fiber was used for many years in the construction of cloth required to be both functional and durable. Sailcloth (as well as denim) was constructed almost entirely of hemp fiber due to its unique (at the time) natural resistance to salt corrosion. As has been reported widely, the original Levi jeans were constructed out of hemp fiber. Aside from the rivets, the higher tensile strength of the hemp fiber relative to the cotton fiber certainly helped the aura of indestructability the pants enjoyed during the 1849 gold rush era.

In terms of fiber quality, the texture of hemp cloth varies depending on the time of harvesting and the individual growth area for each individual plant. Depending on just when it is picked, hemp fiber can be as soft and pliable as cotton (to be specific, 3 months and 900 plants to the square yard), or considerably coarser (think rope or twine).

Hemp fibers come in two varieties: long and short. The long fibers are extracted from the bark of the stalk, and are called "long" because they stretch the length of the entire stalk, which can grow to 15 feet or more in certain conditions. This is particularly useful in strength applications as fiber strength is directly related to the length of the fiber. In contrast, cotton fibers generally reach a length of 1-2 centimeters. The short fibers or "tow" are found inside the stalk and are closer in size and strength to standard cotton.

Various consumer enterprises have entered the market in recent years catering to activists, environmentalists, and similar folk willing to pay a premium for access to the cloth. Again, as with paper, the problem is relative cost, however, in this case not due to any intrinsic issues, but simply to the current production and distribution limitations of the current generation of commercial hemp growers. If hemp was allowed to 'go public' once again in a wide sense, there is a very good chance that hemp cloth and supplemental blends could indeed become a powerful commercial enterprise once again.

Food

The hemp plant's chief food product is its seeds. The leaves can be digested but they mostly provide fiber and little nutritional value besides that of roughage. The whole unhusked seed contains, on average: 25% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 15% insoluable fiber, 30% oil, the nutrients carotene, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, and the vitamins E, C, B1, B2, B3, and B6. Hemp seed also is one of the few seeds to contain Omega-6 and Omega-3 Linoleic acid, normally found only in fish and useful to the immune system. It is the only edible seed source of Gamma Linoleic acid, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, otherwise only available from specialty oils such as evening primrose and borage oil. It should be noted that the hulled hempseed contains no amount of THC. (THC is normally stored in the fleshy parts of the plant, especially the leaves. None is contained in the seeds, flowers, or roots of the plant.) Whole hempseed can occasionally contain trace amounts, far below what is required for any type of psychoreactive action (Think poppy seed muffin...this technically contains opium in the poppy seeds but it is highly doubtful that anyone has ever gotten any kind of reaction from such a food. As just about any chemist will tell you, dosage is always the key, not the substance in and of itself). This results from the seed extraction process as occasionally other parts of the hemp plant can be caught in the machinery and small bits of pulverized plant containing amounts of THC mixed in with the whole seeds. If the seed harvester washes the seeds after the extraction process, virtually all THC impurities are removed.

Whole Hemp Seeds

In sterilized, toasted, roasted, and factionalized (cracked) form. The whole seed can be used to create various nut mixes, trailmixes, and snackfoods, or simply eaten roasted.

Hulls

Similar to bran, the hemp seed hull is primarily a source of dietary fiber. It can also be used as a base for animal feed and mulch.

Hulled Hemp Seeds

The hulled seed is used in a variety of ways. Most birdseed sold on the market today contains a large quantity of hulled hempseed. It can be the base for flour, as well as added components of baked goods, granola bars, sauces and dips. The most versatile of the subgroups, hulled seeds have been processed into everything from cakes to cheese, salsa, and ice cream.

Hemp Seed Oil

Cold-pressed unrefined hemp oil is a light green color and is generally described as having a 'nutty-grassy' flavor. The flavor has become known as a good compliment to dips, dressings, and spreads. It can be combined or used in replacement of olive, walnut, or sunflower oil in cooking recipes.

Refined oil has little to no flavor or nutrients. It is primarily used as the base for various lubricants, paints, and body care products, such as lotions.

Hemp Seed Meal

This is what remains of the hemp seed after being cold-pressed for oil. The remaining product still contains 25% protein and can be used as a supplemental ingredient for breads and pastas, as well as providing a good fermentation base for beer brewing.

 

 

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