Hemp: The Green Alternative
When many people think of hemp they automatically think of marijuana. Though the two plants are kissing cousins, industrial hemp does not contain THC, the good little chemicals that help alter a human's state of mind. I personally have never tried the stuff; the closest I've come is smelling the wafts that drifted out of the boy's bathroom in high school. I don't need a drug that makes me hungry and mellow, that's my natural state of being anyhow. But I tell you what, we in the United States are a bunch of dummies for not growing hemp for industrial purposes. Let's look into some reasons why, shall we?
Hemp is Beneficial to the Land
Growing hemp is far less destructive to the environment that growing cotton or logging timber for paper. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, returns nitrogen to the soil, controls erosion, and is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. Hemp can also be used to replace many crops that are detrimental to the environment such as cotton which requires a ton of pesticides to grow and is hard on the land.
Hemp has many uses in everyday life, from cloth to food even to fuel. Perhaps hemp is most well known as a fiber used to make rope and rough bags. Hemp can also be blended with cotton or flax however to make a relatively soft and very strong piece of clothing with lovely drape. The part of the plant that the fiber comes from is called the bast which are the fibers that grow on the outside of the woody stalk. These fibers are very strong, and are prepared much the same as flax (linen) is. Once prepared the fibers can be spun, and then woven, knitted, or turned into rope. Hemp produces 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax. It's a little production machine!
Hemp is also useful as a food as well. Hemp leaves can be eaten in a mixed salad, while the seeds can be used in a myriad of ways. Rich in linoleic acid, hemp seeds can be eaten raw, cooked, or used to make "milk" (much like soy milk). They can also be processed to create hemp seed oil, which rivals the famous flax oil for nutrition. The only downside to hemp seed oil is that it can go rancid very quickly because of the presence of unsaturated fats in the oil. Hemp seeds account for a bout 50% of the weight of a female plant, so producing these hemp food products can be a lot cheaper than similiar products created with soy or almonds.
Finally, and this is the use that excites me the most, hemp can be used to create biodiesel! Biodiesel is a product I have been losing faith in for a while, especially because corn (what we use to make biodiesel in the US) is not the most efficient biomatter to make the fuel. But hemp can be used, in parts or as a whole, in the fermentation process to create biodiesel. Hemp is lighter than say corn or sugar, but because it grows so extraordinarily fast and is better for the soil, it is a far more viable option to create biodiesel.
Hemp is really a crop worthy of our support. It was grown for thousands of years by our ancestors and only in recent times has it been phased out by other products with richer backers. I honestly suspect this is why hemp is not a legal crop in the US, lobbyists can't risk their industries losing money. It's too bad really because I think hemp is a great crop that could help lead us to a greener future. Here's hoping that you'll consider asking your lawmakers to make hemp a legitimate crop!