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THE BENEFITS OF HEMP

Hemp is another word for the plant Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana comes from this same plant genus -- and so do broccoli and cauliflower. But the strains of hemp used in industrial and consumer products contain only a negligible level of the intoxicating substance delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Thus, industrial grade hemp is not marijuana.

Hemp is the most useful and beneficial plant in nature.

Hemp as food

Hemp seeds are drug-free and extremely nutritious. They can be eaten whole, pressed into edible oil like soybeans, or ground into flour for baking. They are one of the best sources of vegetable protein. They contain a full complement of essential amino acids, essential fatty-acids (EFA'S), and have been shown to lower blood cholesterol and dissolve plaque in coronary arteries.

Because hemp is such a hardy plant, it can grow easily and abundantly almost anywhere, and can provide nutrition where other edible crops just won't grow. Hemp can even be cultivated in arid regions with poor soil like Saharan Africa or in places with a very short growing season like Scandinavia.

Hemp for body care

Hemp seed oil is perfectly suited for hair and skin care. Its nutritional value, combined with its moisturizing and replenishing EFA's, make it one of the best vegetable body care foundations. Hemp seed oil's EFA complement includes polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, linoleic acid, and gamma linoleic acids (GLA's). Although they are very effective in skin care maintenance, GLA's are rarely found in natural oils. Hemp is an excellent source of GLA's.

Paper from hemp

Hemp paper is naturally acid-free. The oldest printed paper in existence is a 100 percent hemp Chinese text dated to 770 AD. Thomas Jefferson drafted both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution on hemp paper.

Hemp's cellulose level is almost three times that of wood, so it makes superior paper and yields four times as much pulp per acre as trees. The hemp paper process also utilizes less energy and fewer chemicals than tree paper processing and doesn't create the harmful dioxins, chloroform, or any of the other 2,000 chlorinated organic compounds that have been identified as byproducts of the wood paper process.

Hemp is a sustainable, annual crop that is ready for harvest just 120 days after going to seed, compared to trees which take tens or hundreds of years to reach maturity. Further, harvesting hemp doesn't destroy the natural habitats of thousands of distinct animal and plant species.

Historically, hemp was an important source of paper fiber until the early 1900's when chemicals were developed to advance the wood paper pulp industry. Wood pulp paper rode the chemical revolution to its apex before the public health hazards of toxic chemicals were an issue and before the environmental consequences of clear-cutting forests were appreciated.

Hemp as fuel

Hemp seeds have provided a combustible fuel oil throughout human history. More importantly, though, the same high cellulose level that makes hemp ideal for paper also makes it perfect for ethanol fuel production. Ethanol is the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline. In one test, an unleaded gasoline automobile engine produced a thick, black carbon residue in its exhaust, while the tailpipe of a modified ethanol engine tested for the same 3,500 miles remained pristine and residue-free.

Ethanol is derived from plant cellulose. Plants absorb carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight and produce oxygen and cellulose, which contains the sun's energy captured in plant cells. When ethanol combusts, it releases energy, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is then absorbed by plants, along with water and sunlight, to create more oxygen and cellulose. It is a clean and sustainable cycle.

Since gasoline engines are a primary source of carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases, alternative fuels such as ethanol could contribute significantly to the rejuvenation of our atmospheric air quality. Hemp provides a sustainable, renewable, and natural alternative to toxic fossil fuels.

Hemp as paint & plastic

Hemp oil extract can also be used as an ingredient in nontoxic, biodegradable inks, paints, and varnishes. It is an ideal raw material for plant-based plastics such as cellophane as well as more recently developed cellulose-based plastics.

Henry Ford himself manufactured the body of an automobile from hemp-based plastic in 1941. The plastic was much lighter than steel and could withstand ten times the impact without denting. The car was even fueled by clean-burning hemp-based ethanol fuel.

Hemp as textile fiber

Hemp is the longest and strongest plant fiber. It is extremely abrasion and rot resistant and was the primary source of canvas, sail, rope, twine, and webbing fiber for hundreds of years before nylon was patented by DuPont in 1937. Hemp was used for clothing, military uniforms, ship's rigging, shoes, parachute webbing, baggage, and much more. Christopher Columbus' ships were fully rigged in hemp. The U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides," was outfitted with over 40 tons of hemp rigging.

Because of the multitude of uses for hemp, the early Colonial American governments mandated its cultivation. Early American settlers even used hemp fiber as money and to pay taxes. Because of its length and strength, hemp fiber can be woven into natural advanced composites, which can then be fashioned into anything from fast food containers to skateboard decks to the body of a stealth fighter.

Concrete from hemp

Madame France Perrier builds about 300 houses per year out of hemp in France. Years ago she researched ways to petrify vegetable matter. During her studies, she found evidence in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites of hemp-based concrete. When she discovered the ingredients of the mix, she duplicated the method. She mixes hemp hurds (the inner fiber) with limestone and water, which causes the hemp to harden into a substance stronger than cement and only one sixth the weight. Madame Perrier' isochanvre is also more flexible than concrete, giving it a major advantage over conventional building materials, especially in areas throughout the world that are prone to earthquakes.

Hemp replacing wood

Bill Conde is the owner of the largest Redwood lumberyard in Oregon, and one of the few lumber men willing to admit hemp's benefits. His family has been in the lumber industry for generations. He is a firsthand witness to the destruction of the nation's pristine forests. The fiberboard offshoot of the lumber industry is one of the most threatening to the world's forests.

Fiberboard, or pressboard, is made by chipping trees into small pieces and then compressing the chips into boards using adhesives. This industry is so destructive because chip plants can use young immature trees, which are just as useful for pressboard as older trees. These mills threaten to destroy even the youngest of forests. Conde and the highly regarded wood products division of Washington State University developed a method of fabricating tree-free pressboard out of hemp. The method uses existing technology and wood-chip mills. Their hemp fiberboard is superior in strength and quality to the same product produced using trees.

Hemp as rotation crop and soil rejuvenator

Hemp is an ideal rotation crop for farmers worldwide. It puts down a taproot twelve inches long in only thirty days, preventing topsoil erosion. Its water requirements are negligible, so it doesn't require much irrigation and will grow in arid regions. It matures from seed in only 120 days, so it doesn't need a long growing season. Hemp's soil nutrients concentrate in the plant's roots and leaves. After harvest, the roots remain and the leaves are returned to the fields. In this way, soil nutrients are preserved.

Hemp is also a beneficial crop for the Earth itself. It is very easy on the land. It doesn't need many nutrients, so it doesn't require chemical fertilizers. Hemp outcompetes other weeds, so it doesn't need herbicides to thrive. Even hemp strains that are 100 percent THC-free produce their own resins that make the crop naturally pest-free, so it doesn't require toxic chemical pesticides. Hemp actually leaves the soil in better condition than before it was planted.

Hemp's comeback is in our hands

So how do we change it all? What can we do to show the multinational mega-corporations that we care about our environment even if they don't?

Remember, it's all about money. If we continue to buy the same old products from the same old companies that have gotten us into this mess, we can expect more of the same destruction. But, we can affect positive change by buying products produced from sustainable sources by environmentally responsible companies.

Of all the sustainable sources for consumer products, hemp is uniquely suited to provide the widest variety of life's necessities and comforts. In this way, hemp is nature's gift to humanity.

Written by: SW & JL Roussel. From the San Diego Earth Times. roussel@cox.net.


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