By Pete Scales MAg, BSc( Hon)
Hemp, a troublesome ditch weed or a cornucopia of nutrition, medicine and structural fibers? The answer – all of the above.
Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is in fact a weed species originating in Asia with strong archeological evidence of cultivation and extensive utilization going back more than 5,000 years. If its Latin name makes you think of marijuana, that’s because it’s the same plant, except it has had the THC (psychoactive properties) bred out of it. In fact, with some directed tinkering from ancient farmers, the same plant has been coaxed to produce highly nutritious seed for flour or oil, fiber, or to be a veritable medicinal warehouse.
Up to the turn of the twentieth century the economy of entire communities worldwide depended on hemp. Wars were fought over access to its long, resilient fibers so important in the manufacturing of rope, sails and even Navy uniforms. Hemp was the basis of a global textiles industry and found in work clothes and fine garments alike. At one point, around the end of the first world war, by-products from the hemp plant accounted for more than 80% of all prescribed medications available at the time. But that all ended in 1937.
That was the year that US government – cajoled or bullied by a cabal of industrialists lead by the likes of William Randolph Hurst and the DuPont and Morgan families who sought to minimize hemp’s natural competitive edge over wood fiber, cotton, etc. – linked hemp to “dreaded” marijuana. In a matter of months, hemp industries around the world died out.
Now, 69 years later, industrial hemp (bred to have less than 0.3% THC) is making a comeback reintroducing the marvels and power of this humble plant.
Nutritionally, hemp is likely the best source of plant-based protein providing upwards of 70% by weight when properly processed. Hemp is rich in essential fatty acids, in particular, Omega 6 and Omega 3 in a 4 to 1 ratio which is nearly perfect for cell health and regeneration. In terms of edible fiber, soluble and non-soluble alike, hemp is a winner. It is loaded with antioxidants and has the distinction of being low in carbohydrates.
Medically, cannabinoids (including canibidiaol and up to 100 more) are showing huge promise in the treatment of childhood seizures, autism, epilepsy, some cancers, psychological maladies such and depression, Alzheimer’s and the list goes on. The ancients knew many of this lowly plant’s benefits – eating the seeds, baking with flour milled from its seeds, oil production, making tinctures from leaves and flowers, and constructing rope, house building materials and textiles. While they may not have labelled the various maladies as we have, they also knew how to reduce the effects using hemp and even found cures for some others.
The discovery in the mid-nineties of the existence of something called the endocannabinoid system in animals revolutionized the understanding of the myriad of curative effects hemp provides. Science has identified cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body recognizing that each one of us manufactures our own cannabinoids and that these molecules moderate essentially every cell function, helping us to reach homeostasis (a process leading to equilibrium). And we know also, that our cannabinoid production is tied directly to nutrition and diet. When the cannabinoid system becomes depleted due to poor nutrition, lifestyle or other negative influences of a fast paced, developing world, illness is the result.
The ancients knew and science is now reinforcing the fact that hemp and human physiology go back a long way. Hemp is powerful and deserves the mantle of a super food.
In the event that you too are as fascinated with the power of the lowly hemp plant join me on April 20th for one of two free lectures on hemp history, nutrition, medicine and, yes, processing of nutritious hemp products.
Silver Hills Bakery
30971 Peardonville Road
11:00 & 17:00