West River Eagle

The surprising and varied uses for industrial hemp

The West River Eagle has talked a lot about the benefits of industrial hemp over the last several weeks. Many of our stories referred to “hemp products.” We asked ourselves, “What kinds of things are actually made from industrial hemp?”

Historically, hemp was the first choice for the finest ropes for navies around the world due to its long fibers and salt-resistance. It’s been used in pottery and paper for millennia. Archaeologists found samples dating back to 10,000 B.C. in northern China and houses in India built of hemp and lime that are 1,500 years old.

Hemp came to Iceland with the Vikings in 850 and to Jamestown with the English colonists in 1602. More recently, hemp is used in food, fiber and fuel. Hemp fibers go into all sorts of commercial, industrial and personal products.

Signature Products in Germany, a company dedicated to hemp cultivation, trade, processing and development, says hemp “leaves, flowers, fibers and seeds are useful ingredients for further processing in the food and cosmetic industries. Hemp can be used to make oil, paper, plastic, clothing, milk, protein-rich flour or tea, and can even be found in lip balm, bath bombs and liquid soap.”

Almost all parts of the plant are useful. The stems are highly fibrous and can be made into environmentally-friendly building materials such as hempcrete and hemp insulation. Automobile companies like hemp textiles it for their tear-resistant properties in interior trims.

High fashion is discovering breathable, sustainable, and easy-to-wear organic hemp fabrics are great for clothing and shoes. It has potential for use in energy-storage devices such as high-performance batteries for electric cars.

As a bioplastic, hemp is 100% biodegradable and is more adaptable than traditional petroleum plastics. The cellulose from hemp can be used as a bio-based resin or mixed with polymers. In either case, it’s carbon-negative and renewable. The idea of hemp plastic isn’t new, either. Henry Ford used hemp plastic in cars in 1941. As a biofuel, hemp fuels conventional diesel engines.

Hemp seeds are gluten-free and rich in vitamins, mineral and protein. They are often eaten in salads and breakfast cereal. Hemp leaves are used in tea, oils and body care products. They add biomass to mulch, compost and biomass digesters.

Hemp flowers and pollen are beloved by bees and support recovery of honey bee colonies throughout the world. Hemp roots improve soil structure both as they grow and when tilled back into the soil. Hemp roots aid soil decontamination and can absorb pollution and chemicals from air and soil.

Lastly, hemp is useful in animal feed. Researchers found the entire plant is nutritious for cattle and are exploring its use feeding sheep and poultry.

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