RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Repeat after me: "Hemp is not marijuana. I won't get stoned from drinking hemp milk. I won't get the munchies from eating hemp seeds. There will be no buzz brought on by hemp butter." (In fact, the potent nutrients in hemp may actually help curb your appetite.)
The hemp plant is misunderstood. Harvested for its fibers, seed, and oil for more than 1,000 years, it was banned in North America in the 1930s due to its similar appearance to marijuana. Yes, they are both members of the Cannabis sativa family, but hemp lacks the potent dose of the psychoactive THC, the ingredient that brings the buzz. (Hemp produces less than 1 percent THC, where marijuana packs 5 to 20 percent.)
Other countries, such as Canada, have recognized this, and allow farmers to grow hemp with a permit, but the United States is still blocking farmers from producing this economically viable crop. The good news is, although hemp can't be cultivated here yet, hemp products are allowed to be sold. That's good for the health of your body and the planet.
Here's how to bring the benefits of hemp into your home (and why you'd want to in the first place):
1. It's a dream protein source for vegetarians and vegans. Anyone can benefit from protein-packed hemp, but it's a godsend for those who nix meat from their diets. That's because hemp is one of the few plant sources that supply a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Soy is another plant-based complete protein, but many people are allergic to soy, some studies show it can be detrimental to your health, and most soy grown in this country is genetically engineered.
Hemp seed nuts actually contain more high-quality protein (6 grams per tablespoon) than beef or fish! Hemp seeds also boost heart-healthy alpha-linoleic acid. More grocery stores are starting to carry hemp products, and most natural health food stores having been for years. Hemp is starting to pop into granola bars and cereals now, too. If you're going just with seeds, though, try sprinkling it in cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt.
2. It boosts your immune system. Some studies have found that the essential oils in hemp plants boost immunity. Sure, you can look for hemp seeds or oils for this benefit, but hemp milk also includes the beneficial oils, too. Many health food stories carry these hemp products, and you can also order them online.
3. It's a naturally resilient crop. Hemp is a fast grower, making it competitive with weeds from day one. That also means it doesn't require the dousings of toxic pesticides that commodity crops like corn and soy require. "Hemp is a really hearty crop to grow. It requires less chemical inputs than other crops, and it'll grow up to eight to 10 feet tall in 100 days," says organic agriculture pioneer Mike Fata, CEO of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Food and Oils.
Growing hemp has proven to be a steady source of income for farmers in Canada and other parts of the world, too. Unlike the peaks and valleys experienced by commodity crop prices, hemp prices remain relatively stable, Fata says.
4. It's packed with mercury-free omega-3s. We're always being told to eat healthy seafood to boost heart and brain health, but sometimes it can be confusing to figure out which species are contaminated with mercury. The good news is, you don't have to worry about that with plant-based hemp. Plus, it's lower on the food chain.
5. It's a strong-a$$ fiber. Sailors have long known the benefits of hemp as a resilient fiber. They used it for ropes and sails, and today, you don't have to become a pirate to enjoy the benefit. Try using hemp shower curtains in your bathroom. They last a long time because they are naturally antimicrobial, meaning mildew and other gross stuff isn't going to build up on them. (Eliminating the temptation to spray the fabrics with harsh, toxic chemicals.) Hemp reusable bags are also popular, and some people are even turning to hemp clothing as a comfortable, sustainable alternative.