Hemp is not marijuana and you can do almost anything with it

"Hemp will be the future of all mankind, or there won't be a future."

Jack Herer

On the first page of Aldi's new catalogue there is this double-page spread on hemp. Another trendy ingredient thought I and one aimed at the 'healthy' amongst us. Which, of course, is a tiny bit ironic considering its reputation as a hallucinogenic drug. But, as my headline says, hemp is not marijuana. It's from a cultivar of the same plant, cannabis sativa, but one which does not have (or only in very tiny quantities) the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is what the pot users go for. So the first thing to note is that you are not going to get high on it.


Mind you these days they are experimenting with the medical use of the 'real' thing in a pretty wide range of medical conditions. But as a recreational drug, it seems to me, it is increasingly being seen as more harmful than was previously thought. They say that it was in widespread use back in the 60s, but I have to say I knew nobody who smoked it or otherwise ingested it. Not anyone at my university which was very small and where the gossip would have spread if anyone was into it. But I am not her to talk about the recreational drug marijuana. No I am looking at hemp.

The now think that hemp was one of the very first plants to be made use of by mankind - as long ago as 50,000 years, in China. Well I am a bit confused about this because the Wikipedia article then goes on to say that it was first used as a fibre in Japan about 8000BC. A long time ago anyway.


Why? Well as you can see from the picture of a commercial field in France, it grows very densely and is therefore very productive. It also grows very quickly. Every part of the plant can be used for just about anything, plus it has that recreational drug aspect. I am assuming that our modern hemp cultivars minus the drug, are just that - modern that is. So I am assuming that older cultures also used it as a recreational, and probably medicinal, drug.


A few random facts on how it was and is used. Sails for boats were mostly made from hemp. The word 'canvas' is derived from the word 'cannabis'. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, and rope and okum were made from hemp. The very first car ran on hemp oil. All of which led to notable American politicians from Washington to Obama lauding its use - for whatever reasons.


"Hemp is one of the greatest, most important substances of our nation" Thomas Jefferson


Nowadays it continues to be used as a fabric as you can see from the Aldi catalogue's sheets, shoes, and bags. But it is also used as a building material (more for insulation than actual building materials), plastics, paper, biofuels, It also is sometimes used to choke weeds because it grows so densely, and is also used to clean water and soil:


"hemp is being used to clean contaminants at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, by way of a process which is known as phytoremediation — the process of clearing radioisotopes and a variety of other toxins from the soil, water, and air." Wikipedia


And did I mention the beauty, well health and beauty products? Most of which seem to be derived from hemp oil from the seeds.


All of which leads me to agree with the statement by Jack Herer at the top of the page, that hemp is our future. It certainly seems to be an environmentally sound crop to grow.


"Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?" Henry Ford


Doubtless there are downsides. That note about growing it to suppress weeds, did sort of mention that the hemp itself might become a weed.


But really I should be talking about the food.

Yes you can eat the leaves, but mostly this is not what happens. Mostly, food wise we concentrate on the seeds, - as seeds, which can be sprouted, as powder, and as oil, even as a kind of milk, like almond milk. Its cultivation was legalised here in Australia (and also NZ) back in 2017 and over the years from then to now I am guessing that the market has grown enormously, judging from the wide range of products on your supermarket shelves. And I'm guessing that the food part of the cultivation is actually a small part of it. Aldi has a few food and health items, Coles has 15 and Woolworths 27. And these are all different anyway.


Why do the health food people promote hemp? Well of course it's a super food, and the dieticians do seem to agree that it is very high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 particularly but also pretty high in protein. However the dieticians also say that there are also plenty of other foods that would supply the same benefits. It's all a matter of variety really isn't it? Why not have some hemp seeds in your salads, or in your bread and muesli for a change? And why not put them in a smoothie?


The fanciest recipe I saw was from Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant and was for a hemp and cauliflower salad. Very trendy. You'll find the recipe on the Gourmet Traveller website.


What intrigues me is that so many of these 'health' foods in the supermarket contain sugar and chocolate. In that Aldi ad, there are 'protein bars with probiotics' - so stressing the health benefits - for example, which are covered in chocolate or have caramel included. Ditto for the protein bars and the snackaballs, and I'm willing to bet the flavoured kombucha also is sugar laden. So read the labels folks.


But you have to say that as a plant, it's one of the essential ones for life - like the coconut palm, bananas and olives.


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