Environmental Benefits of Hemp
Brief History of Hemp
Throughout history, hemp has been harvested for its fiber, seeds, and flowers. A plant with seemingly endless possibilities, hemp fiber can produce textiles, rope, clothes, paper, plastic composites, building construction materials, animal bedding, food, drinks, and agricultural supplies. Hemp seeds can produce food, edible oil, personal care products (shampoo, soap, lotions), and industrial fluids used for varnishes, sealants, and lubricants. It can even be used for essential oils, pesticides, livestock feed, bird seed, fuel for cars, and for bioremediation of soil containing heavy metals.
Hemp is one of earliest plants to be cultivated in the world and was a popular crop in early American history. Seeds first arrived in the United States for the purpose of planting to breed and maintain strong hemp crops for new settlers. Soon after settlement, the colonies were legally required to grow hemp as hemp fiber was found to be particularly useful in maritime endeavours, largely because of its natural decay resistance and how easily it adapts to cultivation.
After the American Revolution hemp remained an important part of life in the new country. Farmers were told it was their patriotic duty to grow hemp and were allowed to pay their taxes with it. George Washington himself pushed for the growth of hemp and praised its usefulness in making rope and fabric. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp and eventually improved on hemp varieties.
Hemp was a versatile and flourishing crop in America. However, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and the popularity of synthetic fibers in the following years, caused a severe decrease in hemp popularity. The industry soon found itself in decline. In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind, including hemp. This essentially caused the entire industry to falter and disappear.
How It Can Help the Environment
Hemp is a powerful tool that has been left dormant for far too long. Not only does it provide us with durable and sustainable materials, the plant itself is also great for the environment. The benefits of hemp are astounding and most people don’t know the full extent of what this miracle plant offers our planet.
Nature’s Air Purifier
Hemp plants are able to rapidly capture carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere, making it cleaner and breathable for us. Hemp has been shown to absorb more CO2 per hectare than any other forest or commercial crop in history . And since hemp can be grown quickly and on a large scale, that means it is an incredibly effective and efficient way to help clean the air around us.
Hemp is a carbon neutral plant, even able to capture and store carbon in its stalks. This is because hemp is naturally durable and able to hold compounds in its strong stalks, yet the leaves of the hemp plant are easily composted right back into their growing fields when needed.
As mentioned above, the stalk of the hemp plant is extremely tough and able to absorb and maintain all sorts of nutrients within it. The same holds true for its leaves as well. As the plant grows and consumes energy, it stores nutrients in its stalk and leaves. As it grows older and matures, the leaves eventually fall to the ground where they decompose and act as a powerful natural soil nutrient. This cycle helps maintain healthy soil for the next crop and shows yet another way hemp is a sustainable plant: it can literally fertilize itself.
The world is changing and so are its environmental needs. It’s because of the ongoing need to remain environmentally responsible that sustainable farming has become so important. There are a lot of resources needed to maintain a farm, even a small one, so every bit that can be conserved should. This is necessary for financial reasons as well as environmental.
Sustainable farming of hemp means that when the crops are rotated each season, the previous crop works to keep the soil nutrients fertile, which aids in the growth of the new crop. This cycle continues with each previous crop helping to fertilize the soil of the crop that comes after. This means farmers don’t need additional fertilizer, which can be costly.
Since hemp is an annual crop that has the ability to reach maturity within just four months of being planted, it works wonderfully as a rotating crop.
Hemp fibre is an amazing natural product that works well for textiles of many different types. It can be compared to cotton or flax, however unlike those two types of fibre, it does not require pesticides or herbicides in order to grow. That means not only is the hemp fibre extremely durable, but so is the plant itself. It is not susceptible to the same dangers that cotton or flax face, like total annihilation from pests.
As most people know, pesticides are dangerous chemicals and there are many who believe they should be avoided altogether. Adding pesticides and herbicides to the growth cycle of a plant crop has many potential risks, including contamination of the surrounding environment and waterways. There is also the risk of health issues like cancer connected to pesticide use.
Pesticides are not simple and harmless chemicals, they are powerful compounds with dangerous side effects. A plant that can grow successfully and flourish without the use of chemicals is extremely important to our environment, to our health, and to future generations.
Prevents Soil Erosion
As has probably been made clear already, hemp is a very resilient plant. Even its roots are incredibly strong, reaching underground lengths of up to nine feet. These deep root systems are essential to the surrounding soil and help prevent soil erosion. Hemp and its roots have the ability to restore soil in areas that are already damaged, that’s how powerful they are.
Once the plants are established, hemp is very drought tolerant and doesn’t need much water to thrive. Hemp uses less water than corn and is extremely well suited to farming in areas that are very dry, like the southwestern United States.
Even in areas where rain is plentiful and it doesn’t seem like there are issues with droughts, water shortages are almost always still a major issue. That means being responsible with water usage and waste are more important than ever. The fact that hemp requires so little (compared to other crops) is yet another compelling reason many farmers grow hemp successfully.
Like most plants, the beginning stages of growth do require quite a bit of water to get the plant established. However, once it reaches a certain level of maturity, it becomes one of the most drought tolerant crops in history.
Here’s an amazing fact: hemp can be used to produce more than 20,000 products. How is that possible? Nothing goes to waste in the hemp plant. The seeds are used to create healthy food products like milk and flour. The flowers are used to create CBD products like tinctures and edibles. The leaves can be used to make beauty products like lotions and shampoos. And the stalk can be used to create natural fibre for textiles or rope products.
Every piece of the hemp plant has a use. Furthermore, the products created from each part of the plant are deeply beneficial and either meet or exceed any other product in the same category. That is an amazing feat for any plant, especially one that boasts zero waste.
Hemp is one of the fastest growing crops in the world. Compared to trees that take years to mature, hemp plants can reach full maturity and height within four months. In a world that is increasingly seeing its forest disappear, finding a sustainable plant that can be used to replace the clear cutting of trees is a huge win. Hemp is also able to produce a very effective pulp that can be used instead of tree pulp to create paper and paper products.
Simply put: hemp is an unbelievable product. It’s a product that can help the environment and society at almost every stage of its life cycle and with every part of its physical being. From the healthy soil it grows, to the abundant flowers it produces that are later turned into CBD oils and used medicinally by humans, hemp could be called a miracle product.
As hemp starts to once again gain back the respect it so rightfully deserves, we can only hope that the world takes full advantage of everything it has to offer. Doing so will be the first step to making up for years of missteps — one of which was not allowing hemp to flourish in this country in the first place.