facts about hemp
The incredible hemp
Before we start, you need to understand that I had no real position on this issue but I was curious to learn more about this plant. I just had heard things about it and thought it to be a great subject for our blog. What I found was sincerely astonishing. There seems to be no end to how the entire world could benefit from its production as a leading source for… just about everything we need for a much greener global economy to function without changing our lives one bit.
Here’s what I learnt about hemp…
History crash course on hemp
Hemp was one of the first ever cultivated plants. Its story starts over 12,000 years ago to the origins of agriculture. Almost all civilizations from that date on have used this incredible plant the Chinese civilization of the 5th century B.C. was already using to make clothes, shoes, ropes and paper. Its use eventually spread across the rest of Asia and then on to Europe. Back then, the plant was used as food, fibers for cloth and ropes, paper and of course for smoking.
Forward a few hundred years up to the famous1492 and there are references that the ropes and sails on the ships of Colombus were all made of hemp due to its flexibility and strength. When the first colonies were established, all farmers who owned land in Virginia were required by law to grow hemp. The puritans of the north grew hemp on their land.
Forward again to the 20th century and WWII. The uniforms of the soldiers going to fight in Europe were made of hemp and film propaganda was made during this time to encourage farmers to grow it as a way to help the country win the war.
The facts about hemp
- hemp fibers are on the of the strongest natural fibers there is.
- It is very flexible and yet has one of the lowest percent of elongation in nature.
- It has superior insulation properties.
- It is completely biodegradable.
- The first piece of paper discovered -China- was made of hemp.
- Until 1883, 90% of the world’s paper was made of hemp.
- Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew hemp on their lands
- The hemp seed is extremely nutritious, high in fatty acids, vitamin B and a fantastic source of dietary fiber.
- Many of today’s cosmetics around the world include hemp oil for skin lotion, makeup and shampoo.
- Hemp is a renewable energy with no need to decimate entire forests.
- It also grows very quickly and possesses deep roots, preventing soil erosion.
- Because of its natural strength, hemp can grown easily, almost everywhere and without pesticides.
- The department of Energy acknowledges that hemp is an excellent biofuel.
The more I read about hemp, the more shocked I was. I always assumed that one made paper out of trees. That was a fact for me: “that’s how paper is made” I thought. I was completely astonished to learn that the Gutenberg bible was printed on hemp paper, so were the novels of Mark Twain and so was the first drafts of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence! Cue the surprise face.
during my research, I found that hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber even when harvested in a sustainable manner. Also, it yields way more crops than trees. Concretely, one acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle, but hemp stalks only take four months to mature, whereas trees take 20 to 80 years.
I also found out that making paper from trees is inefficient because trees are made up of only 30% cellulose (the stuff that makes the paper). essentially, he higher the percentage of cellulose in a plant, the more paper you can make out of it. Also, fewer chemicals need to be used, and less work needs to be done before the paper can be made. The interesting thing here is that from what I read, almost any plant in nature is better suited to make paper than trees but none are better than hemp! It contains over 85% cellulose.
You know, it is estimated that In the next 20 years the demand for paper will double due to the economic and demographic emergence of developing countries. The result: there is no way to meet this demand without clear-cutting every tree in the entire world.
Hemp is also eco-friendly because it can reduce wastewater contamination significantly. The plant’s low lignin content (filler mass in between cellulose cells of the plant) reduces the need for non-recyclable harsh chemicals used in the paper making process. I should also note here that hemp’s natural creamy colored stalk lends itself to environmentally-friendly bleaching instead of the harsh chlorine compounds used in tree paper making. One more thing that will not surprise you by now if you are a cynic is that hemp fiber paper is also very resistant to decomposition, and does not yellow with age. The first piece of paper found was made out of hemp and is over 1,500 years old. Oh, and the cherry on top is that hemp paper can also be recycled up to 10 times whereas wood-based paper can only be recycled twice without losing integrity and requiring additional fibre. Making paper from hemp could also eliminate erosion due to logging, reduces topsoil loss, and water pollution caused by soil runoff.
So, we could make more paper, in less time, using less material, in a more efficient way, that is eco-friendly and of higher quality. Say what?
Hemp as a fabric: Don’t let cotton hemp-er your style
Sorry for the pun but it was easy and I love corny easy puns.
More awesome facts about this incredible product of nature:
- the first flag of the US was made from hemp
- the sails and ropes from Columbus’ ships were made from hemp
So, not only can you grow hemp for paper but it’s also a fantastic plant for fabrics and has been woven to make cloth, sails or ropes for at least 10,000 years. Hemp as a fabric mixes well with other fabrics like cotton, silk or synthetic fabrics like Lycra to give it a higher quality, more strength and durability. The fabric is also mildew and microbe resistant. The fibers from hemp bast are longer, stronger, more absorbent and provide better insulation than cotton. This means that hemp will keep you warmer in winter, cooler in summer than cotton will and is more effective at blocking the sun’s harmful rays. It means that hemp is also less prone to fading than cotton fabrics are.
One of the coolest thing about hemp is that it grows very quickly (around 100 days from germination to maturity) allowing for a quicker turnaround on production yield. Also, it does not need much space to grow as the plant prefers to be very densely planted. for example, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much as 2-3 acres of cotton. And unlike cotton, hemp grows in many climate zones and does especially well in regions where corn is cultivated.
Hemp is a very resistant plant because let’s face it, hemp is a weed. Hemp is also the good twin sister to Marijuana (a.k.a “weed”) but without the THC… that’s the thing that gets you high. That means, hemp grows very well and easily using organic methods and without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. In comparison, the production of cotton is very damaging to the environment, consuming almost 50% of the world’s herbicides, pesticides and other harsh chemicals used in agriculture. For example, in the US cotton crops in occupy 1% of the country’s farmland but use 50% of all pesticides.
Another good reason for Hemp is that it also returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil and prevents soil erosion because it is very strong, has very deep roots and is tightly planted.
So, in conclusion hemp grows faster than cotton, is stronger than cotton, yields more fibers than cotton, requires less chemicals to grow it, prevents soil erosion, is a better insulant than cotton and protects better from the sun… Am I forgetting something here. Is your head dizzy?
I was debating pounding my argument farther, arguing for the use of hemp as an excellent food source and as a praised biofuel but I think I will let you investigate this on your own, or we will write about it another time. Lauding the amazing properties of this plant might look suspiciously too good to be true if I keep on. I think the true message here is: why? As in, why is this plant illegal to grow in the US? It’s truly puzzling to think the plant of the 1000 uses is not the leading crop in the world.
What do you think?