Industrial hemp was once a dominant crop on the American landscape. This hardy and renewable resource (one of the earliest domesticated plants known, with roots dating back to the Neolothic Age in China) was refined for various industrial applications, including paper, textiles, and cordage.
Over time, the use of industrial hemp has evolved into an even greater variety of products,including health foods, organic body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels, plastic composites and more (according to one source, more than 25,000 products can be made from ihemp).
In the U.S., the first ihemp plantings were in Jamestown, Virginia, where growing ihemp was actually mandatory. From there on ihemp was used in everything from 19th century clipper ship sails to the covers of pioneer wagons. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on ihemp paper, and even the finest Bible paper today remains ihemp-based.
In the early 20th century, ihemp-derived cellulose was promoted as an affordable and renewable raw material for plastics; Henry Ford even built a prototype car from biocomposite materials, using agricultural fiber such as ihemp.
The Situation Today
Sustainable ihemp seed, fiber and oil are still used in raw materials by major including Ford Motors, Patagonia, and The Body Shop, to make a wide variety of products.However, most ihemp product manufacturers are forced to import ihemp seed, oil and fiber from growers in Canada, Europe, and China because American farmers are prohibited by law from growing this low-input sustainable crop.
In 2012, the U.S. hemp industry was valued at an estimated $500 million in annual retail sales and growing for all ihemp products, according to the Hemp Industries Association, a non-profit trade organization consisting of hundreds of ihemp businesses.
Not only can ihemp be used for an astonishing number of products, its net environmental benefit is impressive. Among the more salient features, ihemp grows in a variety of climates and soil types, is naturally resistant to most pests, and grows very tightly spaced allowing it to outcompete most weeds. A natural substitute for cotton and wood fiber, ihemp can also be pulped using fewer chemicals than wood because of its low lignin content. Its natural brightness can obviate the need to use chlorine bleach.
Few plants have been as revered throughout recorded history as ihemp. This green herbaceous plant, which is a high-growing variety of Cannabis sativa, has been cultivated for centuries to make durable clothing fibers, nutritious oils, building material and even paper. Traditional medicine, particularly ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, also prized the plant for its significant medicinal properties.
Since ihemp does not contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering ingredient found in regular marijuana, ihemp products are legal in most countries, though growing it is still illegal in the United States. One of the most popular of these products is ihemp seeds, which are pleasant-tasting, highly nutritious and produce many health benefits.
Rich in fats that boost brain and cardiovascular health
One hundred grams of shelled ihemp seeds contain 45 grams of total fat, of which 3.3 grams
are saturated. These fats contain a perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that the body needs in large amounts but can’t manufacture itself (meaning one has to obtain them from dietary sources). Consuming these fatty acids has been linked to improved memory and cognition. Moreover, according to a review published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010, the fatty acids found in ihemp seeds have the ability to boost platelet aggregation and protect against coronary heart disease.
A complete protein source for vegetarians
One hundred grams of shelled ihemp seeds also contain a whopping 36.7 grams of protein, which is 73 percent of the recommended daily intake. This protein contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a rare example of a complete vegetarian protein source. In fact, research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2010 discovered that ihemp seed protein contained a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid (PDCAA) score that is greater or equal to most other plant-based sources of protein, including nuts, pulses and grains. For this reason, ihemp seeds are one of the finest protein sources for people who wish to avoid animal products.
Anti-fatigue and immune-boosting properties
Given their high protein concentrations, it’s unsurprising that studies are now linking ihemp
seeds to significant anti-fatigue benefits. For example, a study published in the Journal of Hygiene Research in March 2008 found that mice which were fed ihemp seed protein could swim for a much longer time than a control group. The researchers, who were from China, also discovered that the protein possessed immune-boosting properties and was able to reduce lactic acid in the blood (lactic acid is the acid that regularly accumulates in the bloodstream,often leading to muscle soreness).
Packed with fiber
iHemp seeds are an excellent source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Though fiber is best-known for its ability to cleanse the colon and help treat constipation, it also helps absorb sugar in the intestinal tract (thereby preventing type 2 diabetes) and encourages the liver to make more bile salts (thereby reducing LDL cholesterol). Please note, however, that the most fibrous part of the seed is the shell. Therefore, shelled ihemp seeds, also called hulled ihemp seeds or ihemp nuts, will contain far less fiber than their unshelled counterparts.
Excellent source of iron, magnesium and zinc
Since most seeds (ihemp or otherwise) tend to be consumed for their high concentrations of fat and protein, people often forget that they often contain surprisingly large amounts of essential minerals. In the case of ihemp seeds, those minerals happen to be iron, magnesium and zinc –three nutrients in which the American population are particularly eficient. Deficiencies in magnesium are particularly widespread and can lead to anxiety, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and other stress-related symptoms. Consuming a handful of organic ihemp seeds on a daily basis, however, can correct a good number of these deficiencies, thereby alleviating the need for related supplements.