People have been using hemp for thousands of years; but for what? Shelter, clothing, and health, it seems hemp can meet all of humanity’s basic needs. Here we break it all down for you, answering one important question: what is hemp used for?
What is Hemp Used For?
To start, you may have seen it called industrial hemp. Actually, hemp and industrial hemp are the same things. The many uses of hemp gained it the name “Industrial Hemp”.
Hemp is often referred to as “industrial hemp” in part to set it apart from its psychoactive cousins but also because it has a ton of uses for various industries. It’s one of the most versatile plants on the planet; hemp makes everything from rope to fuel to supplements.
Hemp Grows Like a Weed!
The amazing thing about hemp is that grows crazy fast. While it could take more than twenty years for a tree to grow to a usable size, hemp is resource-ready after just four months. The speed at which hemp grows makes it an amazing option for a renewable resource on an industrial scale.
But how much can it actually yield?
You might be thinking, yeah, but hemp plants are relatively small, so how much can it actually yield? The answer: more than most forests full of twenty-year-old trees. Trees need more space for their roots to grow. Thus, even though trees grow tall, on average they produce less yield than hemp per square acre.
How does hemp compare to other Plants like cotton?
For centuries, durable textiles were made in massive quantities using hemp. But once the psychoactive properties of cannabis were discovered, the broad-spectrum prohibition of the plant put the brakes on the hemp textile industry. You may have heard the term ‘cotton is king’, but there may be a good reason to believe that hemp has the power to knock cotton off its throne.
Since hemp can do a lot of the same things as cotton in terms of textile production, let’s look at the pros and cons of both.
Let’s start with water.
Hemp takes A LOT less water than cotton.
It takes roughly twenty times more water to produce cotton than to produce the same amount of hemp!
Moreover, while cotton takes up less than 2.5% of global agricultural land, it uses a whopping 16% of the world’s pesticides. This is bad for the environment in more ways than you might expect. Not only does it affect the cotton and those directly inhaling the chemicals, but it also ruins soil and runoff from farms impacts freshwater ecosystems and decreases animal fertility.
While hemp could use comparable amounts of pesticides, it requires less than half the area that cotton does to produce a ton of finished textile!
But that’s not all. When it comes to textile production, hemp leaves a smaller ecological footprint than both cotton and polyester.
Parts of the Hemp Plant and Their Uses
Before we can answer the question of “what is hemp used for”, we need to break the plant into two parts: the seeds and the stalk. Both have very important uses.
What is Hemp Used for: The Hemp Seed
There are three main parts to the hemp seed; the nut, cake, and oil, and each have different uses.
The nut of the hemp seed (also called shelled hemp seeds or hemp hearts) offers a high amount of protein. As a result, the primary uses for hemp hearts include:
- Vegan dairy products like milk or cheese
- Protein Powder
The Many Uses of Hemp Seed Oil
It’s also common to make oil from hemp seeds. Hemp seed oil is low on the comedogenic index, which means it doesn’t clog pores and is unlikely to cause breakouts. This makes it a frontrunner in the beauty industry. It is also packed with omega 6 fatty acids that have incredible anti-inflammatory effects. Surprisingly, hemp seed oil becomes part of a number of edible and non-edible things like:
- Lotions, body/hair oils
- Paint & Varnish
- Salad dressings & marinades
The cake of a hemp seed , aka the hemp seed shell, has two main uses:
- High-protein livestock food
- Hemp flour (used in hemp bread and other baked goods)
Hemp Stalk Uses
The hurd is the soft, off-white flesh inside of the stalk. You can see it by splitting the stalk open. Some of the most common uses of the hurd are:
- Insulation & fiber boards
- Animal Bedding
Uses for Bast Fiber & Hemp Bark
The bast fiber are the inner part of the bark of the stalk. As the most versatile part of the hemp stalk, the bast fiber has many uses:
- Hemp fabric (used in bags, clothes, shoes, etc)
- Rope or netting
- Hemp canvas
The bark of a hemp plant is the outermost part of the stalk. It’s uses are mainly:
- Paper or cardboard
Uses for Hemp Flowers, Leaves and Roots
Although the hemp seed and stalk are probably the first things that come to mind when talking about the uses of hemp, it’s important not to overlook the very important hemp flowers, leaves and hemp roots. In the flowers and roots is where you’ll find a lot of healing properties, both for humans and the earth.
In hemp flowers, you’ll find CBD, synergistic compounds and terpenes all of which are good for the human body. Throughout time, people have used the hemp flower for various medicinal purposes. In addition, hemp flowers can make perfume, extracts, and tinctures.
Other great uses for hemp leaves: to make tea, tinctures or supplements. Hemp leaves can also make mulch or composting with hemp hurd.
Hemp Roots Make Soil Clean!
The roots of the hemp plant help heal the environment by cleaning the soil. As a result, the plant naturally removes toxins and pollutants, including harmful metals and radiation. Of course, when a hemp plant cleans soil, it takes in the toxins; you won’t want to use the same hemp plant for products intended for ingestion or topical application. For those kinds of products, one should always use organically-grown hemp!
Hemp: Use the Whole Plant
As you can see, while some crops only make use of part of the plant, every part of the hemp plant has a use!
Therefore, hemp farmers can use the whole plant for a variety of uses including textiles, health foods, beauty care and more!
The next time you hear someone ask, “Hey, what is hemp used for?”, you can almost reply, “What is hemp NOT used for?”