Hemp is more often than not referred to as industrial hemp. With its origin in Central Asia, a centuries old crop, hemp cultivation has fed more mouths than one can imagine. A plant of many uses, hemp, widely known as industrial hemp, justifies the tag as well as possible. A plant of the cannabaceae family, parts of hemp plant that primarily contribute to its industrial uses are its bast fiber(found in the stalk), its edible seeds and its flowers. With China leading in industrial hemp farming, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s hemp production, Canada is the leading producer of indutrial hemp seeds.
In India, the mention of hemp has been done as early as in the Vedas. In this article, we look at various facets of hemp plant and how it has proved to be an useful resource for various industries, thus being an asset for countries’ economy.
1. Hemp vs Cannabis
More often than not, hemp is confused with cannabis and marijuana. Before, we dive into understanding the uses of the plant, let us clear this confusion. While, hemp, cannabis and marijuana are derived from the same species, Cannabis sativa L., their phytochemical composition, genetic functioning and method of cultivation varies. All the three plants are different strains of the same species, having different uses. With cannabis and marijuana, still not legal in various countries, NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act, 1985 states that cannabis with
THC(tetrahydrocannabinol) lower than 0.3% can get legal approval for commercial cultivation as a right under the state list. With concentration of THC in hemp being less than 0.3%, it was an easy pass for hemp.
2. Hemp and its uses
Hemp plants require almost no specific conditions for their growth and cultivation. Except Antarctica, where hemp plants cannot thrive in the cold conditions, they grow naturally across the world. From wide ranging uses in industries such as textiles, shoes, food, paper, rope, even biofuel and bioplastics – hemp, is a plant of many uses as well as a very important raw material.
Mansi Shah of Hemp Fabric Lab, says, “The modern hemp industry in India is at a highly nascent stage, even though, paradoxically, the use of hemp fibre and seed for a range of applications – rope, fuel, food – has been commonly acknowledged for several centuries in India’s rural communities.”
With hemp plant having no intoxicating effect, let us discover how the plant has been an asset for the Indian economy.
2.1 Food and Nutrition
Since hemp is highly nutritious, hemp based food products are umpteen. Starting from hemp based CBD oil, an extremely useful oil for treating medical ailments, to hemp milk, hemp plants have contributed significantly to the food sector due to its properties. From being nutritionally superior to flax, chia, or fish Oil and having a balanced ratio of Essential Fatty Acids, hemp oil and hemp seeds have been regular as part of nutritious diets.
2.2 Fiber and Fuel
Hemp, a naturally occuring, durable fiber has been the first choice as raw material for many fiber industries. Hemp was first used for weaving nets, making carpets, sacking etc. Upon observing its quality, it was then discovered that fibrous stalks of hemp were great to be weaved into cloth. With cotton coming into the picture, usage of hemp in the textile industry saw a decline. However, a report on The Statesman writes, “…hemp has 2 or 3 times more productivity than cotton, and the fiber is longer, stronger, more insulating and absorbent than cotton fiber.” Due to these properties, hemp is making a comeback in the organic, modern textile industry in India, says Mansi Shah.
Biodiesel from the hemp seeds and biofuel from the fibrous stalks of hemp, makes fuel production a by product of hemp cultivation. Hemp fuel obtained from the stalks is a form of cellulosic ethanol. However, there has not been much study into the same and requires further investigation.
2.3 Plastic and Paper
Hemp based platics fall into the category of bioplastics, and could prove to be extremely safe in today’s world where we’re facing a plastic crisis.
Beyond textiles, hemp has also found its usage in paper manufacturing. The bast fiber of hemp is primarily responsible for paper production. Studies suggest that paper made from hemp has far better quality than the paper we use now.
2.4 Pet food
Since hemp seeds contain several healthy proteins and can also improve the skin condition, they are given as dietary supplements to dogs, cats, cows, horses, as well as birds. These seeds contain all ten essential amino acids, making it a full proof protein. They also make pets’ skin healthy and shiny.
2.5 Construction Material
Pulpy wood-like center of hemp’s stalks is blended to make Hempcrete, something that could be used as a construction material. It is a biocomposite of hemp hurd, mixed with lime and water. Hempcrete is also mold-resistant, carbon-negative, and works as an insulator. With no synthetic components and great structural strength, hempcrete is a viable and conventional alternative as a construction material.
As you saw above, hemp, a plant of many uses, has several other uses as well that are not mentioned in this article. With hemp cultivation experiencing a shift, let us hope that it is encouraged in the coming years, as the plant seems to be able to do-it-all.