Hemp is one of the most versatile plants on the planet. It’s been suggested that hemp can be made into over 25,000 different products, including fuel, food, fiber and quite a few things in between. It’s no secret that CBD has made hemp famous of late, but did you know that hemp has been used for thousands of years? Some contend that it was the world’s first cultivated crop. Hemp seeds are one of the most nutritionally complete foods that exist, and some say hemp could be the answer to ending world hunger. Interested in learning some other fascinating facts about hemp?
Check it out.
Hemp played an integral role in U.S. history.
Before the 2018 Farm Bill changed history by legalizing hemp nationwide, it was decidedly illegal for almost a century.
Prior to hemp’s criminalization, however, it was a very important part of U.S. history. It was, in fact, illegal not to grow hemp in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. There were also comparable laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts that mandated hemp production. From the mid-1600s to the early 1800s, you could even pay your taxes with hemp!
The founding fathers were huge supporters of hemp. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were all hemp cultivators who supported industrial production. In a letter to one of his plantation field managers, George Washington wrote, “Mr. Pearce, on my farming plantation(s), I wish for you to make the most of hemp and plant it everywhere on my farmlands that haven’t been previously reserved for other things.”
Benjamin Franklin owned a paper mill that produced hemp paper, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the original U.S. Constitution on hemp. It’s said the first U.S. flag sewn by Betsy Ross was made with hemp.
Even though hemp was made illegal in the 1930s with the Marihuana Tax Act, the plant made a brief resurgence during World War II. In 1942, the U.S. government urged as many farmers as possible to grow hemp in a film called Hemp for Victory. Hemp fiber was badly needed to make rope and other material that was usually imported from overseas. During this time, the Marihuana Tax Act was briefly lifted. When the war was over, it returned to its illegal status.
Hemp can remove heavy metals and toxins from soil.
In 1986, one of the world’s largest nuclear disasters occurred at the Chernobyl power plant, releasing a deluge of radioactive waste into the environment. Everything within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant was closed, and trees were cut down and buried to minimize the amount of radioactive contamination, but the damage was already done.
In 1990, Soviet leaders requested an evaluation of the environmental state of the area. It was discovered that, in the soil of the restricted area, there were exceptionally high levels of several different toxic metals, including plutonium, lead, cesium-137 and strontium-90.
In an effort to reduce soil contamination, the Soviet government requested that plants responsible for a process known as phytoremediation be cultivated in the area immediately. Phytoremediation is a practice that uses specific types of plants to remove, stabilize and/or destroy soil and groundwater contaminants.
One of the best plants for phytoremediation? You guessed it: hemp.
In 1998, a group of scientists from a company known as Phytotech found that hemp’s ability to leach radioactive material from the soil far surpassed any other plants they’d seen, reporting that “hemp is proving to be one of the best phytoremediative plants we have been able to find.”
A similar case took place in Italy, where it was discovered that a steel plant had been spewing toxic chemicals into the soil for decades. In 2012, when the severity of the situation became evident, farmers began growing hemp plants in an effort to reduce the damage.
A 2003 study found that hemp is excellent at soaking up nickel, chromium and cadmiumfrom polluted soil, while a 2005 study noted hemp can withstand root concentrations of cadmium up to 800 mg/kg without being affected.
The University of Virginia announced in 2017 that they had joined with a biotech company and “developed proprietary hemp plants that are particularly well-suited for phytoremediation.”
Hemp could be the answer to cleaning up contaminated soil worldwide!
Hemp could ease our dependence on fossil fuels.
If we continue to use fossil fuels at the current rate, some experts say they’ll run dry by 2060. One of the best facts about hemp is that it can be used for fuel. Could hemp help us end our dependence on oil?
Maybe. Hemp can be used to produce fuel alternatives in the form of biodiesel and ethanol, and it could certainly support efforts to conserve our natural resources.
Hemp biodiesel is produced by pressing hemp seeds to extract their fats and oils. Once the extraction is complete, further refinement is implemented to make the fuel suitable for use in diesel-run automobiles.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, conventional diesel and biodiesel engines are one and the same. This means that almost all diesel engines have the capability to run on biodiesel without modification.
Hemp can also be used to make ethanol fuel by fermenting the entire plant. This hemp ethanol fuel can be used in flex-fuel engines, which are designed to work with ethanol, gasoline or a combination of both. Hemp can also be used in cars that run on ethanol only. In Brazil, 20% of automobiles run on 100% ethanol fuel.
While hemp might not end our dependence on fossil fuels, it could make a significant impact if it’s widely produced as a viable fuel alternative.
Diesel engines that run on biofuel have been known to last longer than those that run on petroleum diesel fuel. Both hemp biodiesel and ethanol are also considered far safer to transport than their petroleum counterparts.
Hemp can help reduce carbon emissions.
Another of the most amazing facts about hemp and the environment? Hemp can help reduce carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the biggest factor driving climate change, and it accounts for 80% of the warming increase since 1990.
Emitted into the atmosphere from the fossil fuels that power our cars, homes, factories and businesses, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have reached their highest point in human history.
Hemp is known to be especially capable of carbon sequestration, a process that captures and stores CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration is one method used to absorb CO2 in an effort to help reduce climate change.
One ton of hemp can absorb 1.63 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Considering that the U.S. emitted an estimated 5.1 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 in 2017, it’s safe to say that hemp could do wonders to reduce our environmental impact and clean up the air we breathe.
Hemp could help save declining bee populations.
Bee populations are declining rapidly in the U.S. and other parts of the world. According to National Geographic, bee colonies have been disappearing in what’s referred to as “colony collapse disorder” for the last 15 years. Bee populations have declined up to 90% in some areas.
2018 saw the biggest decline of bees ever, with the managed bee population in the U.S. decreasing more than 40%. According to experts, “these are unsustainably high losses.”
Much of the produce we buy in our local grocery stores is pollinated by managed bees, so it’s safe to say that the problem with dwindling bee populations is of serious concern.
It’s been suggested that, if bee populations continue to decline to the point of extinction, we’d have about half the fruits and vegetables to choose from at our local grocery stores. While we might not think much about bees when selecting from an abundance of food, we’d likely think again if our food supply began to decline.
Efforts to save declining bee populations are a task many believe is necessary to avoid a total collapse. Hemp could prove to help save the bees.
One Colorado researcher contends that “hemp is a godsend for bees.” A study published in early 2019 by researchers at Colorado State University discovered that industrial hemp crops could be the ticket to saving bee populations in decline. How exactly might hemp help save the bees?
Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, an entomologist at Colorado State University, says that in parts of the country that don’t produce stable populations of flowering plants, hemp could save the day.
In the study it was noted that hemp crops typically flower in July, August and September, a time that corresponds to a lack of pollen production in other crops. While hemp doesn’t contain any nectar, the flowers are rich in pollen and happen to be attractive to pollen-hungry bees, especially when there isn’t any other food to be found.
Over 2,000 bees were collected during the study, including 23 different types, representing 80% of all types of bees in the region. Could hemp be the new pollen source bees need to sustain declining populations? It’s possible.
Cranshaw says, “I don’t think it’s that big a deal if you’re on the East Coast where there’s lots of other flowers, but you grow it in an arid place like Colorado—particularly in a drought year like this year—I mean the bees are going nuts in the hemp. It’s a wonderful resource.”
While there are certainly more facts about hemp than the five we’ve listed here, these happen to be some of our favorites. We’re beginning to wonder if there’s anything hemp can’t do. Now that hemp is legal to grow across the U.S., we can’t wait to see how much hemp changes history for generations to come.