The plant that just keep giving.
Just over 20 years ago a farmer from Suffolk took on, what was then a new and innovative scheme to grow a crop of hemp.
Hemp, which had long been out of fashion in England was now just a lesser known relation of the cannabis plant. Save for the odd piece of hippy gear hemp was not something at the forefront of people’s mind. Hemp is however, a truly fascinating plant and the more the farmer found out about his new crop the more he felt we were all missing something. The seed was sown, and The Hemp Store was established in 1999.
We were at the dawn of a new century and attitudes were turning more and more to taking care of our planet, living greener and more sustainably and hemp very much seemed like the perfect plant to do this. For a start, the field where the original crop was grown was very sandy, poor Breckland soil. Where other plants would struggle the amazing hemp, plants grew a treat. Hemp can grow on extremely poor soil without the use of extra water and pesticides. It grows ‘like a weed’ which is where the slang name comes from.
This amazing plant also put nutrients back into the soil and improves the soil structure, leaving it in better condition for the following crop. Cotton needs a lot of water for growing and processing. It is drenched in pesticides and herbicides which hemp simply does not need. In fact, in a Tee Shirt made with 50% Hemp you are saving 100 gallons (450 litres) of water every time!
Besides the environmental benefits in the growing process, the material hemp produces is built to last, as we move away from throw away fashion, hemp produces an extremely hard wearing, durable fabric. Clothing aside, hemp is extremely versatile. Various parts of the plant can be used for wearing, washing, building, or eating. The oil from the seeds is considered one of the most nutritionally balanced oil supplements you can take, rich in protein, full of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Hemp seed oil is known to aid and improve your immune system, cardiovascular health, and brain development, as well as skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Our good friend from Nepal told us how, as a child, he and the other children would snack on the seeds which are fondly known as ‘brain food’.
As well as helping skin from the inside, hemp seed oil is an extremely effective natural moisturiser making it an ideal addition to natural beauty products, both in skin care and natural shampoos.
So, it grows easily in any number of climates/conditions, it is sustainable and an efficient producer. One acre (0.4 ha) of the hemp crop, which has a one hundred day turnaround, produces the same amount of paper as THREE acres of trees.
Hemp can and has been used to make everything from car parts to medicine, handbags to hand cream. Hemp can be used to build homes or make nutritious smoothies. Columbus sailed to the new world with hemp sails, the first draft of the American Declaration of independence was written on hemp paper as was the King James Bible. And the first American flag? Yes – also made of Hemp fabric!
Here is a natural, sustainable, and versatile resource. A plant which is used from seed to stem. Why aren’t we growing it everywhere? Hemp was used in ancient Egypt, China, and India (where it was known as the sacred grass) and throughout the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece.
Despite its amazing history (dating back to 10,000 BC) hemp has had an unfounded, unfair time with the law over the years. Back in Elizabethan times hemp was considered such a valuable resource that if you had land, by law, you had to grow hemp. This was also the case for Virginia farmers in the early 1700s. The hemp fibre, which is incredibly strong and resistant to stretching made the perfect rope for the ships. A main benefit was that hemp rope did not expand and contract when wet. The resin was also used to seal the ships. Hemp was so valuable it was even used as legal tender at one point, but this was all going to change.
Back in the early 1950’s, with new synthetic oil based fibres, mass cotton production and trees being felled for paper coming in, hemp was side-lined after lobbying by a few wealthy business men for no other reason than to protect their investments in cotton, paper, agrichemicals, forestry and leave the path clear for them to make more money.
Despite the fact that it is a superior plant to its counterparts, is incredibly useful and unbelievably beneficial to the environment, it has carried an archaic and unfair negative association with illegal drug use which to this day stands in the way of its potential.
There is plenty of debate and conspiracy theory, but the fact is that hemp could go a long way towards helping resolve the environmental issues our planet faces.
In the last twenty years we have noticed a huge shift in attitudes about this wonderful plant. Thanks to more open minds, the ability to receive more information and the fact people are seeking out more sustainable lifestyles means that luckily for the planet, hemp is on our minds again.