A Controversial Crop
Hemp is the common name for plants belonging to the genus Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to Cannabis strains cultivated for industrial (non-drug) use. Agricultural hemp has a rich, centuries-old history of use as traditional medicine by many cultures across the world.
Hemp is one of the most controversial crops around, mostly because it is a less potent relative of another spiky-leaved plant (you know which one). Industrial hemp is often confused with marijuana (that's the one), but it is a different breed of cannabis sativa and possesses very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chief intoxicant in marijuana. While the U.S. currently prevents cultivation of hemp, they permit trade in nonviable hemp seed, oil and fiber. Hemp is now used primarily for industrial purposes.
Hemp Fact: The main psychoactive property (THC) is only present in very low (1 percent or less) quantities in hemp, while marijuana varieties have upwards of 30 percent THC.
Noteable Note: Currently, hemp is lumped into the same category as cannabis. The two are distinct, but related plants, both of which are now illegal in the U.S. due to a government "war on drugs". The United States is one of the only industrialized nations on earth that has outlawed hemp farming. This is in spite of the fact that our founding fathers in America actually grew their own hemp. In fact, until the early 1930's hemp and cannabis were thought of as every day crops.
"Hemp is of first necessity of the wealth and protection of the country". - Thomas Jefferson
With its soft, sesame-seed like appearance and nutty flavor, you can sprinkle hemp seeds into cereals, salads, breads, casseroles and desserts. Hemp nut butter is a mix of organic peanut butter and ground hempseed (free of any, um, active ingredient). This butter is great on carrot and celery sticks.
Why eat hemp?
Hemp (the seed) may be grown also for food. The seeds are comparable to sunflower seeds, and can be used for baking, like sesame seeds. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the oils of the seed, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized as per international law), hulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder.
Hemp is also used in some organic cereals. Hemp seed can also be used to make a non-dairy "milk" somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, as well as non-dairy hemp "ice cream." In North America, hemp seed food products are sold in small volume, typically in health food stores or by mail order.
"Hemp has been worshipped as a source of spiritual enlightenment and a sustainer of human life." - From The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World's Most Extraordinary Plant
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