We’ve written a lot on this blog about the health benefits of hemp oil – from better sleep to improved performance and stronger gut health, we’ve probably covered it. But what about the benefits of hemp on the world around us? Could hemp cultivation actually help to give back to the land? Let’s take a look.
But First, What Exactly Is Hemp?
Hemp (Cannabis sativa), also known as industrial hemp, is a plant from the same family as cannabis: Cannabaceae. However, unlike cannabis, hemp has very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive compound in cannabis – and therefore, it cannot get you high.
Hemp is hailed by many as a “wonder plant” thanks to its estimated 25,000 different uses! These include food, making fibers, ropes, textiles, and paper, as a building material, extracting an oil with medicinal properties, and countless more. From the roots to the seeds, stem, oil, and leaves, every single part of the hemp plant can be used.
It is thanks to hemp’s utility that it is thought to be one of the earliest plants ever to be cultivated, over 10,000 years ago. Since then, many thousands of varieties have been selectively bred to encourage specific features: longer stems for spinning into fibers, a higher seed yield for consumption or oil production, and so on.
Hemp plants are usually tall and slender, with large quantities of thick, glossy leaves that grow off a central stem. Depending on the variety, hemp plants generally grow from 3 to 8 feet, though some varieties can reach as tall as 15 feet. The plants are annuals, meaning that they complete their whole life cycle, from seed to adult plant, within a single growing season. In fact, hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, reaching maturity in just three to four months.
Hemp’s Agricultural Benefits
For much of the 20th century, hemp was not grown commercially in the United States. This was due to negative public perceptions of the plant, clouded by its relation to cannabis. However, in recent years, the laws surrounding hemp cultivation are being reassessed, and many people are rediscovering the all-round positive effects that hemp can have – not only for people but also for the environment.
Less Reliance on Pesticides and Herbicides
Almost all varieties of hemp are naturally resistant to insect pests and predators. Not only does this mean that harmful chemical pesticides – which can leach into the soil and waterways – need not be used, but also, hemp plantations can become havens for pollinators (bees love it) as well as small birds and animals.
Due to its quick growth rate, hemp makes an excellent ground cover crop. These are plants that are grown in between other crops to cover the ground rapidly, leaving no room for weeds. This reduces the need for harmful herbicides and weed killers, which again can contaminate the surrounding environment. What’s more, while most cover crops are not valuable in themselves, hemp can be a “win-win” crop for farmers, thanks to its high market value.
For millennia, farmers all over the world would rotate the crops that they planted in order to allow the soil to replenish and to avoid draining it of nutrients. However, in the age of powerful artificial fertilizers, this practice has diminished in favor of monoculture or growing the same, high-value crop, year after year. In recent years though, more and more farmers are looking back to the crop rotation model thanks to its reduced environmental impact.
Hemp is an important plant for crop rotation for a number of reasons. Firstly, despite it being an annual crop, hemp’s roots reach deep down into the soil. This both helps to hold the soil together, reducing erosion, and to loosen the soil, allowing more delicate plants to grow afterward. Secondly, hemp produces high quantities of biomass (a matter which returns to the soil and decomposes, feeding nutrients back into the ground). For this reason, hemp is often grown in rotation with winter cereals, which require high-quality soil.
Another incredible potential use for hemp crops is bioremediation or using plants to decontaminate soil and water after industrial pollution or accidents. Hemp plants are able to grow in contaminated soil without any ill effects, absorbing the heavy metals and toxins into the plants themselves. Although studies are currently underway to assess potential applications for this property, hemp has already been used to good effect in tests in Chernobyl following the nuclear disaster there in 1986.
Hemp is a relatively hardy plant, and needs far less water than many other industrial crops, like cotton. Similarly, it grows much faster than the trees which are used to make paper. By replacing common products with hemp alternatives, many scientists believe we will be able to move towards a more sustainable mode of production and consumption.
One of the most amazing properties of hemp plants, however, is its ability to pull huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. While most plants can do this as part of photosynthesis (turning it into glucose and oxygen), hemp – with its large amounts of lush foliage – works even harder. Scientists estimate that for every ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. This is more than trees or other plants of a similar size.
Of course, all of these benefits of hemp cultivation are only possible with careful management, taking care, not to over-stretch resources or deplete nutrients in the soil. That is why the full spectrum, vapor extracted hemp oil in all PurePower products is is grown on Colorado farms by master growers who are fully certified and licensed industrial hemp producers. All our farms use sustainable farming practices, including growing without pesticides or herbicides.