Hemp & its By-Products

Hemp can easily be said to be the most versatile and remarkable resource plant on Earth. Its long history of cultivation started in China, and through history has spread throughout the world. It was not so long ago that hemp was considered crucial for global commerce; the 1913 Yearbook of the U.S. Department of Agriculture called it “the oldest cultivated fiber plant,” as hemp fiber has long been recognized for its superior quality. A 1938 Popular Mechanics article touted hemp as the “New Billion-Dollar Crop.” Hemp seed itself is a wholesome food, and bulk hemp seed is an important food in some parts of the world still today. But it is the entire hemp plant that has literally thousands of industrial uses. Since the 1990s it has slowly, but consistently, been making its well-deserved comeback in industry. For it has always been a symbol of quality, strength, durability, and versatility.


Hemp can be grown in rotation with virtually any crop. It generates lots of biomass in a short time. Hemp crop improves soil and repairs damaged topsoil. It also outgrows weeds, so is a good weed control too. It can be grown with no need for herbicides or pesticides, and in moderately drier climates, no fungicides. Its tall, dense stands are good windbreaks, and foster wildlife habitats and water restoration. Rather than cut down trees, which then require decades, if not hundreds of years, to grow back, cultivating hemp as an alternative to wood is the ultimate renewable resource. A hemp crop can literally be ready for harvest in 100 days, and produces more resource benefits per acre than any other crop. It boosts community economies by revitalizing industry on a local level, is environmentally friendly, and can help shape markets towards greater resource sustainability.


The hemp plant produces abundant seed, which for millennia has been a valuable food source. Dehulled hemp seed has virtually unlimited uses as a food. It is rich in nutrition and easily digestible, with high protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin A. It helps collagen synthesis in cells, improves bone strength, is anti-inflammatory, and soothing to the digestive system. It can be used for sprout mixes, spreads (tahini, tofu, hummus, tabouli, and other ethnic dishes), as a topping over vegetables, salads, fruit, yogurt, potatoes, rice, and pasta; it can be mixed in chutneys, pestos, sauces and gravies, in porridge, in salad dressings and marinades. Its many other uses include breads, desserts (including ice cream), nondairy cheeses, snacks (trail mixes and nutritional bars), cereals and granolas, special diet mixes, green drinks, hemp milk, coffee, and it can be ground up as a nut butter. Birds love hemp seed, so it is a common addition to birdseed. After seed is pressed for its oil, the seed cake can be used as a protein rich—at approximately 25%—flour for making breads, cakes, cookies, and pastas. The seed cake is also an excellent animal feed and fish food.


Hemp seed oil is a nutritionally superior oil, with its perfect blend of essential fatty acids (EFAs), including 2% GLA. It has been called Nature’s most wide-spectrum oil. It lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, lubricates the throat and intestines, and used topically, it helps heal burns and skin conditions, such as bedsores. It has a delicious, nutty flavor, and can be used alone as a supplement oil, or as a salad oil, sauté oil, as a topping over potatoes, rice, pasta, or numerous other dishes; it can be made into margarine, or used as a straight-out butter substitute. It also finds use as an excellent massage oil, and, again, is recognized for its healing properties for damaged and burned skin.


Second-pressed hemp seed oil has an unlimited number of cosmetic, industrial, and home building uses. Because of its ability to heal, restore, and moisten skin, hemp oil has become popular in natural body care, from moisturizers, creams, lotions, shampoos, lip balms, soaps, and salves, and also the whole range of cosmetics. It can be used as a bicycle lubricant, in manufacturing as a machinery lubricant, an ingredient in solvents, shellacs, paints, varnishes, resins, putty, printing inks; as a mater of fact, the paints of the master European painters were made from hemp oil. It can be used in candle-making, and used in biodiesel fuels. The advantage to this is, hemp fuels are biodegradable, so that any spill is not an ecological mess. It is excellent as a wood preservative and oil finish for all household woodwork and furniture, for wooden decks and boats. Hemp oil adds water resistance to grouts and putties. It can also be used in the construction of alternative houses, whether of cob, rammed earth, adobe, hybrid adobe, paper crepe or straw bale, with many applications in the more traditional-type wood house.


The whole stalk of the hemp plant is high in cellulose, at about 50%, making it, like silk, one of the strongest of plant fibers known. The bast fibers—the long fibers of the outer portion of the hemp stalk—can be spun with wool, cotton, flax, or silk, and made into ropes, cordage, and nettings, even dental floss, and the whole gamut of textiles and fabrics for canvas, carpeting, curtains, tarps, tents, sails, domes, and for literally every article of clothing imaginable, and also for bedspreads, blankets, carry bags, backpacks, briefcases, luggage, and shoes. Hemp fibers have beneficial mildew-resistant and anti-microbial properties; hemp rope and rigging was long used on ships, as it is slow to be corroded by seawater. Hemp’s longer fibers make the highest quality paper for fine, archival documents and books, and for magazines and stationary. Hemp paper resists aging, and is superior to that made from wood. Because of hemp’s lower lignin content, tree-free paper mills that produce hemp pulp involve less chemical processing and less pollution. And hemp happens to yield far more fiber for paper per acre than trees. Hemp is also an alternative to wood for making furniture.


The woody core, shorter-fiber, hurds of the hemp stalk can also be used in paper making, from newsprint paper, tissue paper, and cigarette paper, to coffee filters, and in making cardboard. The hurd fibers are especially best for absorbents, such as those used in napkins and diapers. They can also be pressed into a type of cellulose plastic for packaging. Hemp hurds also go into building materials, such as fiberboards, for soundproofing and insulation, for cement blocks, stucco and mortar. Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp hurds and lime that is strong but lightweight, and is used for building houses, from the wall construction to flooring to roofing. It is stronger than cement, some going so far as to say it is the strongest building material in the world. Because of their high cellulose content, hurds can be turned into animal bedding. Hemp fiber also makes durable bicycle frames. Hemp geotextiles go into making matting pots for plants, outdoor mats, erosion control netting and blankets for slopes and rooftop gardens. Hemp fiber composites have numerous landscape applications.


As it has been said, anything made from hydrocarbons can be made from carbohydrates. For one, hemp plastics, called bioplastics, are also being produced, using the powder from ground hemp hurds, and with certain applications, blending it with hemp oil. Take vehicles, for example—hemp plastics can be used for making gaskets, seats and seat covers, dashboard panels and molded plastics for interiors, carpets and floor mats. Hemp cellulose plastic composites can be used for making snowboards, surfboards, and skateboards; they can be turned into disposable cups, plates, and eating utensils. Hemp is also a supremely eco-friendly replacement for fiberglass. It has none of the health risks that conventional plastics and fiberglass pose. It is also completely biodegradable.


Another by-product use for hemp hurds and all the particle-sized hemp “fines” left over from the fiber extraction process is that they can be pressed into hemp fire logs. The heat generated from them is equal or even more to that produced by well-seasoned wood. The cost of production is nominal; transporting them is actually what costs more. This, therefore, is another reason for localized growing, industry, and markets, keeping the benefits of hemp in the community, supporting the community. This is a further example that there is nothing about the hemp plant that can be considered waste. It is 100% usable.


The non-psychoactive cannabinoid from industrial hemp called cannabidiol (CBD) is also finding medical use in a therapeutic context. Clinical studies have shown its ability to relieve pain and the side effects of chemotherapy. It is a potent anti-inflammatory, especially for chronic inflammation, such as arthritis. Current research, according to Dr. Donald Abrams, is also showing its promising ability for inhibiting cancer cell growth.


See our bibliography of hemp resources and an extensive list of hemp website links on unifiedcommunity.info.