A hemp revival

Wrongly associated with the effects of marijuana, hemp is a highly sustainable crop that can be used for food, textiles or building materials. We find out more.

Our lifestyles are having an ever-bigger impact on the earth’s finite resources. But what if there was a crop that could provide farmers with income, be turned into food, clothes and even concrete, with minimal impact on the environment?

Hemp, once widespread in the UK, is now on the sidelines despite having all of those qualities. In this film, we investigate what’s holding back this miracle crop from going mainstream.

While most people associate hemp with a hippie-esque fabric for tote bags, or even misclassify it along with fellow (psychoactive) cannabis variety consumed as marijuana, it actually has a wide range of uses in anything from sustainable building materials to food and textiles.

And it’s not new either. Think of towns like Hemel Hempstead and Broadhempston – they are signs of how significant hemp production was the UK, before cotton and the industrial revolution took over. And it could become so again.

Here are some of the diverse products hemp can produce:

Food

Hemp seeds can be turned into a wide range of food items, including oil for cooking, a dairy alternative to milk, as an ingredient in baking or food processing, or as a supplement as a protein powder. Hemp is full of healthy polysaturated fatty acids, a source of Omegas 3 and 6, which are great for skin, hair and nails as well as heart health.

CBD

Made from the leaves of hemp and usually sold in liquid form, cannabidiol – better known as CBD – has a long history of therapeutic uses, including calming stress and anxiety, and help with sleep. There are also other stronger claims, such as alleviating the symptoms of epilepsy, autism, and even cancer, which were the subject of a recent BBC 2 episode of Trust Me I’m a Doctor. It’s important for users to be aware of potentially inflated health claims online and buy from trusted CBD retailers like Good Hemp or Venus Hemp.

Textiles and personal care

The global textile industry uses hemp, but in the UK it’s not as widespread due to our historic association with cotton and cultural perceptions. As we now know the environmental impact of cotton, not least its high water use, hemp could be used as a sustainable fashion alternative. It can also be used in personal care items like soap, and in an array of other sustainable lifestyle products.

Hempcrete

The stalk of the hemp plant can be used for ‘hempcrete’, which is a strong and durable building material, and can be used for insulation in houses. The fibres can be even be used in dashboards for cars. Hemp as a plant has very long roots, which trap carbon deep within the soil. Once harvested, hemp fibres also retain and therefore lock up this carbon, compared to usual building materials which might slowly release carbon over time. Companies like Hempcrete Cymru, in Wales, are among a small number of companies offering hempcrete as an affordable and sustainable building material.

Paper

Hemp fibres could be used as a much lower impact source of paper. Rather than causing deforestation and shipping paper all over the world, British-grown hemp could be used as a sustainable and strong source for paper production.

Despite these many uses, for UK farmers, who are unable to use the leaves and therefore cannot utilise the full crop, hemp is not currently commercially viable. Even though CBD is legally able to be sold and consumed in the UK, British farmers are banned from producing it due to a technicality in how the crop is classed as an illegal drug. This is widely thought to be the key in unlocking hemp to go mainstream.

What can you do?

Buy hemp products when you see them. Ask those selling it where those products are made and can they buy from British farmers. Generating demand for British-grown hemp will have a knock-on effect.

Challenge legislation. If you feel strongly about it, write to your MP and let them know you want to see hemp unlocked for British production as a sustainable crop that could help raise farm incomes, reduce pesticides and store carbon.

Share this film. The more people who talk about it and understand hemp, the easier it will be to bust the myth of hemp being linked with an illegal drug.

16 Comments

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  1. Ah Hemp! A beautiful and extremely useful plant indeed. I have for several yeast (at least in double figures) been using hemp cloth, so soft and comfortable – durable too! I haven’t had any other than hemp socks for the last few years – this century at least – so far I’ve had only two failures – a tiny hole in one and funnily enough the odd failure of the elastic that holds them up – which isn’t really hemp, but is part of the garment. I have also used other garments made from it – start making my own soon maybe?

    Then of course we come to hemp rope – of all sizes! The rope that paired with oak ships made England the great country it is (even now, despite many who seem to hate the English and England). In case you’ve not noticed it I rather like it and even with my limited experience would highly recommend it ~ go get some Hemp in your life!

    The Walrus

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    1. The article mentioned is very interesting despite some discrepancy such as “The first ocean-going steamship made a passage from Leeds to Yarmouth in 1813 and signalled the demise of UK hemp.” Now that could be a little difficult being as how Leeds is landlocked and a trip from Leeds to Yarmouth (Great or otherwise) is hardly ‘Ocean Going’.

      Neither is the lack of mention of possibly the biggest hemp rope manufacturer in england today – that of the old ropeworks in the old Naval Dockyard of Chatham – well worth a visit both from interest in hemp and a historical one – I spent half a day in there back in 1964 – yes I know I’m classed as history myself these days!

      The Walrus

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  2. I’ve always said that everything goes on down in the south of this country, and this proves it. Here in North Yorkshire I have seen hemp growing in a few places, and I have heard- and seen- adverts for CBD oil, and of course I know about hemp rope. But hemp cloth? Hemp flour? Narry a word or advert have I seen. If hemp flour can be used exactly as ordinary flour for all aspects of food production in my kitchen, I’d be happy to give it a go, but is the only supplier ‘down south’, and would it therefore have to join the merry band of goods in lorries on the motorways?
    I’ll check H&B when I am next in town!
    Where can one obtain fabric items – socks for instance? Possibly a better bet than bamboo.

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    1. It really is incredibly versatile – from paper to hempcrete, hemp oil for cooking instead of olive oil, and a myriad of other uses.

      Try https://www.wearethought.com/ for hemp clothing, Vitality Hemp are a UK company producing hemp soap and other personal care products https://vitalityhemp.com/product-category/personal-care/

      GoodHemp https://www.goodhemp.com/the-goods/ and Venus Hemp https://venushemp.co.uk/shop/ are great for hemp seed flour, milk and oil

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  3. The film/article asks – “Why is the government blocking hemp?”

    Vested interests I’m afraid. Is it a pure coincidence that established industries (petroleum and pharmaceuticals etc) don’t want to take their snout out of the trough – especially when only today, we get more evidence of these industries lobbying and funding the Tories?

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  4. For so many years we’ve read about this amazing crop, and the virtues of the products it is a source of, but on the few occasions I have seen hemp “products”, they have been distinguished by breathtakingly high prices and marketed to appeal to a limited few.

    Am I missing something? If it is such an easy crop and so suited to an artificial chemical-free growing regime, why has it not taken off so far beyond a tiny margin?

    I’d love to try Hemp insulation, and hemp made clothes. Fingers crossed this is the start of a change.

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    1. Hemp clothes are becoming more widely available, but exploitative trade and working practices mean that the price of cotton is kept artificially low. According to Fairtrade.org.uk, as many as ‘100 million rural households – 90 percent of them in developing countries – are directly engaged in cotton production, relying on it for their income. For farmers, the challenges range from the impact of climate change, poor prices for seed cotton, through to competition from highly subsidised producers in rich countries and poor terms of trade.’ If you do buy cotton clothing, choose fairtrade and organic if possible.

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    2. Add to your comment, the simple answer to my mind is if the stuff is so high it might be due to lack of demand – it becomes “exclusive” – so make a demand, get more people to buy more of it! As stuff sells so the prices tend to drop, it becomes easier to produce and so again [hopefully] the prices drop! Or am I living in my own little world?!

      the Walrus

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  5. H&B don’t do hemp flour and the assistant said that it wasn’t available, even to order. There were kibbled seeds for sale. Of course, isn’t H&B owned by Monsanto? If so, that may explain the lack of enthusiasm to support hemp products. I’d love to try anything hemp, so if anyone has any ideas about availability, I’d love to know.

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  6. Blackbird me handsome try

    (info@thehempshop.co.uk)

    They are doing a sale at the moment, might help? If you are going to try why pay the full price if you can help it?

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