Imagine the perfect food crop: strong, fast growing, easily adaptable to soil and climatic conditions and extremely undemanding, it grows well without the use of pesticides and fertilizers, has a high nutritional value and provides a rich source of high-quality protein and essential omega fatty acids in optimal ratio. Besides being an extremely healthy superfood, it can also be used as a building material, in paper production, to make plastic and composite materials, clothing, ropes, fuel and even jewelry, as well as offering infinite ways of use in medicine.
It is not a product of our imagination, it is a real story of a real plant – and a sad one indeed. Hemp(Cannabis sativa), a versatile herb that has been used for all the above mentioned purposes for millenia, has been a controversial crop since the end of Second World War, due to the presence of cannabinoids (especially the controversial THC). Fortunately, hemp’s bad reputation is gradually diminishing nowadays. A total of 46 varieties of industrial hemp, which contains extremely low levels of THC, are certified by the European Union. In contrast to cannabis grown for recreational use, varieties grown for fiber and seed have less than 0.3% THC and they are unsuitable for producing hashish and marijuana.
Hemp has been cultivated by many civilizations for over 12.000 years, making it one of the earliest domesticated plants known. Archaeological records for cultivation and use of hemp come from Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, central and east Europe, China, Taiwan and Japan. Until 1883, as much as 90 % of all paper is estimated to have been made from hemp and the same goes for ropes, threads and ship sails. Hemp oil, produced from hemp seeds, was used as an ingredient of oil paints, varnishes and even fuel. Numerous farms cultivated hemp and use its fiber, while it also provided protection from erosion on steep slopes.
After Second World War, cultivation and use of hemp suddenly became prohibited. Even industrial varieties were now illegal, completely ignoring the fact that they provided more than 25.000 nature-friendly products, all free of the controversial substances.
Today, hemp is regaining its well deserved reputation as an ideal crop. Not only is it prised in textile, paper and construction industry again, it is also gaining its place in the field of nutrition. No wonder, as hemp seeds are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Proteins represent 33 % of their total mass and contain all of the 20 amino acids, including 9 essential ones, which our body can not synthesize itself. 44 % of hemp seeds is represented by healthy fats, primarily unsaturated fatty acids in optimal ratios. A ratio between omega-3 in omega-6 fatty acids is especially important, as Western diets are often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and contain excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids, mostly consumed in the form of processed foods. Most studies suggest the optimal ratio 3:1 (while the estimated actual ratio is 50:1!), which is identical to the omega-6:omega-3 ratio found in hemp seeds and hemp oil.
Besides protein and fat, hemp seeds also contain a fine amount of fiber and nutrients that act as antioxidants.
Hemp can be easily introduced into our diets in one of the following forms: hemp seeds, hemp oil or hemp protein powder. Shelled seeds can be sprinkled on fruit or veggie salads, added to soups, baked goods and smoothies or used to make spreads, raw desserts, hemp milk, yoghurt or ice cream.
Hemp oil, which is cold pressed from shelled hemp seeds, can be used in various dishes, preferably at the end of cooking as it is temperature sensitive (as all of the unsaturated fats) and therefore unsuitable for cooking and baking. Use hemp oil in salads, soups, vegetable dishes or consume a teaspoon on an empty stomach in the morning. Hemp oil is also appropriate for external use as it can help with skin issues, such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and dry or sensitive skin.
Hemp protein powder is a popular addition to the diet of athletes, be it recreational or professional ones. Due to intensive training, protein needs of athletes are increased and hemp is a rich source of high-quality protein. With elimination of fats and fiber, percentage of protein in hemp powder is greatly increased, reaching 50 %. Hemp protein contains all the essential amino acids in sufficient amounts, making it a so called »complete protein«. Hemp protein powder can be mixed into juices, smoothies, raw or baked desserts.