In the past, hemp has gotten a bad rap because of its close relative, marijuana. However, while both plants are in the cannabis family, they’re very different. Unlike marijuana, hemp seeds contain only 0.001 percent of the active compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), thus hemp does not cause a psychoactive effect, and is completely safe. In fact, hemp has some distinct health and environmental benefits.
Since 1937, growing hemp has been prohibited in the U.S. because of confusion over its relationship to marijuana, although it can be sold here. In fact, hemp is a historic crop, used for a multitude of functions beyond food, such as textiles, paper, building supplies and rope. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Today, most hemp is grown in Canada.
Interest in hemp cultivation is rising, partially because it’s very sustainable compared to other seed crops. Hemp is quick-growing, vigorous and resistant to disease and insects, requiring lower inputs of fertilizers, water and pesticides. And, unlike many seed crops, the hemp stalk can be used for its rich fiber source in products like textiles and building supplies, such as pressboard.
Another reason hemp is on the rise is because of its unique nutrient profile. Hemp seeds provide 10 grams (g) of protein per ounce, as well as 10 g of heart-healthy, plant-based omega-3 and -6 fats, 3 g of fiber, and is a rich source of iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc and manganese.
Hemp oil, which is cold-pressed and unrefined, has a fat profile similar to the seed, containing only 1 g of saturated fat per tablespoon; most of the fat content is the healthy kind, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, with an impressive 2 g of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. When hemp is pressed into oil, powder, or “butter,” a unique emerald green color is released, signaling its rich chlorophyll compounds.
While the research on hemp is still in the early stages, there’s a lot to love about the nutritional value of this plant food. You can purchase hulled hemp seeds (some manufacturers call them hemp hearts), cold-pressed hemp oil, hemp plant-based milk, hemp butter (ground hemp seeds,) and hemp powder (the milled protein fraction of hemp seeds) at many natural food stores.
Sprinkle hemp seeds over cereal and yogurt, stir them into homemade granola, toss them into salads, and mix them into baked goods. Use hemp oil in place of extra virgin olive oil in pesto, salad dressings, and pasta as a finishing oil (do not cook with this delicate oil; its smoking point is 350 degrees F.)
Mix hemp powder and hemp milk into smoothies to increase their protein and nutrient value. And use hemp butter in place of peanut butter on sandwiches, toast and in baking.