Hemp Seed

Packed with protein and omega power

Photograph by Lane Johnson

In the United States, hemp may well be the most misunderstood of all agricultural crops. While most people know hemp to be a biological cousin of the marijuana plant, fewer recognize its worth as a fuel, paper, and textile crop, and the value of its seed as a nutritional staple.

Technically a nut but commonly referred to as a seed, hemp seed is about 25 percent pure protein, the quality of which is comparable to that found in meat, fish, and eggs. Hemp seed protein contains all the essential amino acids, and it is more digestible than soy protein. Hemp seed also contains high concentrations of several B vitamins—especially B1, B2, and B6—and vitamins C and E, plus an abundance of fiber. Hemp seed is available in various forms at the grocery store: in cereals, protein shakes, nut or seed butters, snack bars, and hemp milk.

Hemp seed oil is one of the best oils for cooking or eating raw in salad dressings. Of all the edible oils, it has the highest total concentration of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (more than 80 percent). Flaxseed oil is higher in linolenic acid, but hemp seed oil is highest in total omega-6 (linoleic) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) essential fatty acids, and they occur in the ideal three-to-one ratio for optimal health. These fatty acids have been shown to aid in combating cancer, AIDS, inflammation, and many other diseases. Hemp seed oil is also used in shampoo, hair and skin conditioners, soap, cosmetics, and moisturizers.

The American hemp industry produces more than $350 million in annual sales of clothing, food, paper, carpet, and other items, but it’s all from hemp grown in other countries. Hemp cultivation was banned in the United States in 1937 because it competed with the oil, timber, and chemical industries. For a few years during World War II, the U.S. Department of Agriculture briefly allowed and even encouraged farmers to produce hemp for rope, fabrics, and other wartime needs. Today, hemp cultivation is legal in Canada and most European and Asian nations. 

The hemp plant is a member of the cannabis family and similar in appearance to the marijuana plant, but marijuana contains between 5 and 20 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive chemical that makes it valuable as a drug. Hemp contains only minute traces (0.3 percent or less) of THC, which renders it worthless for drug use. 

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