Whenever we mention that we have a hankering for hemp, we elicit knowing chuckles. Many people confuse hemp with its psychoactive cousin, cannabis sativa, but what we are talking about is eating and drinking THC-free hemp products for their dietary health benefits.
Hemp has a 10,000-year-plus history. One of the earliest cultivated plants known, it has been grown from China to Chile for its strong fibers, which are turned into ropes, paper and clothing. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains such insignificant levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the stuff that gets people "hemped" — that it has no value as a drug whatsoever. Nevertheless, folks, including the U.S. government, continue to hold on to the idea that smoking or eating the sustainable crop will get you toasted.
Today's consumers are discovering this splendid product for its health-promoting benefits. Hemp is very nutritious, containing protein, amino acids, essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, vitamins and minerals. Hemp milk is a low-calorie alternative to cow's milk as well as nut milk, such as the almond variety, for people with nut allergies. The beverage has a nice nutty and grassy flavor.
Another way to enjoy hemp is as raw, water-soluble protein powder, which looks a lot like bright green matcha (powdered green tea) but tastes nothing like it. Added to smoothies featuring bananas, coconut water, kale, supergreens and other superfoods, you can barely taste it, except for a slightly dusty flavor that we have found is shared by most protein powders. Two tablespoons add a powerful dose of protein, especially for breakfast shakes that can sustain you through lunch. You can also enjoy it in the form of cold-pressed oil and in minimally processed foods such as granola bars, chips, cereals, or you can sprinkle the raw seeds onto yogurt.
Despite its good-for-you nutrients and the fact that even Thomas Jefferson once stated that "hemp is of greatest importance to our nation," hemp farming is currently not permitted by the U.S. due to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which prohibits the growing of hemp without a permit by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Industrial hemp production is allowed in more than 30 countries worldwide, but the United States is not quite there yet. Instead, we import hemp from China, India, Canada and several European countries.
In 2012, Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in the hope of amending the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and thus help American farmers grow hemp legally again.
In 2014, President Obama signed the Farm Bill, allowing for universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp for limited purposes. In 2015, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 that would allow American farmers to produce and cultivate industrial hemp. The bill would remove hemp from the "controlled substance" category as long as it contains no more than 0.3 percent THC.
If the Hemp Farming Act passes, products could be made from American-grown hemp and farmers would be able to profit from their crops. Until then, America will keep importing millions of dollars worth of products to keep up with the increasing demand.
Even if you're not political (or a toker), you can still say hooray to hemp. Just head to your local health food store and grab a bag of trail mix featuring the nutrient powerhouse, or lather up with Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Hemp Soap.