31 December 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Hemp is a buzz

This amazing crop has so much to offer. It can be used for food, fuel and fibre.

I wrote an article about hemp recently. What a weird experience that was. It was like uncovering a hidden history of the world.

This amazing crop was 1 of the first to be grown by humans. It is a peerless fibre crop. One hectare of it will provide as much fibre as 4 hectares of plantation trees. And this after only 5 months – instead of 7 to 15 years for the trees.

The first Bible was printed on hemp. Jan van Riebeeck sailed to the Cape of Good Hope using hemp sails. In 1941 Henry Ford created a car made out of mostly hemp fibres. Its fuel was also made from hemp oil, as was its lubrication. Ford boasted it fulfilled his dream of making ‘a car from the soil’.

It absorbs and fixes carbon dioxide like a fiend because it can grow 4m in 100 days – so there are climate-neutral perks too. It hardly needs any fertiliser and has very modest water needs.

Hemp seeds are rich in essential fatty acids. You can also turn the oil into fuel. In fact, Rudolph Diesel designed his engines to run on diesel made from hemp.

It is 1 of the few plants that can be grown for three purposes: fuel, food and fibre.

There’s a slow realisation that this could be a job creator in depressed rural areas, and there’s a thriving trade in hemp clothing, hemp oil and decor items.

And yet it remains illegal because it is wrongly classified as marijuana and a drug. If you smoked a whole carpet made of it you’d hardly get more than a headache and a dull buzz in the brain. Hemp is the cousin of what is now known as marijuana.

Anyway, encouragingly, it is being grown in trial crops around South Africa. One man, Tony Budden (of the Hemporium), has created an entire house, mostly from hemp products.

There’s a slow realisation that this could be a job creator in depressed rural areas, and there’s a thriving trade in hemp clothing, hemp oil and decor items.

It doesn’t hurt that hemp is legally grown in nearly 30 countries now, including the UK, Canada, China and France. The reason the world turned against it sounds like something straight out of science fiction. Don’t let me spoil your fun. Google why William Randolph Hearst has so much to answer for….

Category: Food & Wine

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