Hemp Cannabis World History and Nutrition: The Universal Plant
“Marijuana seed protein is one of mankind’s finest, complete and available-to-the-body vegetable proteins. Hempseed is the most complete single food source for human nutrition.” - Jack Herer
There’s a lot to be said about a plant that has stirred up so much controversy in recent years. Hemp, otherwise known as cannabis sativa or marijuana, has a history as old as recorded civilization. Hemp (the male) normally grows tall and thin and it’s fibers are some of the strongest biopolymers known to man, while marijuana (the female) grows wide and bushy and its flowers are used for countless medicinal remedies. Many thanks go to the late Jack Herer for creating a voice for intelligent cannabis and the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes. You can verify most of the facts here with Encyclopedia Britannica (printed on hemp paper for over 150 years).
Here’s a quick history review. For roughly 3,000 years until the late 1800s, cannabis was the world’s most cultivated agricultural crop. Earlier civilizations (Indus River/Mesopotamia) harvested it by the bushel after finding it growing wild in valleys and on mountain sides. Incidentally, cannabis needs no fertilizer, is naturally pest-resistant (no pesticides), and survives in virtually all weather conditions, which makes it ideal for global agriculture. Through trade routes, knowledge of it’s unparalleled durability and wide variety of uses for food, sails, clothes, oil, paper, and medicine quickly spread around the world from its birthplace in the Fertile Crescent, China and the Himalayas.
Since then, marijuana has played a role in the inception and refinement of culture, art and even many religions as a psychedelic visionary sacrament. Until 1883, upwards of 90% of maps, books (including the first Bible), and paper money were printed on hemp. The British Empire granted full citizenship to foreigners who would grow hemp. In America, mandatory laws (starting with Jamestown in 1619) stated that farmers grow hemp, and it was used as legal tender (money) until the early 1800s because of its inherent value. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, while Benjamin Franklin’s printing press pumped out hemp books daily and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.
Then humans found uses for that black sticky stuff called oil. Around 1900, as the oil economy started to kick off, the timber mills started teaming up with the newspapers and oil companies (Hearst, Carnegie, DuPont, Rockefeller) to create propaganda against marijuana, to fuel a military economy that filled the pockets of few. By 1937, DuPont and the U.S. Treasury essentially outlawed hemp in favor of oil, and the world followed suit. (Getting rich is OK, granted you are supporting the world.) Oil products and wood pulp then effectively replaced hemp along with pharmaceutical drugs (synthesized from oil petrochemicals), resulting in the world’s longest prohibition of anything. The DEA has been raiding cannabis plants ever since, of which they report about 95% growing wild.
Hemp’s strength and versatility has stayed in the collective consciousness, and as it resurfaces from prohibition with legalization (medical/industrial), we can enact a global paradigm shift in medicine, food, and energy through the proper use of this one plant! So to turn the tides, if all wood and oil products (and in addition all “factory farms”) were banned to stop deforestation and reverse climate change, then we only have one available annual crop that can give us our home and industrial needs for paper, textiles (clothes), fuel and food - all while regenerating the soil and cleaning the air. Let’s move on.
For medicine, in Ayurveda (the world’s longest lasting medical system), cannabis appears as the second most common ingredient in herbal prescriptions, topped only by ginger. Queen Victoria regularly ingested cannabis for pain and popularized its use in the Western world, including modern medicine. Until 1937, the United States Pharmacopeia and now current research suggests that cannabis can be useful in treating rheumatism, arthritis, migraines, epilepsy, depression, autoimmunity, asthma, diabetes, menstrual cramps, nausea, glaucoma, tumors, infections, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, insomnia and fatigue. Most promising for modern medicine, the non-psychoactive component of the hemp plant, CBD (cannabidiol) shows incredible benefits and applications for managing ill patients and ensuring well-being in otherwise healthy people.
For food, hemp is normally grown for its seeds (more accurately the inner heart of the seed), and in addition the leaves contain a similar nutrient profile to spinach, another one of the world’s most nutritious foods (though slightly less controversial). The hemp seed (which does not contain psychoactive THC that gets you high) is a nutrient powerhouse with a similar macronutrient profile (of protein and omega-3 fat) to salmon by weight. Hemp seed contains 21 amino acids and all of the essential amino acids (in a balanced ratio) making it a rare complete plant protein (quinoa is another, and spinach technically is too is you like to eat in en masse, 15 cups of spinach has as much protein as quarter-pounder.) In addition, hemp seed contains a host of micronutrients like iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc that are critical for all the important things that healthy human bodies do like sleeping (melatonin), building muscle (testosterone), digesting (peristalsis) and thinking (ATP).
As a fun and functional aside, magnesium (which one 3 tablespoon serving of hemp seed provides 45% RDA) is the number one nutrient deficiency in the United States. Bear with me here, chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants green, also has a magnesium ion at the center of its molecular structure - so by eating greens or hemp seeds you get a dose of magnesium. Healthy mitochondria (which if you remember from biology, is “the powerhouse of the cell”) need a magnesium ion at their center to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the building block for energy production in every living being, including humans). To do life right, go green. If you understand this, you get it all. We are nature and we have keys built into our environment to unlock and evolve our genetic code.
The best part for beginners is that it’s really simple to use them because (1) you don’t have to cook hemp seeds (time-saver), (2) they are non-perishable (don’t need refrigeration), are affordable ($0.50 per serving) and you can put them on anything. If you are now wondering where to get this wonderfood and what to put it on, all of the recipes in this book work with hemp seed. Their flavor is mild and nutty like pine nuts and they can go with sweet or savory dishes - salads, curry, smoothies, chili and energy bars. They are a great base for inventing new recipes.
In addition, hemp seeds can provide the satiation and nutritional content (especially protein) that many people who are on the fence about incorporating plant-based meals (or transitioning to a vegetarian diet) often feel like they crave. Hemp seeds are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan, raw, paleo and ketogenic food so they work for most people and most diets. If hemp seed was a kindergartner, it would play well with others. You can get hemp seeds at many grocery stores, online (Nutiva and Manitoba), or like a good gardener, grow your own!
Remember to use common sense! Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
About Peter Fettis
As a Registered Yoga Teacher and and Certified Personal Trainer, Peter practices optimizing human potential as a way of life. His latest book How to Eat Well and Love Yourself dives into the practical principles of mindfulness and plant-based nutrition to give you a taste of the abundant harvest from the mind's inner garden of awareness. Peter’s vision with FlowPrana is to make waves in the current culture by rallying the wider public to recognize their inner healing power using a proactive, gentle approach.