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Nowadays, many foods become trendy or ‘the next big thing.’ The reality is, most of these foods have a long history of usage as healing foods in different cultures. Their health properties have long been utilized and understood by those who used them. What we often think of as ‘new’ information has actually been understood by many before. With this in mind, we enter into a new appreciation for the wonderful health foods that we are lucky to have at our disposal.
Hemp seeds and hemp oil are versatile, healthy foods that can easily be added to one’s daily diet and are currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The hemp plant has been used throughout history not only in its edible form but also for medicinal uses and as hemp fiber used to make rope and clothing, for example in ancient China. Pliny the Elder writes in his Natural History of the medicinal uses of the hemp seed. He suggests that hemp seeds may be useful for extracting worms from the ears and that a concoction of hemp and water applied to the skin may soothe burns.
The hemp plant also has a notable US history. Industrial hemp has been grown in America since the first European settlers arrived in the 1600s. Hemp was used to make paper during this era and wagons were covered with canvases made of hemp. The plant was part of the daily lives of many farmers and families, and because the whole plant could be utilized in some shape or form, it was a highly valued crop.
During World War 2, the cutting off of foreign supplies to the US meant that the government began encouraging farmers to grow and produce hemp once again. These farmers were given subsidies and special privileges.In modern times hemp is often confused with cannabis and marijuana and their psychoactive qualities. Hemp and cannabis come from the same plant, cannabis sativa, but hemp used for food products has little or no THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient that makes cannabis psychoactive. In 1951, the Boggs Act was passed in the USA, prohibiting the possession of both marijuana and hemp. This law also enforced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. The passing of this act may be one reason why confusion between hemp and cannabis still exists today and gave the plant a bad name.
Today hemp seeds and hemp oil are being lauded for their health benefits and enjoying time in the spotlight as super-foods. The hemp plant contains a perfect balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, in an ideal ratio to be utilized by the body. Hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body, i.e. those which we do not produce ourselves. Hemp protein also ranks as one of the most digestible plant proteins, and is much gentler on the digestive system than animal sources of protein such as meat, cheese or eggs. Another reason to choose hemp protein over another is perhaps the wide range of vitamins and minerals that hemp protein boasts. These include many B vitamins, vitamin E (essential for good skin health), magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. For this reason, hemp is also an excellent food choice for those eating a plant-based or vegetarian diet as it is so rich in nutritive value. Many people who cannot tolerate nuts or soybeans or other common allergens do not react to hemp, making it a good choice for those on a restricted diet.
Shelled hemp seeds are soft and can be sprinkled onto fruit salads, mixed into muesli, added as a topping for a smoothie, or simply eaten alone as a snack. Hemp protein powder is an excellent addition to a smoothie, eaten for breakfast so the health benefits of the humble hemp seed can be felt throughout the day.