Hemp is making a comeback

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2006

It is one of the most versatile plants known to man, harvested for food and fiber for well over 10,000 years. It was grown by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The original Declaration of Independence was printed on paper made from its fiber. Its seed has more protein than any plant food except the soybean. The seed is also rich in essential fatty acids. And it is illegal for farmers in the US to grow it.

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The plant is hemp, a distinct variety of the species cannabis sativa L. Unlike another variety of cannabis, marijuana, hemp does not have psychoactive properties. Even if you smoked a thousand hemp cigarettes, you still wouldn't get high. Unfortunately, the U.S. government doesn't differentiate between kinds of cannabis. As a result, hemp cannot be commercially grown in this country.

Our loss is Canada's gain. A thriving hemp industry has sprouted across the border. Hemp is making a huge comeback as a source of fiber for clothing, an ingredient in cosmetics, and as a "superfood."

The nutritional value of hempseeds is irrefutable. They are exceptionally high in protein, and the protein in them is in a form that is more easily used by the body than other common protein sources such as soy. They not only contain Omega 3 fatty acids, but also GLA, an important Omega 6 fatty acid. Hemp oil is now being touted as even better than flax oil because it has a better balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.

Hemp is sold in a number of guises. Perhaps most popular are the shelled seeds. These have the outer hull removed and resemble hulled sesame seeds. They have a sweet, nutty flavor. Hemp protein powder can be added to smoothies and is a good source of both protein and fiber. Hemp oil is sold mainly as a supplement. It needs to be refrigerated and stored in a dark container because it is very perishable. Hempseeds can also be found in granolas and energy bars.

When I first heard that you could eat hemp seeds, I was more than a little skeptical. I chalked up the enthusiasm of its promoters to an irrational loyalty to hemp's psychoactive cousin. However, unlike many fad foods, the buzz about hemp just kept growing, so I decided to give it a try.

I started out modestly enough, sampling a granola with hempseeds. It was delicious mixed with yogurt. The hempseeds added a subtle, nutty flavor and nice crunchy texture. Soon it became my favorite breakfast. Before long my day didn't seem complete if I didn't have my hemp granola, and if I didn't have it for breakfast, I'd sneak some for a snack in the afternoon.

Recently, the day came when the granola just wasn't enough. I saw an advertisement for a new hemp shake mix. It had a whopping 20 grams of hemp in a single serving. I decided I had to try it. I did and now I'm hooked. Might as well face it, I'm addicted to hemp.

I looked really hard for a recipe for hemp brownies, but couldn't find one. This recipe for hemp guacamole comes from the Nutiva Web site.

Hemp guacamole

Several avocados

1 tomato

1/8 cup onion

1/2 cup shelled hempseed


Sea salt

Herbs to taste

Lemon or lime juice

Peel several ripe avocados, remove the seeds and mash the pulp in a serving bowl. Add a chopped tomato, 1/8 cup of chopped onions, and 1/2 cup shelled hempseed. Mix well, then add tamari, sea salt, and dried herbs to taste. Lemon or lime juice is optional, to add flavor and help extend the freshness. Sprinkle some hempseed on top of the guacamole for a neat visual effect, and serve with chips or sliced veggies. This dip is a sure winner and a great conversation piece for any party.

• David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.

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