Cannabis, or marijuana, is the world’s most highly used illicit drug. But hemp – although it derives from the same species – will not cause giggle fits, big toenail fascination or insatiable pizza cravings.
Hempseed contains only negligible amounts of marijuana’s primary psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – and its high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) counteracts THC’s brain-altering effects.
A diverse, fast-growing plant, hemp is used industrially to make numerous products including paper, canvas, linen, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint and insulation.
And hempseed – legalised in Australia November last year – has been eaten for thousands of years raw, cooked and roasted. Technically a nut, it is packed with nutrients that include healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, vitamin E, minerals, fibre, and protein.
Rivalling whey powder’s 13% protein content, hemp contains 25% protein – more than chia seed and quinoa. Hempseed contains 20 amino acids. That includes the 9 essential peptides that humans need from dietary sources, making it a complete source of plant protein.
The protein is also easily digested, making it highly bioavailable. Its protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is “equal to or greater than certain grains, nuts, and some pulses,” according to researchers from the University of Manitoba.
Research suggests hempseed protein has several health benefits including reduced fatigue and improved immune function. Hempseed protein may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, indicative of heart health benefits. Its antioxidant properties reduce free radicals responsible for accelerated aging.
In aging, good quality protein itself is important for retaining healthy muscle mass and bone density to reduce risk of sarcopenia and osteoporosis. It can lower risk of falls and improve recovery and wound healing. Protein may even help ward off diabetes and dementia.
Since its legalisation, industry has been creatively devising new products to deliver hemp seeds’ nutritional benefits to consumers – including hemp beer, hemp chocolate and hemp oil. It is also available as a protein powder and flour for baking.
Hempseeds have a nutty flavour. Recipes have sprung up to include them in a smorgasbord of foods ranging from granola, hummus, burgers, pesto, protein balls and chutney to bread, soup and smoothies.
And hemp is not just good for us; it is ecologically sustainable. As well as being fast growing, it does not need much water, so is an ideal crop for Australian conditions. Harry Youngman, Victorian farmer, told the ABC that its “water use efficiency is incredible.”
With its “aggressive rooting structure,” it helps to break up the soil, making it an ideal rotational crop between seasons. Even better, it is weed-resistant and needs little, if any chemicals.