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Cultivated by humankind for more than 10,000 years, there are few plants that can be turned into as many types of material as hemp.

From paper to concrete and sailcloth to a form of biodegradable plastic, the variety of purposes hemp can serve is a gift to designers.

The first known uses of hemp dates back to ancient China and Mesopotamia. Hemp seed and flower tops were used to treat a variety of ailments during the period of 2700 BC through to Roman times and, of course, some strains are cultivated to make marijuana (for both medicinal and recreational purposes).

Aside from its uses for fabrics and other products including paper, rope, biodegradable plastics, insulation, paint, biofuel, food and animal feed, hemp is so good for the planet that there is a case to be made for it to be grown purely for environmental reasons!

Hemp is a more effective sequester of carbon dioxide than trees. For every tonne produced, 1.63 tonnes of greenhouse gasses are removed from the air. And because hemp’s production cycle is so fast – around four months – this process can be repeated several times in a year.

Almost all varieties of hemp are naturally resistant to insects and pests so the need for pesticides in their cultivation is reduced. In fact, the presence of bees, small birds and animals is actively encouraged. Hemp is also a great groundcover crop, meaning fewer herbicides and weed killers are needed.

Hemp’s roots grow up to nine feet deep which helps combat soil erosion, and the high quantities of biomass it produces decompose in the soil, replacing vital nutrients. Hemp plants can even be used to clean contaminated land as they absorb heavy metals and toxins. The hardiness of hemp also means it needs far less water than other crops.

Industrial hemp derives from the plant species cannabis sativa. It has reduced levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the psychoactive element of cannabis. It may also have higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD) which reduces or eliminates any psychoactive effects. The levels of THC permitted in industrial hemp vary widely across the world.

There are many advantages to using hemp fibre to make paper. Hemp stalks only take up to five months to mature, hemp paper does not necessarily require bleaching chemicals and it can be recycled seven to eight times.

For a truly sustainable material, from seed to products and beyond, every good designer has to consider hemp.

For more information on hemp visit: https://nihcoa.com/

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