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Hemp is one of those magical things in the world. It’s incredibly sustainable. Its cultivation is C02 neutral – it sequesters carbon into the soil and it’s a nitrogen fixer, so it improves soil fertility. It grows prolifically and it’s very economical too – 1 acre of hemp will make the same amount of paper as 4 acres of trees.
Not only that, but it's incredibly versatile. Hemp has 25,000 different uses – for food, as culinary oils, teas and body care products. Its fibres can be used for paper, textiles, rope and building materials – hempcrete and hemp plastic are durable and sustainable alternatives with extremely low environmental impact. So with all these amazing qualities, why is it so rare?
I met up with Dima, one of the directors of Hempen, a workers’ co-operative who are bringing hemp back into cultivation in the UK. They produce a whole range of organic hemp products that they sell at our Farmers’ Market in Stoke Newington. He explained that human kind’s relationship with hemp goes way back – the oldest remnants of hemp rope and paper have been dated at 10,000 years old. One of the oldest recipes for soap found in the UK is 500 years old and is simply clay and hemp oil.
Dima (right) and fellow coop member Joe at the farmers' market, demonstrating hemp oil's excellence as a lustrous beard-grooming product
Hemp used to be an essential part of our economy: in 1533, King Henry VIII decreed that all landholders set aside part of their farmed land for hemp to satisfy the increased demand for rope and sailcloth for his new navy. In Elizabeth I’s reign farmers were fined for not growing it.
But the tables turned in the 1940s. Dima explains “after the second world war, a law came in to restrict hemp production, which benefitted industries like nylon, plastics, paper based on tree pulp – so all the oil-based industries benefitted. It’s possible that corporate lobbies prevented industrial hemp growing, using the psycho-active effect as an excuse.”
THC is the psycho-active element in cannabis – it’s what makes you feel high. THC-rich cannabis is illegal to cultivate in the UK. But THC isn't present in industrial hemp. Hempen, like all hemp farmers in the UK, must have a licence to grow and sell hemp, and one of the conditions of this is that the level of THC is no higher than 0.2%. Hempen’s focus is on health – their hemp is naturally low in THC and high in CBD. CBD (Canabidiol) is the other active ingredient in cannabis. While it doesn’t get you high, it’s creating quite a buzz among scientists, health professionals and Hempen customers for its amazing health benefits. People are using it to help a whole range of conditions including chronic pain, arthritis, anxiety and diabetes.
Dima breaks down the science behind CBD for me: “there are cannabinoid receptors located all around our bodies – these are part of our endocannabinoid system which is involved in a variety of processes – central nervous system, immune system, brain, liver functions.” He goes on to say that, “CBD acts like a key into this receptor – it works perfectly with our body. It has multiple health benefits, calming, anti-anxiety, anti-stress effects. It’s a very strong and efficient muscle relaxant, so efficient it can even work with seizures.”
There’s only one source of cannabinoid and that’s hemp flowers. Sign me up!
Their best sellers are CBD coconut oil and CBD 3% oil dropper, which are good for anxiety and stress relief.
CBD coconut oil combines two powerful super foods - you can use it in food or on skin and it’s great for tense muscles, pain, stress relief and skin conditions.
They also sell the seeds, which are extremely nutritious and an excellent source of protein - great for adding to porridge, cereal, hummus and falafel.
Their extra-virgin, cold-pressed hemp seed oil has the perfect combination of omega 3 and 6 for the human body so it can be used as a culinary oil or body and hair oil. In fact, it also has an SPF factor of 7 so it provides mild sun protection as well as calming skin conditions.
Dima emphasizes that all these products are health supplements and recommends you do your own research into hemp’s health benefits. He suggests the website Project CBD as a place to start.
What strikes me about Hempen is that they take their ethos of care for the planet and for people into every part of the process, from the growing to the final product. “All aspects of our production are done with blessings and love… when we make the moisturising oils we stir it 108 times repeating the word love, or some other beautiful blessing, into the products. We care where it’s coming from and who it’s going to.”
They hope that this mindfulness translates into the end product and the good vibes are felt by the customers. Their feedback from Stoke Newington customers has been incredible and it’s what keeps them going. Many have become good friends and have volunteered at the farm.
Coming soon at the farmers’ market: they're starting to collaborate with other producers. PaMa, who make fermented products, are developing a hemp tea kombucha and our resident chocolatier is experimenting with a chocolate infused with hemp flowers. If you needed any more excuse to eat chocolate, Dima assures me “this is a great pairing as cacao activates the CBD in the hemp.”
They plan to branch out into hemp building materials and develop a new strand – hemp homes – building sustainable communities with the versatile and sustainable hempcrete and hemp plastic. They’re also going to develop their health supplement range to include “3D cosmetics” that take a holistic approach to beauty, using CBD for healthy skin and immune systems.
Aside from becoming a customer and using your money to support a sustainable future, or as Dima likes to see it, “supporting a sustainable present”, you can also volunteer on the farm, helping to pick the flowers and harvest the plants.
During the busy season in August they have around 300 volunteers come to help out with the hemp harvest and they finish the season in early September with a harvest festival. Volunteer days begin with yoga and end with music and chilling around the fire. If you’re interested in volunteering, email them here.