Australian Hemp and what it is | Solomon Street
What is Hemp?
Australian Hemp seems to be everywhere these days, on your local supermarket shelves in the form of oil and seed, in the news as CBD oil, and on clothing store racks as everything from hemp denim jeans, to hemp underwear and hemp activewear. But what is it exactly and why is there so much fuss about it?
The fuss around Australian hemp ‘stems’ mostly from its sustainability qualifications, efficiency at growing and resilience, combined with its strength and versatility as a fibre.
Hemp is a variety of plant from the cannabis sativa family, most well known by its cousin marijuana, distantly related but very different. The stalk is possibly the most well-known component of the plant, as its primary- and secondary fibres are commonly used in textile production (hemp clothing, upholstery and household goods), plus construction materials like hemp-crete, paper and plastics.
What’s the difference between Hemp and Marijiuana?
The main difference between the two plants is the amount of each compound they contain. Marijuana contains more THC, and less CBD. Hemp contains more CBD and less THC. Most importantly, the benefits of CBD do not change whether it is marijuana-derived CBD or hemp-derived CBD. Australian Hemp is closely related to marijuana, but the key difference between the two is the concentration of THC (the compound that gives you a euphoric high). Marijuana has a high concentration of THC, whereas hemp contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight – which is nowhere near enough to have any psychoactive effects.
The history of hemp
The first records of hemp cultivation and use are from China, where it most likely originated. Hemp was one of the first cultivated fibre plants with archaeological records of its use tracing back to ancient civilisations in Northern China as early as 10,000 BC, originating from rope imprints on pottery. Evidence of this rich history varies from artefacts such as bowstrings used by archers in battle, to records of cannabis used as medicine by the 'Father of Chinese Medicine', Shen-Nung (2700 BC).
Migrating peoples likely brought hemp to Europe where, by the 16th century, it was widely distributed, cultivated for fiber, and the seed cooked with barley or other grains and eaten, for their nutritional benefits, being rich in healthy fats, protein and various minerals.
The History of Australian Hemp
Many believe that cannabis sativa seeds were carried on board the boats that colonised Australia. Hemp being used commonly for sails, rigging, clothing and to waterproof boats. By the 1800s, Australian Hemp was also being used as medicine for epilepsy, tetanus, urinary tract infections, and more. In the 1920’s Hemp in Australia became taboo as most of the world had agreed to ban opiates, cocaine and cannabis as part of the 1925 Geneva Convention. Cannabis, unfortunately, was a last-minute amendment that was added due to the lack of research at the time and pressure from other countries to include it. Australia was still researching cannabis for medical and scientific reasons and did allow for Australian Hemp cultivation in some areas until its full outlawing in 1960.
During this time there was also rising economic competition from cotton, timber and synthetic plastics. These emerging materials were a cost-effective alternative, brought about by powerful billion-dollar companies which saw hemp as a threat to their business. It wasn’t long before Australia and the rest of the world followed suit, putting hemp to bed.
Is hemp a superfood?
Hemp seeds are particularly rich in these healthy fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these fats are known for improving heart health by reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Adding hemp oil to your diet may reduce your risk of heart problems in the future. Hemp seeds contain almost as much protein as soybeans. In every 30 grams (g) of seeds, or about 3 tablespoons, there are 9.46 g of protein. These seeds are a complete source of protein, meaning that they provide all nine essential amino acids. Relatively few plant-based foods are complete sources of protein, making hemp seeds a valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Using hemp to fight climate change
Finding a solution to climate change often has us looking forward to the future and driving innovation to solve the problem, but what if the solution was one of the oldest fibres in the world?
Hemp is nature’s purifier. It captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and acts as a carbon sink, sequestering (storing) carbon dioxide in the soil throughout its plant life. This makes it highly efficient when it comes to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Hemp plants breathe in four times more carbon dioxide than trees, and one acre of hemp can remove 10 tonnes of carbon from the air.
It actually absorbs C02 while it grows, making it a carbon negative crop. In fact, just one hectare of hemp offsets a year’s carbon from two cars. The CO2 is also permanently fixed in the hemp fibres, which can go on to be used for many commodities including textiles, medicines, insulation for buildings and concrete; BMW is even using it to replace plastics in various car parts.
One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and farming, whether that’s fertiliser manufacturing, food storage or farming techniques like tilling that release nitrous oxide. Using hemp as a cover crop can improve soil properties, reduce soil erosion, conserve soil water, and recycle plant nutrients, in turn create healthier soils, which retain more carbon dioxide.
Hemp clothes benefits
Hemp clothing has many benefits, primarily being it is non-synthetic meaning that it is created from plants. it is also mechanically processed, meaning minimal chemicals are used to process the fibre in order for it to be ready to be made into a fabric. Compared to many other cellulosic origin viscose fabrics such as Bamboo Fabric, Tencel, eucalypt tree, birch tree and other wood pulp, which require large amounts of heavy chemicals for them to become suitable for fabric use, in Bamboo Activewear.
Cracks distributed on the surface of Hemp clothes fibre are connected with small holes, which makes it excellent in moisture absorption and sweat discharge. It is estimated that wearing hemp fabric, compared with cotton fabric, can reduce the body temperature by about 5 ℃. Hemp clothes fibre is also hollow and oxygen rich, giving it antibacterial properties and mould suppression, anaerobic bacteria can not survive.
The molecular structure of hemp clothes fiber is stable providing it with antistatic properties and the capacity of generating static electricity is very low. Therefore, the hemp textile will not cause discharge, dust adsorption and pilling due to the clothing swing friction.
Is it legal to grow hemp in South Australia?
Hemp in Australia is on the verge of a boom, on the back of law reforms over the past few years. Hemp is grown in South Australia predominantly to produce seed and oil for consumption, but the industry is making significant progress establishing systems and facilities to capture the value in hemp fibre with the potential for use in building materials, bio-plastics, and textiles. Australia's hemp yield has grown more than twentyfold since 2014 with production to reach a million hectares in the next decade. In 2017, Australia became one of the last countries in the world to legalise hemp for food consumption.
Focussing on South Australia, an industrial hemp processing facility is set to start operating later this year, which could lead to more South Australians living in homes made from the carbon neutral fibre. Australian plant processing company Vircura (associated with Vailo) is developing the facility as part of a new innovation precinct in Monarto, at the site of a former retail warehouse.
Is it legal to grow hemp in Australia?
In 2017 – almost 80 years after its prohibition – hemp was legalised in Australia. The “blanket ban” on cannabis was revisited, legalising hemp with THC quantities below 1%. Hemp is slowly coming out of the naughty corner, separating itself from its relationship with marijuana, and being recognised as the nutritious, sustainable and useful plant that it is. Today, hemp can be grown in all Australian states and territories, favouring a temperate, sub-tropical or tropical climate. Across the globe, hemp is cultivated for use in a huge range of products, including medicine, food, bioplastic, biofuel, insulation, paper and more.
To cultivate Industrial Hemp in South Australia you must hold a licence from Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA). The Industrial Hemp Act 2017 requires that industrial hemp must be grown from certified hemp seed, which must be sourced from parent plants with a concentration of THC in leaves and flowering heads of not more than 0.5%. Certified seed must be accompanied by a certificate from an approved laboratory which tested the parent plants.
In conclusion, Australian Hemp is a versatile and sustainable plant with a rich history and diverse applications. The future of the plant is emerging as a valuable tool in combating climate change due to the carbon storage properties of Australian Hemp resilience, strength, and carbon-negative properties. Additionally, hemp's status as a superfood and its ideal fiber for Australian Hemp Clothing, thanks to its nutritional benefits and antibacterial properties, further highlight its cultural significance. Understanding the distinction between Australian Hemp and marijuana becomes crucial for fair policies, and the legalization of Hemp in Australia has opened new opportunities for local industries. Embracing hemp holds the potential to create a greener and more sustainable future for everyone.