Hemp is an incredibly versatile plant, with uses ranging from sustainable fabrics and paper to building materials. But did you know that hemp can also be used to clean up contaminated soil? Through the process of phytoremediation, the roots of the hemp plant penetrate deep into the soil and absorb harmful chemicals as well as any beneficial nutrients that may remain. Contaminants are removed from the soil and stored in the plant, usually in the leaves, stem or stems. This remarkable process has been studied for some time, and scientists have found that hemp can be used to restore contaminated soil and make it healthy again. The term “phytoremediation” was coined by scientist Ilya Raskin, a member of a team that tested hemp's ability to accumulate heavy metals in the soil of contaminated fields near Chernobyl in the 1990s.
The experiment was considered a success, and now a historic study in South Africa is testing the theory by planting hemp in areas of the country that have been devastated by unethical mining practices. The team wanted to test hemp's ability to extract heavy metals from soil. Not only can hemp fiber be used to create anything from clothing and paper to concrete bricks, but hemp plants also have the remarkable ability to extract foreign contaminants and heavy metals from contaminated soil. Hemp is environmentally friendly in several well-known ways, and it can be used to make more sustainable fabrics, paper and building materials. Some industrial engineers even use hemp to create “hemp concrete blocks” to replace concrete. At the beginning of the 19th century, hemp was widely cultivated in France, with almost 200,000 hectares dedicated to cultivation.
Nowadays, hemp is recognized as one of the most ecological agricultural crops in the world, which has led to its reappearance in Europe. Hemp and marijuana are often described as cousins because they come from the same cannabis plant, but unlike marijuana, hemp has low levels of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), meaning smoking it has little effect. The hemp that Campbell is harvesting from the experiment will not be safe for use in food or other health products intended for human use, but it should be safe for construction uses. There are many degraded or marginal soils being removed from production and contaminated soils waiting to be cleaned because there are not enough funds available to pay for them. Campbell told reporters that he believes hemp could simultaneously repair soil damage, make the area habitable again for humans and generate economic benefits for local residents. As humans have known for thousands of years, hemp is a plant with abundant industrial, nutritional and medicinal properties.
For example, consumers can check test results (also known as a certificate of analysis) to determine if the hemp product contains heavy metals. Hemp is a cover crop, meaning it can help regenerate degraded soil by absorbing carbon and nitrogen from the air and replenishing it in the soil, according to First Crop. There is also a lot to learn about what can be done with hemp plants that have been used to clean up especially dangerous contaminants. Campbell has been comparing the phytoremediation capabilities of hemp with other plants and states that hemp is a “heavy metal hyperaccumulator” compared to Indian mustard, water hyacinth, alfalfa and sunflower. That's why companies like First Crop believe that hemp is the answer to sustainable agricultural practices.