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Hemp: The little plant that could

Its bad reputation aside, hemp is an easily renewable plant that can be used to make goods like paper, food, fuel, beauty products, clothing and accessories. GreenDAY’s Marisa Belger sheds new light on the overlooked crop.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

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Hemp’s got a bad reputation. So bad in fact, that commercial production of the plant is actually banned in the U.S. It seems that a large part of the problem is its close relation to another plant of the illegal smoking variety. This guilt by association is really too bad, because the multifaceted hemp plant can be transformed into numerous items — like paper, food, fuel, beauty products, clothing and accessories — that make our everyday lives better. And hemp does it all with minimal damage to the planet. Yes, this is one eco-conscious crop.

Industrial hemp — the name of the utilitarian strain that won’t get you high — is another breed of the infamous cannabis sativa. It has been given the “eco-friendly” label because it has a relatively short growth cycle of 100-120 days (so it’s easily renewable) and the entire plant can be put to productive use. The core of the plant, or the hurd or shive, has been used in the creation of a concretelike substance for the construction of homes. Oil from the seeds is used in beauty products and as a food. And the fibers are used in clothing, rugs and upholstery. For decades, numerous countries (the U.K., China, the majority of the European Union and even Canada — but not us!) have been turning to hemp for use in thousands of products.

As a natural-beauty addict and a bit of a health-food junkie, hemp seed oil has landed in and on my body in many forms. I’ve used lip balms, moisturizers and hair conditioners that have been enhanced with hemp seed oil (the oil has a very mild scent that makes it the ideal companion for fragrant essential oils like lavender). Hemp seed oil is extremely rich and moisturizing — great for dry winter skin. I’ve also ingested my fair share of the oil, which gives flax seed oil a run for its money in the omega-3 department (an essential fatty acid that has been linked to cardiovascular health). Recently, I’ve even begun experimenting with actual hemp seeds. Toasted with a bit of salt, they’re a tasty snack when eaten alone and play an excellent supporting role when tossed in salads and baked into muffins.

Hemp has a home in my kitchen and in my bathroom, but only recently has it found its way into my closet. Just as some people may erroneously associate hemp with cinematic stoners Cheech and Chong, I used to associate it with stiff, itchy, rough fabric that had no business being near my skin. Times have changed. As eco-fashion breaks all sorts of boundaries with the use of innovative fabrics like bamboo and PET, hemp, too, is riding the wave toward legitimate (and comfortable) eco-style.

My hemp conversion began with a simple pair of brown pants. They were given to me by a good friend in Los Angeles with a penchant for surfers and were pretty easy to dismiss upon first glance. The name given to these drawstring trousers didn’t help: Bell’s Beach Pant. What was a New Yorker going to do with a pair of beach pants? Wear them on the subway? But I pushed my doubts aside, stepped into the hemp/cotton blend (55%/45%), and was instantly sold. The fabric has the easy lines and flow of linen without the hassle of wrinkles. I also found that the pants provided instant warmth on a chilly day and could easily be easily worn throughout a heat wave. And they look good. On everyone. They sit low and slim on the hips and move into a gentle flare toward the ankles. I quickly bought another pair for myself and outfitted my husband and a handful of lucky East Coast girlfriends with my hemp discovery.

Hemp is a strong, tough fiber, but simple blending with cotton or linen creates fabric that has durability and style. In addition to my favorite pair of pants, hemp is also used in T-shirts, skirts, underwear — even wedding dresses!

For more information on industrial hemp, check out The Hemp Industries Association and don’t miss my favorite hemp products:

  • Botanical Earth’s hemp seed oil lip balm comes in a lemongrass and tea tree oil blend as well as a frosty mint variety.
  • Settling in for a movie? Skip the popcorn and dig into a bag of Hemp Crunch instead —toasty, salted goodness heavy on the omega-3s.
  • Everyone needs a pair of Chucks — or second pair, in my case. My next Converse sneakers will be the Chuck Taylor All-Star Vintage with the olive green hemp upper. Supercool.
  • To be outfitted in hemp from skivvies to outerwear, check out Rawganique’s extensive collection of men’s and women’s clothing.
  • And finally, visit Natural High Lifestyle for your very own pair of hemp beach pants.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.