Millennials are pushing Florida hemp seed (yes, you can consume hemp seed in its raw form) into the modern-day agricultural mainstream. Around the world, in various European countries and Canada, hemp is being grown for its protein-rich seeds that can be used for milk products or flour. Here in the United States, however, it has been illegal to grow because of its botanical relation to marijuana. But thanks to millennials’ interest in sustainable farming practices and clean eating trends, this once-forbidden crop is now being cultivated on nearly 400 acres across Florida.
A Brief History Of Hemp In The US
Hemp has been grown in the United States since the 1600s when early colonists grew it for textiles, food, oil, and paper. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both wrote about growing hemp. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper. Even the American flag was made from hemp fiber for much of its history.
Over time, however, hemp became associated with its psychoactive cousin marijuana, and its recreational use as a drug. In 1937, it was banned under the Marijuana Tax Act.
When the Controlled Substances Act was enacted and passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, hemp and its products fell under Schedule I, which means it had “a high potential for abuse” and was one of “the most dangerous drugs of all those already included in or added to the schedules.”
It wasn’t until 2004 that hemp production was allowed again, as long as it was for research purposes only. In 2007, lawmakers extended this right to grow industrial hemp as part of an agriculture bill.
The state of Florida is on the cutting edge on growing industrial hemp seeds. Hats and hoodies with hemp textiles are sold at River City Co-op and other stores in Gainesville and downtown.
What Should One Do With Raw Hemp Seeds?
Hemp seeds themselves aren’t covered by the state’s new regulations, says Gwen Ifill, executive director of Grow Florida, a nonprofit organization based in University Park that’s working to establish hemp farming regulations in the state. But she isn’t opposed to people eating them raw. For one thing, they’re packed with protein—they’ve been said to rival soybeans—and they provide a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, said Ifill: “Nobody’s forcing you to eat them. They’re for sale. People can make their own decisions.”
The seeds come from plants that are primarily grown illegally in Kentucky and Colorado, and the debate over whether they should be legal or illegal is ongoing. Because hemp seeds contain trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana), cultivation is banned in most states where hemp is grown as a crop. Some states like Tennessee and Mississippi allow farmers to grow hemp as a cash crop, however—like Colorado and Kentucky—allow its use as animal feed or fiber, even though it remains illegal to buy and sell if grown for recreational use.
Hemp has also been used as a medicine for millennia:
The U.S. Pharmacopeia in the nineteenth century listed medical uses for cannabis, including treatment for rheumatism, tetanus, typhus fever, and dysentery. The Chinese emperor Shen Nung, regarded as the father of Chinese medicine, wrote about it in the second millennium B.C., when prescriptions included hemp seeds eaten raw.
Whether you’re interested in growing hemp or not, look for it on store shelves—and at local restaurants like Tropical Taco and Southern Rail—because it’s turning up everywhere as a source of protein and as a “superfood” to fill out one’s diet.