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Manitoba Harvest Hemp Tour

Sharon Palmer

Last week I went on a hemp field tour in Manitoba, Canada. I’ve always been a big fan of hemp; I’ve been writing about it for years, and mention it in my books, Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Diet.  That’s because this super seed is the perfect accompaniment to a plant-based diet. In fact, I recommend getting 1-2 servings of nuts and seeds—such as hemp—every day!

You can see me above in a hemp field—the towering hemp reaches up to 6 feet tall in the Manitoba Harvest field, some varieties grow even higher than that. I learned so much about growing hemp, and what makes it so sustainable. There are no approved pesticides or herbicide applications for hemp, and there are no real threats to this plant; it’s very hard to grow, and its rapid growth is what blocks out all of the weeds—nothing can compete with that canopy of tough plants! That’s what makes it so sustainable because it requires very few inputs to grow.

The hemp plant up close

On top of that, the fibrous stalk is perfect for a number of uses, such as textiles, paper, rope, animal bedding, and building supplies. So Manitoba Harvest saves the lower part of the hemp plant to use for non-food sources.

Here’s what the fibrous stalk of the hemp plant looks like

Confusion over hemp’s relationship to marijuana is what caused its cultivation to be prohibited in the U.S. since 1937, though it can be sold here. However, hemp is a historic crop that was used for a multitude of functions beyond food, such as textiles, paper, building supplies, and rope. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.

Today, most of the hemp is grown in Canada. And Manitoba Harvest is the hemp leader of the world. In fact, Mike Fata, the founder and owner of Manitoba Harvest is the one that campaigned to get hemp back in growth in Canada—you can thank him for introducing North American to this delicious, nutritious food.

Mike Fata at Deer+Almond restaurant in Winnipeg

In the past, hemp got a really bad rap because of its close plant relative, marijuana; while these plants are both in the cannabis family, they are very different. Unlike marijuana, hemp seeds contain only 0.001% of the active compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), thus hemp does not cause a psychoactive effect on people, and is completely safe. In fact, hemp seeds and oil has some distinct health and environmental benefits that make it a great food choice.

Why do I love hemp? Hemp seeds provide 10 grams (g) per ounce of protein, as well as 10 g of heart-healthy, plant-based omega-3 and -6 fats, 3 g of fiber, and a rich source of iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. Hemp oil, which is cold-pressed and unrefined, has a similar fat profile as the seed, containing only 1 g of saturated fat per tablespoon; most of the fat content is the healthy kind, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, with an impressive 2 g of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. When hemp is pressed into oil, powder, or “butter”, a unique emerald green color is released, signaling its rich chlorophyll compounds.

Manitoba Harvest’s products made of hemp
 Hemp hearts to the left; whole hemp seeds to the right.

I got to see how hemp is processed during my tour; it’s simply harvested from the field, cleaned through a seed cleaner, and then cracked to remove the outer tough hull—this results in hulled or hemp hearts. You can also take the seed with the hull and press it into hemp seed oil, which separates the oil from the fiber rich, protein rich powder—resulting in a wonderful protein powder perfect for smoothies and baking.

You can purchase hulled hemp seeds (Manitoba Harvest calls them hemp hearts), cold-pressed hemp oil, hemp plant-based milk, hemp butter (ground hemp seeds,) and hemp powder (the milled protein fraction of hemp seeds) at many natural food stores.

Sprinkle hemp seeds over cereals and yogurt, stir them into home-made granola, toss them into salads, and mix them into baked goods. Use hemp oil in place of extra virgin olive oil in pesto, salad dressings, and pasta as a finishing oil (do not cook with this delicate oil.) Whiz hemp powder and hemp milk into smoothies to increase the protein and nutrient value. And use hemp butter in place of peanut butter on sandwiches, toast, and in baking.

The beautiful tasting kitchen at Manitoba Harvest

There are so many delicious recipes for hemp, such as these that I sampled at the Hemp Tour:

Fennel, grapefruit, tomato salad with hemp
Hemp bars
Veggie hemp sushi

Check out the wonderful collection of recipes at the Manitoba Harvest website here.

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