Updated: Oct 6, 2020
As humans have known for thousands of years, hemp is a plant that boasts abundant industrial, nutritive and medicinal properties. You can eat its seeds, treat pain and inflammation with its oils as well as make clothing, rope and paper from its fibers. But a lesser-known fact about this amazing plant is that it's extremely beneficial to the environment.
Bioremediation at its Best
Hemp performs acts like a kind of a toxic-substance vacuum cleaner, through a process known as “bioremediation” or “phytoremediation.” In essence, some plants and even fungi naturally clean up the environment by sucking toxins and contaminants out of the soil.
The term “phytoremediation,” was coined by the scientist Ilya Raskin, a member of a team that tested hemp’s ability to accumulate heavy metals from soil in contaminated fields near Chernobyl in the 1990s. According to another team member, Vyacheslav Dushenkov, the experiment was a success. “For the specific contaminants that we tested, hemp demonstrated very good phytoremediation properties,” says Dushenko.
Then, in 2001, a team of German researchers confirmed the Chernobyl results by showing that hemp was able to extract lead, cadmium and nickel from a plot of land contaminated with sewage sludge. These experiments both clearly demonstrate hemp's amazing ability to clean up extremely dangerous contaminants.
Hemp and Honey Bees: The Sweetest of Love Stories
With the recent decline in bee populations, finding a suitable pollinating crop to improve their habitats has become increasingly critical to their survival and the ecosystems they occupy. So when a recent study demonstrated that hemp attracts a variety of bees—conservationists and beekeepers alike jumped for joy.
Here's a little more background on the study: Researchers at Colorado State University set up 10 traps at industrial hemp fields in northern Colorado and collected bees over the course of five days during peak flowering season. The team wanted to know whether the non-psychoactive cannabis cousin of marijuana represented “a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees,” which play a critical role in maintaining “sustainable productivity in natural and agricultural ecosystems.”
The result? When the researchers looked at their collection, they found almost 2,000 bees from 23 different bee genera. Most of those (38 percent) were classic honeybees, but there were also specialized genera such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa that turned up in surprisingly “high proportions.” Hemp “can thus be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to managed honey bees and a wide range of wild bees,” the researchers concluded. While more studies are needed to understand the complex relationship between hemp and honey bees, its potential for restoring bee populations is promising.
Here at Her Royal Hempress, we're putting the research to the test by planting hemp alongside our bee yard. We hope that the hemp plants help sustain our bees through the difficult months when pollen is otherwise scarce. Stay tuned for updates on our Instagram feed.