Botanical Nutrition

by Rob Seeman official blogger of the health food movement


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A Brief History of the Hemp Movement in America

hemp-for-victory-movie-poster

Let’s take a minute to look at the numbers. Hemp History Week happens every year from June 1-7th.  With all the renewed focus on this important plant, it is worthwhile to take a moment to explore this interesting history even in the other 51 weeks of the year!  While it is a much more sustainable crop than say, trees being grown for paper mills, Hemp has gotten a bad rap over the last 57 years due to an interesting mix of industry and politics.

Take a look at this Hemp History Timeline on the Hemp History website.  As you can see things start off well in the 1700s with the Declaration of Independence being written on hemp paper, and almost all of the founding fathers growing it.  President Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to light his house. While ‘Hemp for Victory’ is a rallying cry in World War II, by 1957 Hemp is no longer grown in the US due to “confusion over hemp and drug varieties of the plant, while new government incentives for industry replace natural fibers with plastics, ultimately bankrupting key hemp processors.”

Then in 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court decision in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA permanently protects sales of hemp foods and body care products in the U.S.  But yet still no Hemp is grown in the US.

Fast forward to 2014 – and we find the Kentucky and Colorado Departments of Agriculture are fighting with the federal government for the right to grow industrial hemp in their states. BACKGROUND HERE Now, just recently we see that the Federal Government and the state of Kentucky have settled their differences, and the state of industrial Hemp appears to be turning a corner.

Say it with me – Hemp Hemp Hooray!  This beneficial source of human nutrition and sustainable industrial applications could just yet be America’s latest bumper crop all over again.


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Philosophy is Alive and so is the Ocean (So Eat Seaweed)

Stephen Hawking has recently been quoted as saying “philosophy is dead” (or at least that little machine he speaks through did) and I couldn’t disagree with him more.  Philosophy is alive and well in natural medicine; in order to believe in vis Medicatrix naturae (Latin for “by the healing power of nature”) one must believe in the wisdom of nature.  We may need science to understand more about it; but when we can point to a long tradition of safe use that is a philosophical kind of data (more in the realm of say -ethnobotany) that we should not ignore.

Science seats itself on a lofty perch, the sometimes overly-haughty halls of academia.  While I love a good double-blind study as much as the human or herbalist – give me the good ole common sense parameters derived from hundreds, even thousands, of years of safe and effective use over a narrow study that can be spun and reinterpreted ad nauseum.

IrishMoss

One possible victim of that spinful extrapolation is a sea vegetable called Irish Moss, also called carageenan moss, which grows abundantly in the Atlantic ocean. Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) is a type of red algae, used in traditional cultures as a food and a medicine.  It is also best known commercially as a source for carageenan (a polysaccharide fraction naturally occuring in the plant) to be extracted from.

Carageenan is used in industry as a plant-based alternative to gelatin, and as a thickener and stabilizer in processed food products.  Somewhat alarmingly, in animal studies a high dose of carageenan injected in vivo has been shown to cause severe inflammation.  This kind of animal study data on the carageenan polysaccharides is distrurbing, if not altogether damning.

Irish Moss on the other hand, is now being condemened – apparently based almost solely conjecture from scientists – because it contains carageenan.  This seems to me to be a leap of faith that defies both philosophy and science; and a big extrapolation that is contradicted by thousands of years of cultural use of Irish Moss.  It is what is commonly knows as discarding the baby along with the bath water.

In Ireland (not surprisingly) Irish Moss is mixed with whiskey and spices to make a type of pudding.  In Jamaica it is used medicinally as an aphrodisiac.  In Venezuela it is boiled in milk and used a home remedy for sore throat and chest congestion.

These traditional uses support the huge difference between Irish moss and carageenan.  It would be presumptuous to assume that a food with hundreds if not thousands of years of culinary and medicinal use is in fact dangerous and worth avoiding.  We need to learn how to properly weigh the information in modern scientific analysis, rather than being reactive to it.  Always put food first.