While hemp has a number of industrial and consumer uses, it provides a unique ability to cleanse the soil on which it’s planted. This process is called bioremediation or phytoremediation and has been utilized most famously at Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster that resulted in radioactive waste affecting parts of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Planting hemp on the impacted area resulted in a reduction of radioactive elements in the soil. In addition to radioactive material, hemp can extract pesticides, crude oil, solvents and other toxins from soil.
Research has shown that hemp will also removed excess selenium and cadmium from soil. Selenium, an environmental pollutant, is also a nutrient required for human life. By removing the element from the soil and bringing it into the plant, the potential exists to serve the dual purpose of cleansing the soil while adding nutrition to the edible hemp plant seeds. Cadmium, on the other hand, is dangerous for human consumption and if present in agricultural soil can be passed along to our diets. Hemp can be used to cleanse the soil of cadmium prior to the planting of other edible crops.
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In cases where hemp has been planted in order to remove dangerous toxins like cadmium, there is an impact on the end-use of the hemp plants because chemicals absorbed through phytoremediation are stored within the plant and would be present in any type of food, medicine or product created using the stalk, seeds, leaves or roots.
Hemp plants not fit for human consumption can still be used, though. They can be processed to create the biofuels ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels are energy sources made from plants and are considered renewable because they can be replenished over short periods of time, as opposed to fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas that are found deep within the earth and take millions of years to regenerate.
For consumable hemp, it’s generally recommended that the plants be grown on organically certified farms and be tested for toxins and contaminants before consumption.