Hemp (from Old English hænep) is the common name for plants of the entire genus Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to Cannabis strains cultivated for industrial (non-drug) use.
Industrial hemp has many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food, and fuel. It is one of the fastest growing biomasses known, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known. It also runs parallel with the "Green Future" objectives that are becoming increasingly popular. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, no herbicides, controls erosion of the topsoil, and produces oxygen. Furthermore, hemp can be used to replace many potentially harmful products, such as tree paper (the processing of which uses bleaches and other toxic chemicals, and contributes to deforestation), cosmetics, and plastics, most of which are petroleum-based and do not decompose easily.
Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into "hemp milk" (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be eaten in salads. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilised as per international law), hulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder. Hemp is also used in some organic cereals, for non-dairy "milk" somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, and for non-dairy hemp "ice cream."
Within the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has treated hemp as purely a non-food crop. Seed appears on the UK market as a legal food product, and cultivation licenses are available for this purpose. In North America, hemp seed food products are sold in large volumes, particularly from Canada to the USA, and typically in health food stores or through mail order.