Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview
- Cite this article as:
- Callaway, J.C. Euphytica (2004) 140: 65. doi:10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6
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The seed of Cannabis sativa L. has been an important source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. Non-drug varieties of Cannabis, commonly referred to as hemp, have not been studied extensively for their nutritional potential in recent years, nor has hempseed been utilized to any great extent by the industrial processes and food markets that have developed during the 20th century. Technically a nut, hempseed typically contains over 30% oil and about 25% protein, with considerable amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Hempseed oil is over 80% in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and is an exceptionally rich source of the two essential fatty acids (EFAs) linoleic acid (18:2 omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-3). The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (n6/n3) in hempseed oil is normally between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered to be optimal for human health. In addition, the biological metabolites of the two EFAs, gamma-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-6; ‘GLA’) and stearidonic acid (18:4 omega-3; ‘SDA’), are also present in hempseed oil. The two main proteins in hempseed are edestin and albumin. Both of these high-quality storage proteins are easily digested and contain nutritionally significant amounts of all essential amino acids. In addition, hempseed has exceptionally high levels of the amino acid arginine. Hempseed has been used to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional oriental medicine. Recent clinical trials have identified hempseed oil as a functional food, and animal feeding studies demonstrate the long-standing utility of hempseed as an important food resource.