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In the Kitchen with Hemp Seeds

Growing hemp in Illinois?

Currently some states, including Illinois, allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. This past summer, Pat Quinn signed a bill making this possible but there are no funds attached which may make it difficult for this research to take place.

Illinois is no stranger to this potential cash crop as it was once grown here between 1840 and 1860 (due to strong demand for sailcloth and cordage), and also during World War I and World War II, because the war cut off supplies of fiber. You could also find hemp processing plants in Illinois including one in Stark County! Despite all that hemp had done for us during war times, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1938 ended hemp production in the United States over concern that the crop was a 'drug menace'.

In Canada, hemp was discontinued in 1938 as well but was reinstated in 1998 when Health Canada again allowed commercial production under a licensing system. Over a ten year period from 2003-2013, Canadian prairies have seen an increase in their hemp production from 6,700 to 66,671 acres licensed for cultivation; all of which is GMO free.

The market for hemp products is booming, particularly in the 'natural health' sector due to the high nutritional quality of hemp seeds and oil. In the U.S. we have to import hemp fiber, grain and oil since it is illegal to grow hemp for industrial purposes.

Different parts of the plant- seeds, long bark, woody stem core, female floral bract- can be used for different purposes. Below are some common examples:

  • Food, salad dressings, body care, hair care, animal feed, dietary supplements, industrial oils, textiles, geotextiles, paper products, plastic composites, construction and thermal insulation materials, animal bedding, essential oils, fuel, silage and more! The taller cultivars are also planted to act as wind-breaks in agricultural landscapes.

From a nutritional standpoint

I became aware of hemp seeds and oil years ago but didn't pay much attention to it until more recently when I started looking for plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

After a little digging into the nutritional components of these seeds and their cold-pressed oil (mmm) I discovered just how much was going on in there. Without getting too technical, this is what I found…

  • Shelled (hulled) hemp seeds do not need to be ground before eating (unlike flax seeds) making them readily digestible
  • Hempseed oil contains high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids including the essential linoleic (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acids (omega-3) as well as stearidonic acid and gamma-linolenic acid
  • omega-6:omega-3 occur in a ratio of 3:1 which is considered optimal for human nutrition and unique among common plant oils
  • 25-30% of the seed is protein and all essential amino acids are present
  • Hemp seeds also contain vitamin E (antioxidant) and the trace minerals, magnesium, iron and manganese

The unsaturated fatty acids found in the seeds and oil have been linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, inflammation, some forms of cancer and neurological disorders.

Cooking and storing hempseed oil

  • Due to the high amount of unsaturated fatty acids present, hempseed oil should not be used for frying or baking and should be reserved for low-heat cooking and "finishing".
  • Hemp seeds and the oil are mildly nutty and work well in many dishes including soups, sauces, smoothies, salads, or even just for dipping.
  • The oil should be stored in dark bottles and kept in the refrigerator (away from heat and light) to prolong shelf-life.


Hemp Pesto

3 cups herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, etc.) ¾ tsp salt

2 cloves garlic 1 tsp pepper

¼ cup hemp seeds ½ cup hempseed oil or olive oil

Juice from ½ a lemon 3 T shredded Parmesan

In a food processor, combine herbs, garlic, hemp seeds, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Pulse while drizzling in the oil. Blend in Parmesan cheese last. Pour into a bowl, tightly covered and refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. Tastes great on pasta, pizza, eggs, and as a spread on crusty French bread or other sandwiches and wraps.

Yield: 2 cups



Additional resources:

  • North American Industrial Hemp Council Inc.:
  • Hemp Industries Association:
  • The Hemp Commerce & Farming Report:



  • Photo courtesy of piyato at
  • Tarter: Value of hemp grows in Illinois.
  • The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA).
    • Gero Leson, D.Env. 2006. Hemp and flax seeds and oil in modern nutrition.
  • Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance:
  • Small, E. and D. Marcus. 2002. Hemp: A new crop with new uses for North America. p. 284–326. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
  • Whelan J. Dietary stearidonic acid is a long chain (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid with potential health benefits. Journal of Nutrition 2009;139:5-10. doi:10.3945/jn.108.094268.


Today's post was written by Kristin Bogdonas, MPH. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist and Nutrition & Wellness Educator covering Mercer, Henry, Rock Island and Stark Counties. She specializes in mindful eating, local and seasonal foods, and food safety/preservation.