For the insulation of the old farm that he bought in order to transform it into a gîte, Bruno, a retired roofer in Aveyron, chose hemp straw and lime. Almost ten years ago, he sprayed this mixture on the walls, six centimeters thick, which he then smoothed. “The result is aesthetic and the insulation effective,” he says. However, it was not a given: located at an altitude of 700 meters, his farm is exposed to cold and humidity. “You still have to carefully control the dosages and protect your hands and eyes because lime is corrosive,” adds the retiree.
Like Bruno, more and more French people are turning to hemp. Although it is more expensive to purchase than glass wool, it is more economical to use due to its good energy performance. “Thanks to it, we consume less heating in winter and less air conditioning in summer. It also increases the comfort felt thanks to the quality of the air. It absorbs some of the moisture when it’s cold, releases it when it’s hot. This power of absorption means that it is also used as bedding for animals,” explains Florence Garreau, marketing manager for the Cavac group, in Vendée, specializing in biomaterials. Arguments that are far from negligible at a time when the energy renovation of buildings is essential. And that’s not all: the tall stems of this plant, which has long been part of the French landscape, allow you to dress yourself, feed yourself, mulch your garden or even treat yourself with CBD…
At the heart of his factory near Dax, in the Landes – insulated as it should be with hemp – Vincent Lartizien produces shelled seeds with a good hazelnut taste, oil rich in omega 3, but also tofu alternative to transgenic soy, cosmetics and clothing. It was in Hawaii that this former professional surfer, creator of the Les Chanvres de l’Atlantique brand, learned about the medicinal properties of hemp, known since Antiquity: “I was destined to be a doctor, and then I discovered this beneficial plant. No other, even linen, offers so many uses, from building to health. In textiles, hemp is still expensive but combined with other threads, such as cotton or synthetics, it provides its antimicrobial and thermoregulatory qualities. I am sure that nothing will stop this plant, the planet needs it too much! »
Sheets, sails and ropes
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 176,000 hectares of hemp in France. Farmers cultivated their plots to produce fiber for household linen as well as boat sails and ropes – the steam navy was not yet born. If you find old sheets in your family cupboards, there is a good chance that they are made of linen or hemp, recognizable by their slightly coarse texture.
The democratization of cotton and synthetic textiles, then the amalgamation of hemp and hallucinogenic cannabis, got the better of this rustic economy. In 1960, there were only 700 hectares left, reserved for the paper industry – the star-leaved plant produces a strong fiber for cigarette paper and bank notes. In 1973, farmers from Aube, near Troyes, formed a cooperative, La Chanvrière, with the intention of developing other outlets, particularly in the automobile industry. We often ignore it, but 9 million vehicles around the world are equipped with interiors containing hemp, because the material combined with polymers, resistant and light, allows fuel savings.
Today, France has become the leading European producer of hemp, with 22,000 hectares cultivated. “A straw” compared to the 28 million hectares of agricultural area, but an appreciable additional income for farmers. Especially since the economic benefits are added to the ecological virtues of a plant adapted to climate change. “Hemp grows without irrigation or phytosanitary products,” emphasizes Franck Barbier, president of the InterChanvre federation and the Planète Chanvre cooperative in Seine-et-Marne. This plant stores as much carbon as a mature forest, or 15 tonnes per hectare in just five months of growth. And it enriches the soil with nitrogen, which improves yields of cereals grown in rotation. »
The renaissance of hemp in France owes a lot to enthusiasts linked to this plant through their family history. In Florac in Lozère, Julien Tuffery took over the clothing company founded by his great-grandfather in 1892. Atelier Tuffery manufactures jeans in organic cotton, but also in wool, linen and hemp, all traditional materials of the textile crafts. “Eight years ago, when I mentioned hemp, people took me for a “bobo” in the depths of the Cévennes, remembers the young man with strong ecological convictions, who works in collaboration with farmers in Occitanie. Now the material is in demand everywhere, from fashion to bioplastics. For us, it is strategic, because in a few years it will be impossible to source cotton from the other side of the world. Hence the need to return to local or recycled fibers. »
In recent years, CBD (cannabidiol) has invaded store shelves. This molecule is extracted from the hemp flower, like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the component that gets you “high”, but unlike the latter, it does not cause hallucinations or addiction. CBD provides a soothing effect, relieves pain, stress, sleep disorders, etc. “I take it in the form of oil, a few drops under the tongue before going to bed,” confides Emmanuelle, 50 years old. You should let it diffuse for about a minute before swallowing to fully assimilate it. This allows me to do without sleeping pills. My mother takes it for her osteoarthritis. »
We could think of the phenomenon as ephemeral, like electronic cigarette stores, but it seems to be lasting. CBD products are sold in 18,000 pharmacies, 5,000 supermarkets and around 2,000 specialized stores, according to the Union of Industrialists for the Valorization of Hemp Extracts. In the field of health, an experiment has been taking place for two years with 1,700 patients to enable the marketing of THC treatments. The product, prescribed in the form of an oil or inhalation, is recognized for relieving pain linked to certain pathologies refractory to traditional protocols: multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, neuropathic pain, etc. Patients and the industry are campaigning for this program to be reimbursed by health insurance – it is not currently included in the 2024 Social Security financing bill. An ancestral plant, hemp still has a bright future ahead of it.