Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds. What are they? What are the health benefits? Should I be hiding them from my mum?

In my view, hemp seeds are an often misunderstood superfood. I’m here to answer some hot questions and shed some light on the facts, myths and benefits of hemp seeds. Rest assured, they are good for you, safe to eat and incredibly versatile. Learn why I’m a big fan of hemp seeds and why they should become a staple in your pantry as well. 

What are Hemp Seeds?

Hemp seeds are the edible seed (technically a nut) from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa L.). Hemp seeds are sometimes called hemp hearts, once the hard outer shell is removed, leaving the soft interior seed ready to be enjoyed. Hemp seeds are about the size of a sesame seed, with a slightly sweet and nutty flavour and a white or pale green colour. 

Are Hemp Seeds Legal?

Yes. In 2017 hemp seeds gained approval from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to be sold as a food to consumers. Before this, Australia and New Zealand allowed hemp products including hemp seeds to be sold for external use, such as textiles, beauty products or for skin health. 

The History of Hemp

The hemp plant has been grown and cultivated for millenia, mostly in the Northern hemisphere. Hemp is known for its long thin leaves that fan around each stem. Taking around 4 months to mature, hemp plants have a range of medicinal and industrial uses across different cultures. Hemp has been labeled a plant of ‘major economic importance’, as it grows quickly and can be used for the production of food, beauty products, clothes, textiles, paper and construction materials. 

Steeped in history, hemp was used in Hindu culture for three thousand years. Hemp and cannabis were featured in the ancient sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas around 1400 BC. Hemp has been an agricultural crop in China for centuries as well. Taiwan boasts the earliest record of the human use of cannabis and its related products, as far back as the Stone Age. Hundreds of years ago, hemp was also the main industrial product in Japan, used for clothes, bedding and other materials. Hemp clothing was worn during formal or ceremonial occasions due to its association with purity in Japanese culture. 

Close up shot of hemp seeds

What's the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

Let’s settle this once and for all. No, you won’t get high from hemp seeds. Hemp seeds contain no psychoactive properties, so there’s no risk of mind-alteration from having your morning hemp smoothie. 

To break it down even further, there are actually several species of cannabis plant varieties. Hemp and marijuana are subspecies that come from Cannabis sativa, with some important phytochemical differences between each. 

Both hemp and marijuana contain cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive and has incredible medicinal properties, including analgesia and stimulating the innate endocannabinoid system in the body. CBD can promote a feeling of general wellness or happiness, yet it does not give you a ‘high’. On the other hand, marijuana contains both CBD and delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), along with a host of other plant compounds that can be used for medicinal purposes. 


  • Cannabis is a plant with several subspecies
  • Marijuana has both CBD and THC + psychoactive
  • Hemp has CBD and very minimal THC + not psychoactive
  • Hemp seeds have trace amounts of CBD and promote feelings of health and wellbeing

Hemp vs Marijuana

Image credit: https://lindseyelmore.com/exposing-4-myths-about-cbd-oil/hemp-vs-marijuana-horizontal-infographic-healthcare-and-medical-illustration-about-cannabis/

Hemp Seed Nutrients

Hemp seeds are almost the perfect plant-based food. Hemp seeds have adequate healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and protein. Let’s take a closer look at their impressive nutrient profile. 

Hemp Seed Nutrient Snapshot

  • Vitamin E
  • B vitamins
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Chlorophyll
  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Calcium

Boards with hemp seeds scattered

Essential Fatty Acids

Hemp seeds contain a combination of linoleic, oleic, alpha-linolenic and gamma linolenic acids. It’s rare to find a plant-source of quality essential fats, such as this. What’s more, hemp seeds contain a balanced ratio of omega 6: omega 3 which is considered optimal for our health.

Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) supports cells, nervous tissue and organ function. GLA produces prostaglandin E1, which helps balance the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is considered to be a part of the physical and emotional symptoms associated with PMS. This means hemp seeds could be used to help manage irritability and depressive symptoms related to women’s menstrual cycles.

Complete & Gentle Proteins

If you’re following a plant-based diet, hemp seeds should be your go-to source of protein. Hemp Seeds have a diverse range of easily digestible proteins, including 20 amino acids, and 9 of the essential amino acids. It’s important to get enough quality protein, and covering all the bases with each essential amino acid ensures we can meet our growth, development, hormone and immune system needs. 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds gets you 10 grams of protein. Very decent.

Hemp seeds also have very high arginine levels. Arginine is a precursor amino acid that makes nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax blood vessels, enhances blood flow and promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.

Dietary Fibre

Whole hemp seeds contain soluble and insoluble fibre, which help to sweep the intestines and also slow down digestion. Feeling satiated is important with weight management and a healthy bowel means your detoxification and elimination pathways are in check.Hemp seeds in a glass jar being poured into a hand

Are Hemp Seeds Safe For Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?

Hemp seeds are a complete protein, full of healthy fats and fibre and do not contain any THC. They have other essential minerals like iron and zinc, which your body and baby will need during this time. This means hemp seeds are a safe and healthy option when it comes to boosting your nutrient intake during your pregnancy and while breastfeeding. 

The Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Neuroprotective
  • Cardioprotective
  • Digestive support & prebiotic
  • Anti-cancer
  • Supports skin health

Skin health

Hemp Seed oil has long been used in many cultures to improve the texture and health of the skin. One study with a group of participants conducted over 20 weeks, confirmed that hemp seed oil affects the skin plasma fatty acid profile and improved clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis. This is largely due to the balance of omega 3 and 6 fats, improving skin barrier function. 

Prebiotic Support

Drinks made from hemp seed (hemp milk) demonstrated active prebiotic activity, with the ability to support beneficial bacterial growth, according to a study published by Nissen et al. (2020). The authors noted high levels of prebiotic compounds, including acetate, propionate and butyrate that were produced in the presence of hemp seed compounds in vitro. 

Immune Enhancement

The various bioactive polyphenols in hemp seed products have benefits on human health. The activity of N-trans-caffeoyltyramine, a specific flavonoid found in hemp seeds, was examined on human monocytes (large white blood cells). The authors reported an increased ‘inflammatory competence’ of these monocytes under microscope in the presence of hemp seed antioxidants. This means hemp seeds could be a beneficial therapeutic anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing food.

Bowl of hemp seeds and jar of hemp seed oil

Neuroprotection and Brain Health

Hemp seed products have free radical scavenging properties, which protect brain cells from oxidative damage and stress. In various lab studies, Inflammatory factors (interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha) were mitigated due to the bioactive compounds found in hemp products. 

Myelin Repair for Multiple Sclerosis

Published in the Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences journal in 2019, another study examined the regulatory effect of hemp seed oil and evening primrose oil on the inflammatory pathways involved in multiple sclerosis in mice. The results showed that interleukin-10 gene expression, which is one physiological event involved in slowing down M.S. progression was significantly increased in the presence of hemp seed and evening primrose oil. This means that remyelination (nerve cell repair) occurs with products like hemp seeds, making them a viable option in the treatment and management of M.S.


In another mouse model, hemp seed extracts showed strong antiaging effects as well as improved cognition and memory. Two compounds within hemp seed extract, known as liganamides, were examined in vitro and possess antioxidant and acetylcholinesterase inhibiting properties. Antioxidants reduce the aging and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are a class of compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine (ACh). Acetylcholine is an incredibly important neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. This finding, where two compounds exist in hemp seeds that directly target two treatment endpoints related to Alzheimer’s prevention, is remarkable and encouraging. Another tick for hemp seeds as a neuroprotective functional food. 

Wooden spoon with hemp seeds spilling over

How To Enjoy Hemp Seeds

Giving a subtle nutty flavour and a slightly chewy texture, hemp seeds pair well with both savoury and sweet foods. 

Add them to:

  • Yoghurt, porridge or cereal
  • Herbed avocado and tomato on toast
  • Peanut butter and banana smoothies
  • Rice dishes, quinoa or couscous
  • Nut butters 


Hemp Granola

Crunchy, full of protein and healthy fats, paleo and gluten free. Honestly good for just about everyone! 


¾ cup almonds

½ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

½ cup pecans

1 cup walnuts

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 cup hemp seeds

2 tablespoons chia seeds

⅓ cup melted coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup maple syrup

pinch of sea salt

½ cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates


Preheat the oven to 120°C. Place almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans and walnuts into a food processor and pulse a few times to chop the nuts and seeds into smaller pieces.

Transfer the nut mixture into a large bowl, add all remaining ingredients except the dates and stir well.

Spread an even layer of the mixture onto a large baking sheet lined with baking paper, bake for 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven, add dates and give the mix a good stir. Bake for another 25-30 minutes or until granola is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool completely and enjoy.

Store in a glass jar or container.

Article References

Callaway, J.C. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica 140, 65–72 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6

Callaway, J., Schwab, U., Harvima, I., Halonen, P., Mykkänen, O., Hyvönen, P., & Järvinen, T. (2005). Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis. The Journal of dermatological treatment, 16(2), 87–94. https://doi.org/10.1080/09546630510035832

Chafkin, S. (2016), FX Medicine, The Nutritional Benefits of Hemp, https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/nutritional-benefits-hemp, viewed 23 September 2021

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Publications, Hemp Seeds, 

https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/proposals/Documents/P1042%20Low%20THC%20hemp%20as%20a%20food%20AppR.pdf, date viewed 21 September 2021

Frassinetti, S., Moccia, E., Caltavuturo, L., Gabriele, M., Longo, V., Bellani, L., Giorgi, G., & Giorgetti, L. (2018). Nutraceutical potential of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seeds and sprouts. Food chemistry, 262, 56–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.04.078

GreenMedInfo, The Science of Natural Healing, Research Articles, Hemp Seeds, https://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/hemp-seed, viewed 21 September 2021.

House, J. D., Neufeld, J., & Leson, G. (2010). Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) products through the use of the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score method. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 58(22), 11801–11807. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf102636b

Moccia, S., Siano, F., Russo, G. L., Volpe, M. G., La Cara, F., Pacifico, S., Piccolella, S., & Picariello, G. (2020). Antiproliferative and antioxidant effect of polar hemp extracts (Cannabis sativa L., Fedora cv.) in human colorectal cell lines. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 71(4), 410–423. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2019.1666804

Nissen, L., di Carlo, E., & Gianotti, A. (2020). Prebiotic potential of hemp blended drinks fermented by probiotics. Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.), 131, 109029. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109029

Opyd, P. M., Jurgoński, A., Fotschki, B., & Juśkiewicz, J. (2020). Dietary Hemp Seeds More Effectively Attenuate Disorders in Genetically Obese Rats than Their Lipid Fraction. The Journal of nutrition, 150(6), 1425–1433. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa081

Rea Martinez, J., , Montserrat-de la Paz, S., , De la Puerta, R., , García-Giménez, M. D., , & Fernández-Arche, M. Á., (2020). Characterization of bioactive compounds in defatted hempseed (Cannabis sativa L.) by UHPLC-HRMS/MS and anti-inflammatory activity in primary human monocytes. Food & function, 11(5), 4057–4066. https://doi.org/10.1039/d0fo00066c

Rezapour-Firouzi, S., Kheradmand, F., Shahabi, S., Tehrani, A. A., Mazloomi, E., & Mohammadzadeh, A. (2019). Regulatory effects of hemp seed/evening primrose oil supplement in comparison with rapamycin on the expression of the mammalian target of rapamycin-complex 2 and interleukin-10 genes in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Research in pharmaceutical sciences, 14(1), 36–45. https://doi.org/10.4103/1735-5362.251851

Rodriguez-Martin, N. M., Montserrat-de la Paz, S., Toscano, R., Grao-Cruces, E., Villanueva, A., Pedroche, J., Millan, F., & Millan-Linares, M. C. (2020). Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Protein Hydrolysates Promote Anti-Inflammatory Response in Primary Human Monocytes. Biomolecules, 10(5), 803. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom10050803

Rodriguez-Martin, N. M., , Toscano, R., , Villanueva, A., , Pedroche, J., , Millan, F., , Montserrat-de la Paz, S., , & Millan-Linares, M. C., (2019). Neuroprotective protein hydrolysates from hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seeds. Food & function, 10(10), 6732–6739. https://doi.org/10.1039/c9fo01904a

Rupasinghe, H., Davis, A., Kumar, S. K., Murray, B., & Zheljazkov, V. D. (2020). Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa) as an Emerging Source for Value-Added Functional Food Ingredients and Nutraceuticals. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(18), 4078. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25184078

Samsamikor, M., Mackay, D., Mollard, R. C., & Aluko, R. E. (2020). A double-blind, randomized, crossover trial protocol of whole hemp seed protein and hemp seed protein hydrolysate consumption for hypertension. Trials, 21(1), 354. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-020-4164-z

Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years, 

https://druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/history/first12000/1.htm, viewed 21 September 2021

Shaladi, A. M., Crestani, F., Tartari, S., & Piva, B. (2008). I cannabinoidi nella terapia del dolore [Cannabinoids in the control of pain]. Recenti progressi in medicina, 99(12), 616–624.

Weiblen, G. D., Wenger, J. P., Craft, K. J., ElSohly, M. A., Mehmedic, Z., Treiber, E. L., & Marks, M. D. (2015). Gene duplication and divergence affecting drug content in Cannabis sativa. The New phytologist, 208(4), 1241–1250. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.13562

Wikipedia Contributors. (2021, September 21). Hemp Seeds. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp, viewed 21 September 2021

Yan, X., Tang, J., dos Santos Passos, C., Nurisso, A., Simões-Pires, C. A., Ji, M., Lou, H., & Fan, P. (2015). Characterization of Lignanamides from Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Seed and Their Antioxidant and Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitory Activities. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 63(49), 10611–10619. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05282