Hemp is an ancient crop. For millennia hemp's stalk was grown as a source of both paper and cloth. Thomas Jefferson drafted the American Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. The original Levi's were made from hemp. In our time it's another story. At best, it's associated with hippies selling homemade hemp bracelets. At worst, it's guilty by association with its distant cousin, marijuana. Let's clear the air.

Hemp and pot are not one and the same. Both are part of the cannabis sativa plant, but hemp is only grown for fibre and seeds while marijuana is cultivated for its flowers and leaves which are high in THC (the ingredient that makes the tobacky wacky.)

Growing hemp in the US is illegal, although it can be imported in all its forms - which makes Manitoba happy. Hemp has been a legal crop in Canada since 1998 and Manitoba, which grows and distributes a large percent of Canada's hemp, is at the forefront of the hemp industry.

And since the likes of Oprah, Dr. Oz and Martha Stewart have caught on to hemp's reputation as a nutritional triple header, it's been spotted in the pantries of gourmets and health nuts. It's also at the top of beauty and health care lists.

"The products that are grown and produced in Manitoba are really travelling around the world," says Anndrea Hermann of Manitoba's Hemp Oil Canada Inc, which exports Manitoba hemp oil to more than 28 countries.

Here's a look at some Manitoba businesses celebrating the goody-goody cousin of a bad seed.

Hemp Health
Hemp seeds are a super food due to their many health promoting benefits. Hemp is touted as one of the best seed foods in terms of insoluble fibre protein and essential omega 3 fatty acids, not to mention as a highly sustainable agricultural product, according to Mike Fata who started the companyManitoba Harvest in 1998. "The plant protein has all 10 essential amino acids and is very easily digested," he says, adding it's beneficial to cardiovascular health and supports healthy skin, hair and nails as well as helping balance hormones. Studies indicate hemp seeds can lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as reduce arthritic swelling.

Manitoba Harvest sells five hemp-derived food products. Hemp hearts, the inner kernel, have a flavour similar to pine nuts. They make a great topping for salads, cereal, and yogurt, as well as adding to homemade pesto. Cold-pressed hemp seed oil is ideal as part of a vinaigrette. Hemp butter, an even healthier alternative to peanut butter (don't mind the green colour, though). Hemp protein powder, which is finding its way into the ubiquitous smoothie. And Hemp Bliss, a certified organic non-dairy milk. Fata says they've even got some NHL teams eating hemp as part of their workout programme.

A Menu Must-Have
Manitoba chefs see hemp's gourmet appeal and are using it in innovative ways. At the Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli, Manitoba local pickerel fish cheeks are coated in hemp seed. At the Whytewold Emporium in nearby Whytewold, wood-fired pizzas are sprinkled with hemp seeds. At this year'sGreat Manitoba Food Fight culinary competition, the winner was Natalie Dueck from New Bothwell (aka the Bread Lady at the St. Norbert Farmers' market) with a Chocolate Hemp Snackers cookie. There's a gluten-free hemp bread at Hsquared bakery in Hazelridge.

You'll find hemp on the menu at some of Winnipeg's finest restaurants. Blaze Bistro at the Delta Winnipeg makes a goat cheese, grilled mango, white balsamic and hemp seed appetizer. There are hemp seeds in an organic salad at The Current Inn at the Forks. At Fude, foodies will find hemp-crusted fish dishes.

But it's not just humans in on the hemp action. Cool Manitoba pet food company Smack Pet Food is making dog treats and dog food using hemp.

Hitting the Beauty Mark
Scientific reports say hemp oil is a cure for eczema. Many women swear that hemp oil cures stretch marks: it provides the perfect balance for cell development and is a highly absorbent vitamin E carrier. Canadians suffer a lot from scalp conditions and dry winter itch. Think hemp oil. The hemp cosmetic industry is smaller than its food and fabric sectors but it's definitely catching on.

Manitoba companies like McCuaig Solutions and Zona Verde Cosmetics are making face lotions, body butters and hair care products from hemp while international brands like Lush and Dr. Bronners use Manitoba hemp in their products. DIY-ers are making products such as scrubs with hemp oil, sea salt and lavender or adding a drop of hydrating hemp oil to their own shampoo or conditioner. Of course, there are those whose hemp beauty routines are internal rather than topical and like what feeding their bodies with those essentially fatty acids does to their skin.

It's strong enough for a sailor and comfortable enough for a yogi. Hemp as a textile is another huge part of the hemp story. Ask Michael Krahn what kind of hemp items he sells in his store, Fishlips Hemp Company, in Gimli, and then settle in while he starts listing. "Hemp running shoes, hemp hoodies, hemp rope, hemp socks, wallets. Hemp paper. Hemp twine." Not done yet! "Tilley hats made from hemp. Hemp t-shirts," he adds. Much of his stock is supplied through Prairie Emerald in St. Agathe, Manitoba.

Mike Carriere opened Hempyrean in The Forks Market in Winnipeg in 2002. "Hemp clothing is a more durable and organically friendly alternative to cotton," he says. Hempyrean carries hemp shirts, shorts, necklaces, yoga clothes, and pants "in every colour you could think. Hemp fabric takes the dyes beautifully." Asked if he gets a lot of people who still think hemp has to do with drugs, Carriere responds, "I still get some people who think if I'm selling hemp it's a head shop. A major part of hemp promotion, and everyone in the industry will agree, is the education factor."