On a recent trip to my local market, picking through early spring produce and studiously avoiding my most overworked winter staples, I came across a new contender for my next vegetable serving– baby hemp leaves. Layered in a clear plastic clamshell, the distinctive emerald leaves were curated by a lengthy, laminated discourse affixed to the produce cooler on the culinary benefits of the hemp plant.
The baby hemp leaves, which came from South Mountain MicroFARM in Boonsboro, MD (and which I purchased for $6, took home, steamed, and served with a dash of apple cider vinegar and spoonful of kimchi), were advertised as having zero THC content and below 1% CBD. What the leaves did contain, according to the write-up, was a veritable smorgasbord of nutrients including folate, iron, calcium, and Vitamin C. This was preceded by language regarding the benefits of consuming greens in general for digestion, immunity, and alleviating arthritic conditions.
I contacted South Mountain MicroFARM for comment on their baby hemp enterprise but did not receive a response. This is likely due to the spring farmer’s scramble rather than any desire to avoid scrutiny. Hemp containing no THC and less than 1% CBD lands well within Maryland State guidelines approving the sale and transport of industrial hemp not exceeding .3% THC, a law that has recently been modified to stipulate that plants be tested no more than 15 days after harvest.
Though the advent of baby hemp to the market in my home state of West Virginia was news to me, the first farmer to take hemp to the grocery aisle did so in New York state back in 2017. An article for Bloomberg News by Kate Krader profiled J.D. Farms in Eaton, NY, which specializes in organic food products and was the first agricultural operation to sell fresh hemp for culinary use.
Though co-founders Mark Justh and Dan Dolgin originally planted hemp as a cover crop, they soon found that the untapped market for culinary hemp held great potential. They marketed their hemp greens as the “new kale”, along with more tried and true hemp seed oil and hemp seeds, whose attributes have long been extolled by nutritionists and Whole Foodists alike.
Appealing adjectives like “lemony”, “minty”, and “sweet” have been used to describe the taste of hemp leaves, so I had high hopes for my culinary adventure. After receiving a recommendation from the clerk at the market (she prefers them sautéed in eggs with feta), I elected to steam the hemp in order to experience it in a relatively unadulterated form.
What resulted was something similar in texture to steamed nettles (which can be a little gritty and fuzzy-textured) and tasting, to me, like the hoppiest IPA imaginable. I could not detect anything “sweet” or “lemony” in the greens, and wished (after my addition of apple cider vinegar and kimchi failed to mask the taste) that I had taken the store clerk’s advice. Even if “baby hemp” is the new kale, I’m sticking with kale.