Hemp Milk and the White PlagueTuberculosis (TB) is a persistent disease that has dogged human populations throughout history. It was sometimes referred to as Consumption, because sufferers would “waste away” as they were consumed by the illness. Pulmonary tuberculosis, caused by bacteria infecting the lungs, was the most common form. TB was dreaded as “The White Plague” as it used to be the leading source of death in the USA.
One American folk belief centered in New England in the 18th and 19th century links vampirism with TB.1 The bacterial form of the disease would lead to infection of family members, leading some to think a dead relative had returned from the grave and was feeding off their family!
Advances in treatment, vaccinations and strong public health programs helped to diminish TB’s incidence in the 20th century. It’s not on the public’s radar. However, TB is still very common in the developing world, where most of the planet’s population lives poverty markedly increases the risk factor for the disease. And even at home, some disadvantaged groups remain at risk. For example, in Canada, rates of infection are 10 times higher on Native reserves. People with weakened immune systems — the elderly or AIDS/HIV victims — remain quite vulnerable.
An innovative Czech study from the 1930’s, right before World War Two, used hemp seeds in a nutritional therapeutic trial to treat tuberculosis. At a hospital in Jince (south west of Prague), patients (all poor urban youth suffering from TB and aged 6-20) were given a daily feeding of hemp milk. The formula included a measure of 1¾ – 2¾ ounces (50-80 grams) of ground hemp seed that was mixed with lightly heated milk 140-176° F (60-80° C), stirred, pressed and then strained to remove the seed hull and grit. In this study, oat flakes were also added — to add body and as a source of aleurone, also considered important.
The researchers Drs. Sirek and Kabelik, chose hemp and oats for pragmatic reasons. They were easy to digest and widely available in Bohemia, even in tough times. The hemp milk & oatmeal mix supplemented a diet designed to be easy on the liver. The trial was continued on an ad hoc basis during WWII, when food shortages were even more acute due to the German occupation. Ten more children were treated.
Sirek and Kabelik found their patients were able to arrest their weight loss, recover their appetites, and due to their improved health were able to recover from TB infection. In a paper presented in the 1950’s, the researchers concluded that the “hemp seed edestine … was the only substantive base of the whole treatment.”2
The concept was solid and replicable. Basically, in order to fight TB, foods had to be able to help the body’s organs and tissue rebuild. Hemp seed — a nutritionally significant source of edestin and arginine proteins, and today also known to be a powerful source of Essentially Fatty Acids — proved to be a low cost and very method of helping sick children get better.
A short oral report recounts that a similar therapy was used in a hospital in South America in the 1930’s. According to Garnet Kranz of Killaloe, ON, the seed mix was quite strong, almost vacuum packed, and had to be drank with a straw. Afterwards, the pulp would be eaten in order to fill the stomach.
Today, there’s been certainly many advances in medical science, including chemotherapy, powerful antibiotics and surgery, but complimentary and non-invasive dietary solutions remain pertinent, and not just with TB, but in many conditions.
With dehulled hemp seed available on the market, consumers can easily make their own hemp milk without the grit. Pre-made and mixed hemp milk is also sold by the carton, available in different flavors and formulas.
But heath is not just for sick people. Hemp foods, in all their forms, have a lot to offer.