Phyto = refers to plant (Ancient Greek phyto)
Remediator = refers to restoring balance (Latin remedium)
Phytoremidiation then refers to technologies that use living plants to clean up soil, air, and water contaminated with hazardous contaminants. Phytoremediation is a cost-effective plant-based approach of remediation that takes advantage of the ability of plants to concentrate elements and compounds from the environment and to metabolize various molecules in their tissues. (1)
Not every plant can tolerate being grown with high levels of these pollutants. However, the Cannabis plant is quite resistant to their influence. This feature, together with the fact that it is fast growing, has lead to the study of Cannabis for phytoremediation. Phytoremediation consists in growing plants in polluted soil so that they will absorb the heavy metals and other pollutants, ending up with soil decontamination. The subsequent treatment of these plants allows for the controlled elimination of pollutants.
Cannabis is a very resilient plant, which can grow within a few short months in varying climates and conditions. The best condition for growing cannabis is dry climates where the soil is loose and well-aerated. Second best is sandy soils with proper irrigation and fertilization. The least ideal conditions are poorly drained or wet soils and soil with heavy clay content.
Cannabis must be free of waste products and pollutants which might pose a short or long term health risk. Plants can be exposed to several types of chemical and microbiological pollutants during the whole production process, which last from cultivation till packaging. This needs to be avoided.
Some heavy metals that can be found in vegetables, and particularly in Cannabis, are lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium. These metals accumulate in parts of the body, and are not easily eliminated. When certain levels of these toxins are reached, metabolic imbalances are triggered, leading to poisoning.
Not every plant can tolerate being grown with high levels of these pollutants. However, the Cannabis plant is quite resistant to their influence. This feature, together with the fact that it is fast growing, lead to the study and usage of cannabis for its phytoremediation properties.
For thousands of years, cannabis has been been grown and used for a variety of purposes: medicine, healing, ropes, sails, paper, textiles, food products, protein, etc. One area which is overlooked however is using cannabis to decontaminate the soil prior to planting crops by farmers.
Farmers would plant cannabis in their fields to phto-remediate the soil. The would then harvest that cannabis for solid good purposes instead of for consumption. That cannabis would be used for ropes, sails, paper, textiles, etc. since the farmers knew those crops most likely contained heavy metals and other pollutants. Extracting food or medicinal elements of the plant were not ideal.
Once the soil was cleaned to the farmer's preference, crops such as carrots, corn, squash, etc. were then planted and harvested.
Today, with the boom of cannabis related products, it is very important for brands and consumers to understand that cannabis is a phytoremediator. Brands need to conduct the proper testing prior to selling a product to ensure safety. Consumers need to ensure they know what they are putting into their bodies. Supporting organic farming practices for cannabis is essential and conducting safety testing at different stages along the supply chain is critical.
Your health is important. Be comfortable that what you're putting in your body is safe.
This video regarding the History of Hemp covers a bit about phytoremediation as well.