Speciality Crops

Speciality Crops & Essential Oils


Historical Importance

According to Hemp Frontiers, from the beginning of human existence until the 1930s, hemp was the most important crop grown, providing food, fuel, clothing and shelter, and capable of being cultivated anywhere that people could live.

In the 16th century, King Henry VIII ordered everyone to grow hemp as he needed more rope to build his navy and defeat the French!

Hemp was grown widely in Scotland from 1000 AD. Old books mention hemp being grown as far as the Isle of Islay (1814) and even on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (1771).

Up until the 1800s, 80% of all textiles, 75% of paper, and 90% of all sails and ropes were made of hemp.  One acre of hemp produces as much cellulose fibre pulp as four acres of trees.  

The automobile maker, Henry Ford, made a car out of hemp and other farm-grown cellulose fibres. The car had 10 times the impact strength of steel and two-thirds the weight, giving it better fuel economy.  The only thing that stopped Mr Ford from powering his car by plants was the prohibition.

TIME Magazine, Jan. 14, 1935 | Cover Credit: JEFFREY WHITE STUDIOS, INC.

“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” — Henry Ford


Hemp has a wide range of uses across multiple industries.  As a fabric, it is stronger, more absorbent and more durable than cotton, using a lot less water and none of the chemicals.

Hemp fibres make great construction materials. Entire houses – and even bridges – have been built using hemp. Hemp mortar sets as hard as stone and hemp boards are three times stronger than wood. Indinature, in the Scottish Borders, manufactures industrial insulation materials using hemp fibres.

As the name suggests, Hemp Eyewear Edinburgh is an innovative company who have put their passion for design, sustainability and industrial hemp into the manufacture of eyewear.

Hailed as the most complete food source on earth, hemp contains all 20 amino acids and has almost as much protein (36%) as soybeans. It is the only food source to hold the 8 essential amino acids in perfect balance with all 4 essential fatty acids for human consumption. Hemp also has a good micronutrient mineral profile containing magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, and zinc. The seeds can be used to make burgers, milk, cheese, ice cream, protein bars, yoghurt, and more!

Sustainable growing

Hemp is extremely hardy, growing at a variety of altitudes and latitudes, so it doesn’t compete for the best farmland. It helps to detoxify and regenerate the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, so it is a good rotational crop. Hemp requires no pesticides or herbicides and therefore promotes biodiversity whilst cutting costs.

Hemp is a climate change champion – sequestering four times as much carbon dioxide as trees in its 12-14 week growing cycle. According to Dr Wendy Russell of the Rowett Institute, hemp is the only, truly carbon-neutral plant.

Expanding Markets

Good Hemp, famous for their hemp seed milk, began growing hemp in the 90s for BMW dashboards!  Twenty plus years on, they are producing hemp milk, hemp oil for culinary use, CBD oil, and protein powders.  Currently importing their hemp from France, Good Hemp would ideally like a UK supply.

Global hemp milk sales alone are predicted to reach $454 million by 2024.

With the recent economic boom in the sale of CBD oil and other natural products, hemp offers an opportunity for economic growth which we are currently missing by importing 99% of our hemp.

  • The British Hemp Alliance formed in 2018 to lobby the Government to remove the obstacles to a thriving hemp industry in the UK.  See their website for details and to join the alliance. 

Become a grower

Since 2012, the Rowett Institute in Aberdeenshire, funded by the Scottish Government, have been researching hemp’s potential in both diet biodiversification and in mitigating climate change.  Five Scottish farmers are currently growing hemp as part of this initiative. A Scottish Hemp Group has been formed to connect various stakeholders with an interest in hemp’s revival. 

Meanwhile, ongoing discussion is being had with a large company who are interested in opening a hemp processing facility in the Northeast of Scotland.  Exciting stuff!   Please contact us if you are interested in growing hemp and/or wish to become involved with the Scottish Hemp Group.

“When the UK and US politicians regain some sanity, the queen of crops will return from exile.”     — (Hemp Frontiers)



Three hundred years on from the collapse of the island kelp industry, marine scientist, Dr Kyla Orr, and her two colleagues, Alex Glasgow and Martin Welch, are bringing KelpCrofting back to the west coast with a proposal for a 11.5 hectare kelp farm in the waters south of Pabay, Isle of Skye.

Read more in our KelpCrofting case example.

Sugar kelp drying

Photo courtesy KelpCrofting


Buckwheat is experiencing a revival in Scotland as part of a research project by the Rowett Institute into high protein plants. Buckwheat’s name is misleading as it is not a cereal rather it is an Asian plant belonging to the dock family related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb!  “Soba noodles”, made from buckwheat, are a very popular, everyday dish in Japan known for their health-promoting properties.  Buckwheat is a gluten-free food containing 22.5g of protein per cup. It is packed full of nutrients, including B vitamins, and has been found to help manage diabetes by reducing blood sugar. 

Creative Commons (c) Ervins Strauhmanis

Oilseed Rape

Grown widely in Scotland, but mostly for livestock feed, oilseed rape has many human applications. Cold pressing maintains the natural vitamins in the oil (E and K); a good source of omega-3, -6, and -9; and the lowest levels of saturated fatty acids of all commonly used oils. See Mackintosh of Glendaveny for a good example of what you can do.  Rape is a brassica!  The leaves can be eaten like cabbage leaves (especially before flowering), and the flowers can be eaten too!


High Erucic Acid Rapeseed (HEAR)

High erucic acid rapeseed pays a higher premium than conventional rape.  Industrial, cosmetic, and food uses.


Flaxseed is the champ of plant-based omega-3! (see Premium Crops for Linseed and HEAR seed and contract buying). Flax Farm in Sussex has a wealth of information and is looking to partner with UK organic growers.


Successfully grown in trials in Scotland, this oil is used in beauty products including the treatment of eczema, sunburn, and wrinkles (see Nature’s Crops International for seed and contract buying).

Essential Oils


Scottish Lavender Oils at Tarhill Farm, Kinross, is Scotland’s largest lavender grower – harvesting by hand and working in harmony with nature. 


Peppermint, a hybrid of spearmint and water mint, has a strong scent and several medicinal uses as a herbal tea and an essential oil . Totally Herby of Scotland, based in Largs, grow peppermint and rosemary along with a great many other herbs, to be used in essential oils and herbal midge repellents.


Following a period of flowering, roses begin to bear egg-shaped hips. Essential oils can be extracted from both the petals and the rose hips. Interestingly, the hips of the wild, dog rose variety (Rosa canina) contain exceptionally high levels of vitamin C, so much so that they were systematically collected during WWII to replace the citrus fruits that had become unavailable (A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests). Fàileag Scottish RoseHip Oil use Scottish grown roses to make face oils.


Bees are fond of this shrubby, evergreen plant and the common and ‘Mrs Jessop’s Upright’ varieties can grow well in Scotland. The plant’s blue flowers and fragrant leaves can be dried and made into an essential oil (Cox & Beaton, Fruits and Vegetables for Scotland).

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