“Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed, sow it everywhere.”
– George Washington (1794)
Wheat, maize and rice are the royalty of humanity’s history of agriculture and cultivation, but not far below them is Cannabis. The Cannabis Sativa variety known as hemp, to be more precise, is easily a prince or princess (hemp can be both sexes), with evidence indicating that it has been grown for thousands of years.
It is exceptionally versatile in its uses and applications. Millennia ago, hemp was held in such high regard in China that it was deemed one of the ‘5 grains’, essentially granting it sacred status.
Let’s take a look at why hemp is so special, and the reasons behind its relatively recent relegation to the shadows from which it now seems to be emerging to take its place on a throne once again.
What is it Good For?
The fibers in a hemp plant, such as the bast fibers under the outermost layers of the stalk, are used to produce everything from paper and textiles to bioplastics and concrete. The fibers as well as hemp seeds can be used to create foods and oils, the latter having further applications in creams, cooking and more. The seeds are rich in protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, amino acids and minerals.
This is only scratching the surface but we think you get the picture.
Hemp Historical Highlights
How far Back? – While there are indications that hemp was a part of Chinese culture as far back as 10,000 BC, firm evidence of hemp bowstrings and other uses date to around 2,700 BC. Texts show that by the period of 220 BC to 24 AD in China, hemp fiber was being used for paper and clothes, and its seeds for medicinal purposes.
Hemp was later introduced to Europe some time between 500 and 1000 AD.
Hemp is a MUST – King Henry VII of England decreed in 1533 that farmers who did not grow hemp would be fined. Similarly, during the 1700s in America, seeing hemp’s benefits, laws were put in place requiring farmers to grow hemp as a staple crop.
Hemp Paper is Superior – In 1916 the United States Drug Association completes a study that shows, when measured by land area of crop, hemp produces 4 times as much paper as trees.
Hemp labeled and demonized – from approximately 1900 to 1970, in a battle against illegal immigration and drugs, hemp is not distinguished from other forms of cannabis. The term “marijuana” comes into wide use, the Marijuana Tax Act is introduced in 1937 and cannabis (including hemp extracts) is classed as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970, putting it alongside heroin and LSD.
The Future of Hemp
The reemergence of hemp across the globe is coinciding with the ongoing relaxation of cannabis drug legalization and decriminalization of the plant. This bodes well for hemp reestablishing its place as one of the most versatile crops available to humans. Its many applications are bolstered by its exceptional sustainability and environmental friendliness.
Simply growing hemp has the following effects on the soil it inhabits:
- Suppression of weed growth
- Soil support decreasing erosion
- Acting as a filter that drains soil of poisonous substances and metals
- Its robustness means it consumes minimal water and requires low amounts of pesticides
Hemp absorbs high amounts of CO2 and once harvested, processing is mechanical and does relatively little harm to the environment. Done properly, items and products made from hemp are exceptionally green, being reusable and biodegradable.
While not yet apparent, hemp is making a comeback, with ever more farmers growing the crop as new and existing businesses alike aim to harness the power of this plant that keeps on giving.