Hemp: A history of cultivation

12th, Feb 2017

Hemp was considered to be one of the most important crops for mankind up until the last century and so it’s really surprising how widespread usage of this industrial plant has deteriorated, to the extent where people only recognise it as something that gets people ‘high’.

As Hemp grows naturally in most parts of the world, it was being used  long before the first recordings of it were made and  due to this historians were unaware, until quite recently,  about its use over the centuries by many if not all civilizations.

Hemp was one of the earliest plants ever grown to produce textile fibre. In 8000 BC. a remnant of hemp cloth was found by archaeologists in ancient Mesopotamia.  Hemp is also considered to be the oldest example of human industry as it was found on the European continent around 1200 BC before spreading to the rest of the globe.

China has the longest recorded history of hemp cultivation clocking up more than 6000 years. France has grown hemp for around 700 years to the present and Chile and Spain are similar. Russia has been a major supplier and grower of hemp for hundreds of years.

The Chinese were the first nation to recognise the use of hemp in papermaking with the first paper being produced from hemp around 150 BC. Buddhist texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the oldest documents noted on paper, were made of old rags and bark but mainly hemp. Hemp has also been used as a medicine all over the world for several centuries with ancient medicines and folk remedies referring to the curative values of the seeds, roots, and leaves which were used to treat convulsions, difficult childbirth, dysentery, arthritic joints, insomnia, and rheumatism.

In the middle ages, hemp plants became a crop of great social and economic value, supplying most of the world’s requirement for fibre and food. In 1535 in the UK, Henry VIII passed one compelling act that every landowner should sow Hemp on 1/4 of an acre or he will be fined.

Long before Europe, hemp was present in North America and was cultivated in almost every US state at some point including Kentucky New York, California, Utah, Oregon, New England, Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri and Louisiana. Hemp was also grown throughout the central and western provinces of Canada before confederation it was also cultivated under the French regime and was the first crop to be subsidised by the government.

Although hemp played a major role in the early development of North America it was overshadowed by the harvesting of cotton. The main reason behind this was that hemp cultivation was highly labour intensive and costly but by the 1930s, new machinery was available, which separated the hemp plant fibre from other parts of the plant making it an affordable process. At that time, manufacturers were also interested in by-products of the plant such as hurds for paper and CBD Ultra style oils and food supplements in addition to products derived from the seeds for paint.

But in September 1937, the US government proposed new tax laws after lobbying from synthetic textile companies and other strong groups, who considered hemp as a big threat to their businesses.
An occupational excise tax was levied upon hemp dealers and therefore the production of the hemp plant was completely banned. The Canadian government followed in the footsteps of America and prevented the production of the hemp plant on August  1938, under the Opium and Narcotics Act.

Even though it was banned, World War II offered a new chance for the cultivation of hemp as at that time the Philippines had cut off the U.S. from their major hemp source and so to meet with demand for the war both the U.S. and Canadian government lifted the restrictions. Until the end of the war, farmers had a special permit to grow hemp for supplying the war efforts and a movie named “Hemp for Victory” was released in this period by the United States Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to again grow hemp.

Even though hemp was instrumental in the war effort, the ban on cultivating hemp in the US continued after the Second World War.  Even though Hemp had more than 25,000 different uses historically ranging from the CBD Ultra style extracts, printing inks, paints, paper, varnishes, bank notes, Government documents, textiles, food, building materials and canvas, it was banned in a country whose Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.

As the ban has now been lifted and hemp is again legal to grow and cultivate, modern day uses of the hemp plant include the fabrication of motor vehicle clutch and brake pads, composite boards, fuels, plastics, eco-solid fuel, and biodiesel.

Nowadays, in addition to its uses for industrial purposes, there is also huge interest in the plant for general health and wellbeing, with many people taking daily CBD doses of CBD as a food supplement to promote personal wellness.

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