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HISTORY OF HEMP


Hemp, or industrial hemp, typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber. Man has known about the benefits of hemp for 10,000 years at least.


After discovering the plant, our ancestors began incorporating hemp into their daily lives in many different forms. China appears to have the longest continuous history of Hemp cultivation (over 6000 years). The Chinese were the first to recognize the usefulness of hemp in paper making. In approximately 150 BC, they produced the world’s first paper, completely from hemp. The oldest documents written on paper are Buddhist texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, composed of a mixture of bark and old rags, principally hemp. The seed and flowers were recommended for difficult childbirth, convulsions, arthritic joints, rheumatism, dysentery and insomnia.

During the middle ages, along with nettle, hemp became an important crop of enormous economic and social value supplying much of the world’s need for food and fiber. Sailing ships became dependent on Canvas (from the word cannabis), hemp rope and oakum due to it being 3 times stronger than Cotton and resistant to salt water. In the UK, in 1535 Henry VIII passed an act compelling all landowners to sow 1/4 of an acre or be fined. During this period hemp was a major crop and up to the 1920’s 80% of clothing was made from Hemp textiles.


Hemp existed in North America long before the Europeans arrived. Jacques Cartier wrote in the 16th century that the land was “frill of hempe which groweth of itself, which is as good as possibly may be scene, and as strong.” It is known is that by the time the Puritans landed on Plymouth rock, hemp had reached the continent. It was grown in nearly every state at one time or another, including California, Kentucky New York, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New England, Virginia, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Missouri.Although hemp played a major role in the early development of North America.


Tt was eventually overshadowed by cotton. Hemp harvesting was extremely labor-intensive. When the invention of the mechanical cotton gin at the end of eighteenth century made it easier to process cotton, hemp could no longer compete.It wasn’t until the 1930’s, when, new machinery, which separated the fiber from the rest of the plant, was available and affordable. According to the February 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics (written early 1937), hemp was then on the verge of becoming “the billion-dollar crop.” However, in September 1937, the United States government, under the influence of the lobbying of synthetic textile companies and several other powerful groups who saw hemp as a big threat to their businesses, proposed prohibitive tax laws, and levied an occupational excise tax upon hemp dealers. Later that year hemp production was banned altogether. The Canadian government, following the American lead, prohibited production under the Opium and Narcotics Act on August 1, 1938.


World War II provided a new chance. To meet demand for war production, the U.S. and Canadian governments lifted restrictions. To encourage farmers to grow hemp during this period, the United States Department of Agriculture released the film “Hemp for Victory”. It stated, “In 1942, patriotic farmers at the government’s request planted 36,000 acres of seed hemp, an increase of several thousand per cent. The goal for 1943 was 50,000 acres of seed hemp.” However, the ban on growing hemp went back into effect after the Second World War. It wasn’t until the Farm bill of 2014 which allowed a few states to cultivate and process hemp. Four years later the Farm bill of 2018 legalized the cultivation, processing, and commerce on a federal level.

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