A history on hemp. As one of the earliest domesticated crops, hemp has been used throughout the ages as a source of food, textiles, and herbal medicine. While ancient Chinese Emperor Shen Nung is credited for teaching his people to cultivate hemp for cloth in the 28th century BC, archaeologists found remnants of hemp cloth in Mesopotamia (now Iran and Iraq) that dated back to 8,000 BC. It is commonly believed that hemp arrived in Europe in 1,200 BC, and quickly spread throughout the ancient civilizations. Ancient ancestors found multiple uses for every part of the plant, from the seeds to the roots. Just a few of the many significant ways hemp was used throughout ancient history included:
A food source – highly nutritious hemp seeds were eaten cooked, raw, ground into flour, and were pressed for oil
Weaving fabric – created from the strong fibers of the plant, hemp-derived cloth is credited for ending the need to wear animal skins as clothing
Creating Paper – crushed hemp fibers were first used for paper by the ancient Chinese as a cost-effective alternative to writing on silk
Twisting or braiding for rope – hemp rope and twine are resistant to mold and the potentially damaging effects of seawater
As herbal medicine – ancient China is also credited as the first culture to recognize the potential health benefits of hemp. First used for pain relief in 2737 BC, through the ages, and across multiple cultures, hemp has been used to alleviate numerous health concerns.
The Puritans first brought hemp seeds to colonial America, and during that time hemp was used to create the sails, ropes, and caulk used on British sailing vessels. Due to the high demand for hemp, British Colonies were required to grow hemp crops to create products intended for British consumption. Hemp cultivation prospered until the mid-1930s, when some historians believed competing industries that considered hemp a threat to their livelihood, began a campaign to directly associate industrial hemp with its cannabis cousin, marijuana, which then lead to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.
Taxation and Criminalization of Industrial Hemp
While hemp farming fell out of favor during the 1930s due to increased taxation, hemp and marijuana were still recognized as individual plants with significantly different properties. That changed when the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 was passed; which specified all forms of cannabis, rather than just marijuana, as a schedule one drug. With the reclassification, hemp could no longer be grown in the US without a permit from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency).
Not only is hemp a versatile commodity, but hemp crops are also an ecologically-friendly, renewable resource. This hearty plant can grow up to 16 feet in height within just a few months in a variety of different climates. A single hemp crop can yield up to 8 tons of dry stalks per acre, and these fast-growing plants can also be used to clean contaminated soil. Lets take a look a few of the other beneficial products that are currently created with industrial hemp:
Hemp Paper – While today hemp is used primarily for specialty paper, a single acre of industrial hemp produces as much paper as up to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year span. While it can take 20-80 years to grow a tree, hemp plants mature within four short months. Hemp paper is more durable than paper made with wood pulp and does not turn yellow or crack with age. Using domestic hemp for paper production could significantly reduce deforestation.
Hemp Seeds – Hemp seeds are a significant source of protein, vitamin E, minerals, and essential fatty acids. A single serving of hemp seeds (three Tbs) contains 11 grams of proteins and will add a significant amount of soluble and insoluble fiber to your diet. Hemp seeds can also be used to create hemp flour and hemp milk. Hemp seed oil can be used for cooking and as an ingredient in natural skin care products.
Hypoallergenic Hemp Fabrics – While many people are familiar with the use of strong, durable hemp fibers for the creation of rope, twine, and burlap, fewer realize that hemp fibers can be used to create soft, durable, comfortable fashions that are more absorbent than cotton. While cotton crops typically require the use of a significant amount of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, hemp crops do not. Fabrics made from hemp are breathable, non-irritating, hypoallergenic, and have the look of classic linen that softens with wear.
Biodegradable Hemp Plastics – Unlike petroleum-based plastics, hemp plastics are biodegradable. While it can take 1,000 years for common plastic to decompose in landfills, hemp bioplastics can decompose within five years. Nearly anything that can be made with petroleum-based plastic can also be made from hemp. Hemp bioplastic is shown to be 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene plastic. Hemp can also be used in the production of biofuels and ethanol.
Industrial Hemp Cultivation on American Soil
While hemp has been grown in a significant number of states for research and pilot programs since the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, it was the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized the cultivation of hemp crops in all 50 states. As the production of domestic hemp increases, product manufacturers will no longer have to rely on imported crops, potentially providing substantial economic benefit for our country. While hemp is still used in many industries, today, we better understand what our ancestors discovered long ago. We know why hemp fibers are strong, we recognize the specific nutrients in hemp seeds and have identified the elements that give hemp oil the potential to influence our health.
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