Plant more hemp
Occasionally, I read something which really excites. My first reaction on discovering the history and super-plant properties of hemp (sometimes called industrial hemp) was to wonder why we’re not growing it everywhere?
Hemp and cannabis plants are the same species, but legally hemp only contains 0.3% or less Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis. That particular feature is the least interesting part of this story.
Hemp is the only plant that can feed us, clothe us, house us and protect the environment. With a myriad of uses, this wonder plant can support the world on almost every level. The psychoactive element has historically made it much maligned. Does the future look any better?
The potted history of hemp
The cultivation of hemp dates back to 8,000 BC in Asia. Chinese legend refers to a mythical Emperor Shen Nung in 2800 BC, teaching his people to weave hemp into clothing because of its strength and abundance.
Once the Chinese had mastered the use of hemp in clothing, rope and medicine, it spread quickly west along existing trade routes, where the seeds and oil were used for medicine and food, other parts of the plant for sail canvas, rope, clothing, and as a building material.
In ancient Hindu religious documents, it is referred to as sacred grass, one of the five sacred plants of India.
Commercial production in Europe of rope and oakum (hemp fibre mixed with tar) became vital to support colonial and naval expansion. Whole fleets were rigged with hemp sails and ropes, which were particularly strong and salt resistant. Every ship was also smart enough to carry hemp seeds, in case they landed somewhere unknown.
It became so important that King Henry VII in 1533, decided to start fining farmers that refused to grow it. Its importance is reflected in English names which referenced hemp all over the country, including the county of Hempshire, now called Hampshire.
The founding fathers in America were also quick to use it for clothes, shoes, rope, paper and food and by 1700, US farmers were required…