You might have known the hemp trade suffered persecution throughout the 20th century… but have you heard about hemp’s extensive history? Evidence of hemp has been dated by archaeologists as far back as 10,000 years!
The old world would probably be surprised to hear that hemp only recently gained legalization in America thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. Not only did folks of yesteryear use hemp roots, leaves, and seeds medicinally, but they also utilized the plant’s fibers. Hemp, as it turns out, happens to be incredible durable and hardy, making it one of the world’s strongest natural fibers. Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) stated that hemp “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane”!
In fact, hemp’s versatility is exactly why it became taboo in the 20th century. Businessmen with stakes in other kinds of materials, starting spreading propaganda and misinformation in order to oust the competition. But here’s how hemp thrived before all the Wall Street types came along…
Let’s start our little journey through time in Rome. Renowned pharmacologist and Emperor Nero’s personal physician, Dioscorides, mentioned hemp in his book Materia medica, a meticulously detailed resource discussing over 600 medicinal plants. See for yourself in the English translation of the book.
This famous Roman is also responsible for giving hemp it’s Latin name: Cannabis Sativa. And he isn’t the only famous doctor to do so. Centuries later, Avicenna, who lived in the area we now know as Uzbekistan, identified the plant in Canon of Medicine. For years, the book became one of the most widely read textbooks at European universities.
China is considered to have the longest continuous history with hemp, a timeframe spanning over 6000 years. (Although France, Spain, Chile, and Russia also have long histories with the plant.)
The chinese used hemp for medicinal purposes, harvesting its roots to treat infections and dissolve blood clots. This nation was also the first to discover hemp’s usefulness in paper-making. Apparently, the oldest Buddhist texts were written on paper that combined bark and old rags… Guess what the rags were made of? That’s right, hemp.
Did you know there’s a Christopher Columbus monument in Barcelona decorated with cannabis leaves? That’s because–surprise, surprise–this Spanish explorer carried hemps seeds in the hold of the Santa María. This was for dual purpose. Not only were the seeds a nutritional source of protein for the voyagers, but Columbus hoped to plant hemp in new regions.
Also don’t forget that industrial hemp is a very sturdy material. This natural fibre can withstand the stressors of salt water and powerful waves like no other—which is why the cracks between Columbus’ ships planks would have been filled with hemp to keep his ships watertight.
Between the sixth and fifteenth centuries, hemp materials were used to rig all ships. It was also used for sails and nets. For this reason, it is estimated that Columbus sailed with 80 tons of hemp materials… per ship!!! They even say he fuelled his ships’ lamps with hemp oil and clothed his sailors in hemp clothing.
Back in the days when Britain sent vessels to the New World, they made sure that boats were never without a store of hemp seed. What’s more, British colonies were compelled by law to grow hemp! This goes back to our previous point that hemp plants were a huge material in ship rigging and caulking. Ship captains were encouraged to sew hemp seeds in distant lands so that, when they needed repairs for their vessels, they had plenty of material on hand to work with.
The Colonies later used hemp to produce cloth, canvas, cordage, sacks and paper. And when America became a Republic, farmers could use hemp to pay taxes! As the years went by, the crop was eventually surpassed by cotton.
And it Keeps Going
Want to hear of even more places hemp materials have popped up in the past? Both the Gutenberg Bible and the Declaration of Independence of the United States were printed on hemp. The original Levi’s jeans were fashioned from hemp cloth too!
Needless to say, we’re glad the hemp industry has once again begun to rise in popularity.