Hemp and Hemp Oil Around the World
Cannabis Sativa is an old plant with a long history. The word, sativa, comes from Latin and means "sown" or "cultivated." And, in fact, the hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.
It turns out that hemp has a well-documented history in the US. Hemp was already being cultivated by Native Americans in the New World when pioneers who had taken to the seas for a better life arrived. Hemp fibers are exceptionally strong and durable, and Native Americans grew the crop to produce hemp thread, hemp cordage, hemp clothing, hemp paper, and hemp food.
As the United States earned its independence from Great Britain in the late 18th century, hemp remained a staple for early Americans. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations, and Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills with hemp. According to some historians, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
America’s reliance on hemp increased throughout the 19th century. Production spread to more states, including Illinois, California, and Nebraska.
Congress passed a law in 1841 that ordered the Navy to purchase hemp from domestic farmers. Technological innovations including the Hemp Dresser and the Decorticator machine revolutionized the industry and improved the efficiency of harvest and manufacturing processes.
Throughout the 20th century, individual states and the U.S. federal government began to criminalize all cannabis. Because of hemp’s familial relationship to marijuana and a lack of understanding about the plants’ differences, laws were implemented restricting or prohibiting all cannabis growth.
Hemp only recently again became legal to grow and use in the United States under federal law.
It is believed that hemp made it to Europe in approximately 1,200 BC. From there, it spread throughout the ancient world. France has cultivated Hemp for at least 700 years to the present day, Spain and some other areas similarly.
Believed to have been introduced by the Scythians, archeologists uncovered a burial urn dated at 500 BC containing the remnants of cannabis leaves and seeds, making this the first evidence of cannabis in Northern Europe.
By the 1800’s hemp was so essential to European society that it even started a war. In 1807, Napoleon signed a treaty with Russia in which he urged that the Czar cut off all legal Russian hemp trading with Britain. The reason for this was that during the US War of 1812 (a war historians consider a theater of the Napoleonic Wars), the Royal Navy was almost completely dependent on Russian hemp to stay afloat. However, when the Czar refused to continue to enforce the treaty, Napoleon was compelled to invade Russia in his attempt to put an end to Britain’s main supply of hemp.
China appears to have the longest continuous history of Hemp cultivation. The cultivation of hemp began more than 10,000 years ago in the region that is modern day Taiwan. Perhaps the first agricultural crop, hemp served as the foundation of sustainable civilization. Ancient farmers found that hemp was an ideal crop for conditioning their soil. The land also benefitted from the hemp plants ability to absorb excess water from runoff. The hemp plant grows a vast root system that provides a mesh-like layer of support to other plants’ root systems during moderate flooding and wind.
The ancient Chinese used the hemp stalks for building materials, but they also made clothing and shoes from the hemp cord. Ancient Chinese civilizations discovered that hemp seed is high in protein, vitamins, and essential fatty and amino acids an ideal source of food and nutrition. The hemp seeds and stalks were also pressed to make hemp oil and salves. Quite simply, hemp existed as an answer for the life sustaining needs of burgeoning Eastern societies well before any clear understanding of the health benefits of hemp were known.
Nowadays China quietly grew into a cannabis superpower country. Plantations are flourishing thanks to Chinese-developed hybrid species that have not just survived but thrived in the country’s disparate environments. Today China produce about half of the world’s legal commercial cropland under hemp cannabis cultivation, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The cultivation of hemp continued to spread throughout Asia and The Middle East. Between 2,000 and 800 BCE, hemp leaves were written about in the sacred Hindu text “Atharvaveda”. Hemp paper was much more durable than its contemporaries, such as papyrus, and was easily cultivated in many climates.
Little is known of the first Arab who discovered the marvelous properties of hashish. There is no shortage of legends, however, to fill in the dark, long-forgotten memories of that eventful moment. One of the most colorful of these stories tells how Haydar, the Persian founder of a religious order of Sufis, discovered hashish in A.D.
Between A.D. 1000 and 1700, a collection of stories from the Arab world came into being which today are known as The Thousand and One Nights. Although loosely joined, the thread that holds the collection together is the delightful fantasy of how a wily young harem girl enchanted the sultan and saved her life. It was through these stories that most Europeans first learned of hashish.
For over a thousand years, hashish has been this escape hatch for a large segment of Arab society. The earliest groups to use hashish on a large scale were the Sufis, an economically and socially despised sector of Muslim society, who justified their use of the drug, to themselves at least, as a way of communicating with their god.
Curiously, the Arabs themselves have never regarded hashish as a drug which inspires violence. Perhaps the Arabs are simply too familiar with the actions of hashish to attribute violence to its seemingly endless list of effects. Yet in America, a country with a history of violence and little familiarity with cannabis as a mind-altering substance, hashish was to become known as the "killer drug".
Hemp farming began in Central and South America during the time of the Spanish Conquest (circa 1500 AD). Spain was a very strong naval power, and depended upon hemp ropes and sails to outfit their vessels plying the Atlantic Ocean to the resource-rich New World.
The word for hemp in Spanish is 'cañamo', and although originally a term specific to Cannabis hemp, now generally means plant fiber. So, in fact, there are many types of fibers in Chile that go under the name of cañamo (hemp), just as there are many types of 'ma' in Chinese, and 'hemp' in English. In Chile, the list of fibers known as cañamo starts with major fiber plants such as Cannabis, flax, jute, ramie, Manila hemp and broom sorghum and such minor fiber species as 'esparto' grass, 'ortiga' (nettles), Agave (century plant) , Raphia palm, 'totora' (rush), 'cardon' (giant thistle) and blackberry vine. Many of these minor species have been used since ancient times by indigenous Chilean peoples to supply their fiber needs.
There are several interesting medicinal uses in South America for both hemp and marijuana varieties. It should be noted that hemp and marijuana have their own listings in Latin American herbals indicating that they are distinct herbal entities.
Hemp roots have been used as a purgative. An infusion of the stems, and seeds have sleep inducing properties. In weakly concentrated beverages, cañamo can be a general pain reliever, and use ceases convulsions, alleviates rheumatory afflictions and afflictions of the urinary tract. It is also considered a blood purgative. Against cold humors, plasters made from ground up fresh flowers are applied over the affected part of the body. For irritation of the urinary tract, 30 grams of the fresh flowers are infused in one liter of boiling water and imbibed.
These treatments have been extracted from Latin American herbals. In Latin America there is a very strong herbal healing tradition, so to many Chileans it is no surprise that Cannabis is a medicinal herb. Many Chilean doctors support its reappearance as an effective and socially acceptable medicine.
Since the eighteenth century, Russia was the largest hemp producer in the world. Around 1740, the country produced at least eighty percent of the hemp that was used in Europe for sails, rope, nets etc. High quality hemp was the number one export article of the country, it was more important than fur, wood or iron. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Great Britain imported ninety percent of its hemp from Russia. British shipping was almost completely dependent on Russian hemp. This was enough reason for Napoleon to start a hemp war.
The country was still the world's greatest producer of hemp after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The most important production areas were situated in the current Ukraine and White Russia. In 1931, a special institution was established in Glukhov (Ukraine) for the development of new hemp crops.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the hemp cultivation decreased significantly. One of the last Russian hemp factories is in Bolkhov. Once, there were sixteen. However, according to a rough estimation, there are circa 2.5 million hectares of wild hemp growing in the far east of Russia and around the Black Sea.