Before the Common Era (BCE)
- Archaeologists all agree that hemp was one of the first known plant species to be purposely cultivated and the only one cultivated to be dioecious (having separate male and female plants).
- The origin of hemp is thought to be in Central Asia (Kazakistan, Pakistan, Nepal, the Kashmir region of India, and the Tibetan region of China) – two regions in particular: in the Mesopotamian Valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (present day Iraq) and, at the same time, in the Huang He (Yellow River) valley in China. Hemp spread from its native habitat toward the west in two directions. One route led through the Russian lowland plains to Scandinavia, extending to Poland, Germany, and the Baltic region. This distribution included the Carpathian Mountains and as far as the Danube River delta. This is where the northern and central Russian geographical race of hemp originated. The other route led through Asia Minor to the Mediterranean countries and into the provinces of the Roman Empire (Illyria, Gallia, and Hispania). From there, the southern Mediterranean ecological group originated, which encompassed southern Russia, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Italy, and Spain. In central and northern Europe, hemp was introduced by the Slavs.
- Artifacts recovered from sites in China indicate hemp was cultivated since the remote beginnings of agriculture settlements and used for making textiles as well as for food and medicine and fibers for weapons. Chinese military were given the upper hand when they discovered that hemp fibers provided much stronger bowstrings than bamboo. As a result, hemp was the first agricultural war crop. Chinese royalty set aside large portions of land exclusively to cultivating hemp for this purpose. Called the “land of hemp and mulberry”, China prized the mulberry because it was the food of the silkworm and hemp because it was what everyone used everyday (food and oil from the seed, cordage from the fiber, stitching, textiles, and clothing from the stalk, medicinal concoctions from the female flowers, and fertilizer when the leaves were returned to the earth to rebuild the soil).
- Although the earliest traces of hemp fabric have disappeared, archeological research reveals that hemp cords were twisted together and imprinted on the sides of pottery dating back 12,000 years.
- One of the oldest archaeological relics in existence has been dated to this time period.
- A fragment of hemp cloth was found at Catal.Hüyük (what is now Turkey).
- Tibetans domesticate Cannabis sativa and use it for making string and cloth. This was likely invented by females since the development is virtually simultaneous with the invention of heddles (the parallel cords used to guide warp threads in a loom). Tibetans still use hempseed in buttered tea.
- Documentation reveals that the first known cultivated hemp crop in Japan occurred during the Jomon period. Emperors have always worn hemp clothes made by the Imperial Shikoku family in a ceremony called Daijosai.
- Archaeological evidence of hemp seeds was unearthed in Eisenberg, Thuringia (currently Germany) and dated to this time period.
- Pen Tsao, a Chinese medical book is written by the Emperor Chen Nung, who classifies hemp as one of the “Superior Elixirs of Immortality”. Even today, Chinese herbalists often prescribe hemp seeds to nourish the yin (feminine), constipation in the elderly, “blood deficiencies”, and during recuperation from febrile diseases. In Chinese medicine, hemp seeds fall under the categories of sweet, neutral, and clearing heat, operating through the channels of the stomach, large intestine, and the spleen.
- The Shu Kin has several instructions regarding hemp.
- In China, the oldest agricultural treatise is the Xia Xiao Zheng and thought to have been written around this time period. It names hemp as one of the main crops that grew – along with millet, wheat, beans, and rice. The Chinese developed hemp into scrolls, which also brought about the world’s first paper industry.
- Scythians cultivate hemp for fine linen.
- Records from a Chou Dynasty state banquet show that boiled hemp seeds were served in cereal dishes.
- The oldest remnants of fabric are made from hemp and come from a burial site in China dated to this time period. Long before this time though, the Chinese had discovered that twisting the strands made it stronger, which led to the discovery of spinning and weaving fibers into cloth. This ended the reliance on animal skins as the sole material for clothing. The ancient Chinese also used hemp for making shoes.
- Hemp seeds discovered at the ancient Scythian city of Tractemino have been dated to this time period. The Scythians were also known to leave hemp seeds at royal tombs as offerings.
- Aesop, legendary Greek fabulist, mentions hemp seeds in his story called “The Swallow and The Other Birds”: It happened that a Countryman was sowing some hemp seeds in a field where a Swallow and some other birds were hopping about picking up their food. “Beware of that man,” quoth the Swallow. “Why, what is he doing?” said the others. “That is hemp seed he is sowing: be careful to pick up every one of the seeds, or else you will repent it. “The birds paid no heed to the Swallow’s words, and by and by, the hemp grew up and was made into cord, and the cord nets were made, and many a bird that had despised the Swallow’s advice was caught in nets made out of that very hemp.”
- A Scythian couple dies and are buried with two small tents covering censers. Attached to one tent stick is a decorated leather pouch containing hemp seeds. (This gravesite was discovered in the late 1940s in an area called Pazryk, which is in the Tien Shan Mountains in modern-day Khazakstan).
- The Scythians introduce hemp to northern Europe. An urn containing hemp leaves and seeds was found near Berlin and dated to this time period.
- The Greek historian, Herodotus (484-425 BCE), extolled hemp’s virtues in his Histories and reports the use of hemp in the manufacture of linen among the Scythians and the Thracians.
- Hemp ropes and fabrics, found near Stuttgart, Germany, are dated to this time period.
- The Altai nomads of northern Russia cultivated early hemp crops and used it as a food source rather than a fiber crop. They relied mainly on the oil but the concentrated hemp protein made it a valuable food that was also relatively easy to transport.
- In China, practices of the traditional belief system called Wu Fu begin. Wu Fu literally means ‘Five Clothes’ or the Five Levels of Mourning. All levels involve hemp and embodies the belief that all people are expected to conform, especially when it involved the patriarch of the family. Such conformities depended on how closely one was related to the departed. It also prescribed punishments for those who failed to follow the prescribed rituals. For instance, if the departed was a father or husband (the first level and closest one), the survivor was expected to wear coarse, unhemmed hemp clothing, hemp sandals, hemp head-dress, and carry a hemp stalk for 27 months. The punishment for non-compliance is not stated, but it was likely severe. The second level involved the passing of a grandfather, brother, or direct uncle. These relatives were expected to to wear coarse hemmed hemp clothing, hemp head-dress, hemp sandals, and carry a hemp mourning staff for one year. At the fifth level, for a distant uncle or in-law, one would wear hemp fabric with a silky finish for three months. White is considered to be the color of mourning, not only in China, but in other Asian countries as well. Even today, family and friends will wear white hemp fabric collars during mourning.
- The Li Qui, an early Chinese manuscript of social ritual, describes hemp as one of the ‘five grains’ of China. The others included barley, rice, wheat, and soybeans.
- A paper sample, discovered near Xian in China, is dated to this time period. It contains hemp fibers and is probably the oldest paper in the world. This fragment was likely produced with a floating sieve, from which the dip sieve was developed. Eventually, the bast fibers from the mulberry tree became the most important raw material for paper.
Common Era (CE)
To 100 CE
- Ayurvedic physicians used hemp seeds to treat dozens of diseases and medical problems.
- The Greek physician Pedacius Dioscorides (c.40-90) describes and extols the medicinal benefits of hemp seeds, including the use of hempseed juice (oil) as a remedy for earaches, as well as using hemp seeds for food. His work, De Materia Medica, is still one of todays most authoritative herbal and pharmacological information resources. Dioscorides is also the one who gave the plant its botanical name.
- Another physician, Pliny the Elder, suggests using hempseed juice (oil) to expel insects and worms from the ear and to relieve constipation in farm animals. The seed also was prescribed as a remedy for gout.
- Chinese surgeon Hua T’o makes an effective anesthetic from hempseed and wine, which was used during difficult abdominal surgeries.
- In early CE centuries in Europe, it was common to use hemp seed oil as an analgesic for earaches and for expelling insects from inside the ear. Galen (c. +129-199), a noted physician and philosopher, believed that gout was caused by overindulgence and found that the hemp seed was useful in treating this painful disease.
- Pliny the Elder (+ 23-79) prescribed infusion of hemp root to ease the inflamed joints of gout sufferers. Pliny was also the first to prescribe hemp seed as a laxative for farm animals.
- Hemp is now well established in Japan and Korea. A coastal Japanese cave painting depicts tall hemp plants, waves, horses, and strangely dressed people. The Japanese word for hemp is written using the kanji character, signifying its Chinese origin. Hemp became a staple fiber for clothing as well as for specialized purposes like eel fish lines, the high wooden sandal straps, and fine paper. It was also a focus in the rituals of Shinto where it symbolized purity and fertility. The ancient shrine at Taimdo (near Osaka) literally means ‘hemp shrine’. In Shinto and Buddhist temples, certain symbolic objects are made of hemp: bell ropes, purification wands, curtains, priests’ robes etc. Zen scholars and samurai warriors express hemp’s inspiration in poetry and traditional arts, including the martial art of aikido. Although trade and communication faded among Japan, China, and Korea over the next few centuries, Japanese scholars continued to travel to China to study science, medicine, and agriculture, where they learned to administer hemp preparations for many ailments in both humans and animals. The high resale value of hemp brought economic strength and power to feudal shoguns of Japan while keeping the humble farmer busy with labor-intensive production. The hemp leaf became a common motif in Japanese fabric and still appears on modern quilts, kimonos, and noren curtains. Apart from silk for the wealthy, hemp remained the primary clothing fiber in Japan until the 17th century when cotton was introduced. Hemp fabric was then reserved for specialty garments and the upper class. However, despite its diminished roll in clothing, hemp continued as the dominant raw material in other practical applications through the 19th century. Rural Japanese blended hemp fiber with seaweed, broom straw, and other plants to make conical snow hats and packboards for transporting heavy loads over moutainous terrains. In Japan, as well as in Europe, the military relied on hemp ropes and sails.
- Medieval times begin and dishes of roasted hemp seeds are popular with many cultures, including the Jews.
- In Europe, the oldest written reference to hemp is found in Charlemagne’s Capitulare de Villis (c.795).
- Charles the Great proclaims a law mandating that hemp must be cultivated in his empire.
- The Chinese art of paper-making then reaches Persia and Arabia. Because hemp paper lasts longer than that made from wood fibers, the writings of Confucius and Lao Tzu were still available many centuries later.
- The treatise Anandakanda describe 50 preparations for cures and rejuvenation. Both the ancient Ayurvedic system and the Arabic Unani Tibbi system of medicine used hemp seeds for healing a variety of ailments. Hemp seeds were usually mixed with other vegetable, mineral, and animals substances to neutralize any narcotic effects while enhancing the therapeutic powers.
- It can be safely assumed that hemp was cultivated by now in the Hungarian Carpethian Basin (which encompassed what is now equivalent to Slovakia, Romania, and a section of Serbia where it was likely introduced by the Slavs). Archaeologists have found clothing and other utensils made from hemp that date to at least 900. A customs tariff from Estergom was found that dated to 1198. This charter, written in Latin, compares hemp to the flax plant and dictated that a customs duty be paid upon sale or delivery.
- In the north, Otto von Bamberg makes the first known reference to hemp in a Pomeranian charter dating from 1124, referring to it as “one of the plants grown abundantly by the Slavs”.
- In 1150, Hildegard von Bingen includes the medicinal properties of hemp, among those of other plants, in her medical studies.
- Moorish Spain is known to have been using hemp products by 1150 and establishing the first paper mill in the West. By the 16th century, the art of paper-making is firmly established in Europe.
- During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), a text called Ri Yong Ben Cao (Household Materia Medica) includes hempseed as medicine.
- The technique of paper production makes its way from the Near East to Italy from where it was distributed throughout the rest of Europe.
- The publication of the Gutenberg Bible is completed on hemp paper.
- Christopher Columbus takes hemp seeds with him on his infamous voyage.
- Hemp is mentioned in virtually every medical book from now until the 20th century.
- Jean-Francois Rabelais (1483-1553), a French author, praises hemp in his book The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel. He says that hemp is the king of the vegetable world or Pantagruelion (meaning ‘feast’) and shows that hemp seeds are part of any great meal. Throughout history and the world, hemp has been used as a staple food.
- Renaissance artists create their masterpieces on canvases made of hemp. The oil in their paints was often derived from hemp seed and may just explain why these paintings are still in pristine condition after all these years.
- Henry VIII (1491-1547) is the first English monarch to go out of his way to encourage the cultivation of hemp for rope fiber. As the importance of England’s navy grew, so does the official sponsorship of hemp growing. Other countries that soon follow these examples are France, Spain, and Holland.
- For the next 200 years, hemp and flax dominate the fiber crops of Asia, Europe, and North America. Trading ships from all over the world, including those who brought the first explorers and settlers to the Americas, are outfitted with ropes and sails made from hemp. The British navy, known for its superiority, required vast quantities of hemp fiber to keep its vessels swift.
- Li Shi Chen (1573-1620 CE), the compiler of the most extensive Chinese Materia Medica, called Pen T’sao Kang Mu, states that a gruel made from hemp seeds would produce very strong calming effects. Li provides a balance of the available knowledge while clarifying matters that had remained in debate or that had never been carefully considered before. From the mass of information he acquired, it is obvious that in ancient times some varieties of hemp were readily distinguishable, even though ma zi (hemp-seed plant) grew throughout the country. One variety, which produced seeds the size of garden peas, was held to be of “the highest quality.” It had originated on Mao Luo Island in the Eastern Sea where the seeds it bore were as large as lotus seeds. A large section of this great pharmacopoeia was devoted exclusively to hempseed and classified it as a ‘superior’ or higher type of medicine, inherently nontoxic and suitable for long-term use. It was said to have a “calming” influence on the physiology.
The Pen T’sao states that hempseed will “aid in the growth of the body’s muscle fiber [and] increase the flow of mother’s milk,” and that “it can be used to hasten childbirth, where the delivery is troubled with complications or is overdue.” It also states “The Ancients used this medicine to remain fertile, strong and vigorous . . .” Quoting books even older, the Pen T’sao proclaims that whole hempseed is useful “to mend and help all of the central areas and benefit the chi [life force].” One of the more interesting recipes in this Pen T’sao is found with the self-explanatory title of “Formula to Build Up an Age-Enduring Supply of Beneficial Qi” (Nai Lao Yi Qi). Taken to alleviate hunger for long periods of time, the formula consisted of hemp seed (2 liters) and soybeans (1 liter) boiled together and then fried slowly “until they become a dried powder.” The powder was rolled in honey as a binder and made into pills to be taken twice a day. The most recent English translation of this section reveals precious formulas used for centuries by common folk and royalty alike. The complete text is certain to become a treasured contribution to many important facets of current hemp research.
- The farmers of Acadia, along Canada’s Atlantic coast, had been growing hemp since 1606, and kept the French navy supplied until the British expelled them to Louisiana in 1755 where their descendants, the Mississippi Delta ‘Cajuns’, would be among the first Americans to embrace marijuana smoking.
- English colonists bring hemp to Virginia in 1611 but, despite the opposition of King James I, neglect the crop for the more profitable drug – tobacco.
- Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) describes his medicinal uses for hemp seeds.
- The Pilgrims bring seeds with them to New England in 1628 but are reluctant hemp growers. Nevertheless, they establish large hemp farms outside of Salem. By 1630, the first hemp rope processing plant, called a ropewalk, is opened in Boston. A second, much large one, operated by John Harrison, a rope-maker from Salisbury, is built at the foot of Summer Street. It was to become one of the city’s most important employers and a focus of discontent that would contribute to the local desire for independence from Great Britain. Within a few years, Boston had dozens of ropewalks. The demand for hemp is so high that Boston rope-makers have to import tons of hemp from Eastern Europe, via England and Scotland.
- Because of hemp, some towns in New England double in size every year between 1630 and 1650. Even though colonial farmers were not always enthusiastic hemp growers, they were expected to supply hemp rope for the ships of their masters in England and France. Since hemp growing is so labor-intensive, landowners have difficulty finding enough workers to grow and process the crops. Consequently, wages are relatively high, as are food prices. Cattle sell for five times the amount that farmers receive in England for the same animals. During times of war, speculators drive up the price of food to incredible heights, and naval blockades sometimes cut off supplies from the mother countries. Famine was always a possibility, especially in the young cities. Therefore, it simply are not worth the effort to clear land and pay workers to grow a crop, like hemp, that have such a low profit margin. Consequently, colonial governments alternate between using carrots and sticks to make farmers grow hemp.
- Bibles and maps are printed on hemp paper. Some of the oil needed for lamps comes from the hemp seed. The high value placed on hemp fosters an early recycling industry which converts old clothing, rags, ropes, and sails into paper. Hemp is so vital commercially that in 1640, the governor of Connecticut declares that every resident of the colony must grow hemp. In 1671, to stimulate hemp production and reduce imports, the Colony of Maryland offers local growers one pound of tobacco for every pound of hemp they grow. Taxes can even be paid with hemp.
- In the late 1600s, the farmers at the manor farm of Platon, Ste. Croix, near Quebec City, are among the most enthusiastic hemp growers in the ‘New France’ colony and rent their farms from the Ursuline nuns. However, it is not long before they realized that they could make much more money by going into the wilderness to trade with the Native peoples for furs. Local administrations strongly discouraged this through fines, whippings, and jail time to keep young men on the farms.
- By this time, there are numerous factories for making hemp rope and cloth in colonial New England, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Central and South America. In Chile, hemp is cultivated with particular success to supply the ships of the Spanish conquistadors.
- Massachusetts requires manufacturers of cordage to use fiber produced within the colony. Neighboring colonies soon follow suit.
- Hemp is the most important crop in Britain, and many villages are named after the crop, including Hempstead, Hempton, and Hampshire, just to name a few.
- In 1765, George Washington, the first president of the United States, plants hemp and admonished “Sow it everywhere”. Both he and Thomas Jefferson were strong proponents of industrial hemp, inventing the hemp brake and experimenting with different genetic varieties of hemp.
- For a time following the War of Independence, farmers could pay their taxes in hemp.
- During the first six months of 1770 (on the eve of the American Revolution), because local farmers couldn’t, or wouldn’t meet the demand, some 400 tons of hemp fiber were imported from the Baltic, through Great Britain.
- The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence are written on hemp paper.
- Colonial women sew hemp linens for the Continental army. Had they not done so, many soldiers would have frozen to death at Valley Forge.
- At the time of the Revolutionary War, the US navy’s strongest battleship, the Constitution, carried 60 tons of hemp rope and sails, including an anchor line which was two feet in diameter.
- Ropewalks, some over 700 feet long, were huge wooden firetraps that could destroy neighbourhoods in a short time. Boston tried to keep them away from the center of the city by locating them on peninsulas, but the city continued to spread around them. On July 30, 1794, a fire breaks out in the ropewalks and flattens much of the neighborhood from Milk Street to Cow Lane (now High Street). (Read more of Boston’s history.)
- While the 20th century was known as the Age of Petroleum, the 18th century was the Age of Hemp. Dozens of American towns still attest to that importance by their names: Hempfield (PA), Hemphill (KY), Hemp Island (FL), Hemphill Bend (AL), Hempstead (NY), Hemp (GA), Hempton Lake, (WI), Hempfield Lake (MS), Hempfork, (VA).
- In the 1794 edition of the Edinburgh New Dispensatory, British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper refers to an emulsion of hempseed oil in milk that was given as treatment for venereal disease and as a cough remedy. He also writes “[An] emulsion or decoction of the seed eases colic and allays the troublesome humours in the bowels and stays [stops] bleeding at the mouth, nose, and other places.”
- By this time, Russia’s largest agricultural export is hemp, which supplied sails and rigging for American, Canadian, and European ships. France had more than 800,000 acres of hemp under cultivation. Each country has to make sure they have their own supply because, during wartime, hemp supplies are often cut off to punish the enemy.
- After the Revolution frees hemp imports from the control of British firms, American ships trade directly with the Russians and Prussians. Imports into the US rise from 3,400 tons in 1800 to nearly 5,000 tons between 1820 and 1840. Each year between 1839 and 1843, the Charlestown Navy yard processes an average of 500 tons of Russian hemp but only seven tons are grown in America. This alarms the government, but, because the Navy thinks Russian hemp is superior to locally grown hemp and because local farmers are reluctant to grow it, the government’s concerns go unheeded.
- In 1837, a steam-powered rope-making complex is completed at the Charlestown Navy yard where most of the US Navy’s cordage is manufactured – until the complex closed in 1971. Designed by Alexander Parris, better known as the architect of Boston’s Quincy Market, this historic facility includes a tar house, a hemp house, and American’s only remaining full-length ropewalk, a stone structure stretching one-quarter of a mile long.
- After American settlers crossed the Appalachians, hemp farming centre in Kentucky, where they turn out baling rope and bagging used for cotton bales. Hemp accounts for 5% of the weight of a cotton bale. Consequently, the hemp industry rises and falls with the cotton market. Kentucky farmers would have grown more hemp, but the Navy continues to prefer Russian hemp, which was water-retted, a process that US farmers found too expensive. In 1841, the US government offers to pay a bounty to US farmers if they use water retting. As a result, many farmers prepare large pools to water-ret the hemp they produce, using slaves to do the work. But that practice was stopped when too many slaves die of pneumonia, malaria, and cholera.
- Hemp plays a role in at least one minor US land battle, which later is dubbed “The Battle of the Hemp Bales”. In 1863, the Confederate Missouri State Guard attacks Union forces in Lexington but cannot drive the 3,500 Union soldiers from their trenches. After two days of fighting, Confederate General Price orders his men to make movable breastworks from hemp bales from the town’s ropeworks. Thus able to hide behind these effective shields, the Confederates are able to break through the Union lines. The battlefield is now a historic site, but Civil War re-enactors, who work hard to make their hobby authentic, cannot obtain real hemp bales for their shows. (See a recount of the Lexington battle here and here.)
- After the Civil War, hemp farms spring up in Minnesota because of an influx of settlers from hemp-growing regions of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. However, the acreages stays small because hemp competes with jute and sisal for the binder twine market.
- By the mid-1800s, more than 160 factories in Kentucky employ several thousand workers and manufacture hemp bagging, bale rope, and cordage. Kentuckians take great pride in producing hemp, which is outlined in a book by James J. Hopkins in 1951 entitled: A History of the Hemp Industry. Kentucky hemp is world-renowned for its height, hardiness, fiber yield, quality, and rapid maturation. Because hemp growing is labour intensive and with the abolition of slavery coupled with the growing cotton industry, hemp farmers and manufacturers face a decline. In addition, the advent of steam and petroleum engines severely reduce the demand for hempen ropes and sails, and the invention of the cotton gin greatly cuts labour costs in the cotton industry. The lack of mechanized methods for hemp harvesting is another reason. Still another is the cheaper Russian hemp being imported because of the low wages paid to Russian serfs. Inferior-quality products as jute, sisal, and Manila hemp are also finding their way into the market.
- The 1892 World’s Fair in Chicago features hundreds of architectural columns made of artificial marble, which was made from plaster of Paris combined with hemp.
- The great earthquake and fire destroys much of San Francisco, including the Levi Strauss Company records. It has long been surmised that the original Levi jeans were made from hemp, but these reports cannot be confirmed. It does stand to reason since hemp was the fabric of choice at the time, but this is only a supposition.
- The USDA publishes a yearbook article on hemp written by botanist Lyster H. Dewey.
- USDA bulletin #404 is printed on hemp-hurd paper and issued under the title “Hemp Hurds as Paper Making Material”. The report states that, even then, forests were being cut down three times faster than they grew and called for alternatives to the use of timber, including using hemp pulp instead of tree pulp for paper. It also announces a fiber-separating machine that would greatly reduce labor costs, improve paper quality, and conserve forests by providing low-cost, abundant sources of pulp to fill the world’s growing need for paper. It further states that 10,000 “acres devoted to hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp-wood timber lands”. Hemp has now received US government sanction as a viable and important cash crop that could replace forest products as a source of paper pulp.
- With the outbreak of World War I, imports of Russian hemp virtually cease and manufacturers once again look for domestic sources. The Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture reports “The total acreage of hemp of the entire country doubled annually, reaching an estimated forty-two thousand acres in 1917”.
- German inventor George Schlichten seems to solve the labor-intensive problem of hemp-growing with his invention of a decorticator that would compete in the paper-making industry. He presents his idea and is given a patent. His new invention raises the use of the fibers to 95%, a three-fold improvement over previous yields. Mysteriously, however, the paper trail of Schlichten’s invention disappears in the mid-1920s. During the following decade, several companies build factories that use innovative fiber-separating equipement but no one knows if they were based on Schlichten’s invention or not. The Schlichten documents also reveal several important issues, including the fact that industrialists are well aware that America’s forests were in danger and not inexhaustible. Nevertheless, low prices are maintained through market conditions and subsidized lumber from the National Forests. Today, fewer than 1,000,000 acres of primeval land are left of the 800,000,000 only four centuries ago.
1920s and 1930s CE
- There is a growing demand for using “agricultural waste” from corn, flax, wheat, cotton, and other crops including hemp in making paper. This raises the ire of the USDA, who issues another bulletin in 1932 on the development of the southern pine rather than hemp for producing paper. This is a total reversal of their 1916 report. Not surprisingly, DuPont and other large chemical manufacturers controlled the patents and processes for making paper from tree pulp. Although hard to prove, this association does lend itself to open speculation that their vested interests influence the choice for wood products over farm products, including and especially, hemp. As a result today, we now have denuded hillsides, causing landslides, changing weather patterns because of the lack of trees, and creating downstream water pollution from the scores of pulp mills. All of these have greatly contributed to world-wide environmental concerns.
- From 1927 to 1931, the USS Constitution is virtually rebuilt. The ropewalk in Charlestown Navy yard manufactures the ancient-style, four-stranded hemp shroud-laid cordage required for her standing rigging. (Charlestown’s ropewalk is slated for restoration and tall ships may once again be rigged with hempen cordage from this monument, which literally and figuratively lies in the shadow of Bunker Hill and Old Ironsides).
- During the 1930s, many groups, including pharmaceutical companies who were patenting medicines, have vested interests in discrediting hemp. However, they cannot patent a plant concentrate whose complex chemical structure had not been identified. With hemp off the market, they would be able to patent and market “second-best drugs”. Jack Herer, in his book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, outlines the role that DuPont and Hearst played in pushing intense regulation for hemp. The chemical company saw hemp as a threat to the synthetic fiber market which they had just invented, and Hearst saw cheap pulp as a threat to the value of his forest holdings. Both these companies use their influence and media power to push restrictive legislation. In addition, Southern Congressmen are firmly in the hands of cotton fiber producers and help in the restrictive efforts. Hearst is credited with introducing the term ‘marijuana’ to the American public. He not only owned vast timber holdings which fed the paper industry and which used chemicals developed by his friend, DuPont, but he also hates minorities, especially Mexicans, and uses his newspaper chain to aggravate racial tensions as often as he can. This hatred may have stemmed from his loss of some 800,000 acres of prime timberland to the rebel army of Pancho Villa. Consequently, in response to Ford and other companies who are promising to make every product from hemp, DuPont lobbies the Treasury Department for its prohibition, assuring chief counsel, Herman Oliphant, that his synthetic petrochemicals could replace hemp seed oil in the market place. As a result of greed and hatred, the once vital hemp plant and the reputations of minorities, especially Mexicans, are reduced to garbage.
- Popular Science hails hemp as the new “Billion Dollar Crop” but two years later, it is banned.
- Industrial hemp companies spring up across the US Midwest, overshadowing Kentucky and Missouri as the nation’s major hemp producers. There were several important firms in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
- The February issue of Popular Mechanics notes that a large paper company, which had been paying more than a million dollars a year in duties on foreign-made cigarette papers, has switched to hemp grown in Minnesota. Although the magazine downplayed the connection with marijuana, it is too late to stop the presses because at the same time, the government is passing the Marijuana Tax Act, a death-blow to the hemp industry. As a result of its red-tape measures, hemp growing and production fell off sharply, despite its supposedly permitted licensing. Obtaining a federal government license is so difficult that most hemp farmers and processors simply give up.
- A Popular Mechanics article states:
“American farmers are promised a new cash crop A machine has been invented that solves a problem more than six thousand years old designed for removing the fiber from the rest of the stalk Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than five thousand textile products ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody ‘hurds’ can be used to produce more than twenty-five thousand products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane. It can be grown in any state in the Union.”
- Because of the war and the resulting disruption of import routes for fiber plants, hemp cultivation once again becomes necessary worldwide.
- In the December issue of Popular Mechanics, Henry Ford proudly displays the results of twelve years of research – the first automobile “grown from the soil”. The car has a plastic body made from 70% hemp, wheat straw, and sisal, with a 30% hemp resin binder. The only steel portion of the car is the welded tubular frame. The vehicle weighs less than one-third that of a regular car, but has demonstrated 10 times the impact strength.
- The USDA issues a film entitled “Hemp for Victory”. It can still be purchased today. A transcript can be seen on this website.
- USDA Farmers’ Bulletin #1935 entitled “Hemp” is issued to farmers in January. Hemp is used to sew millions of pairs of boots for American soldiers, and hemp twine for tying and upholstery. Thousands of feet of hemp rope are supplied to each battleship. In fact, the parachute that saved George H. W. Bush’s life during World War II was rigged with hemp. Even 4-H clubs in Kentucky plant their own hemp patches “to serve their country in wartime.” By war’s end, nearly a million acres of hemp have been cultivated to support the war effort.
- The end of WWII and hemp cultivation in the Western world decreases to an insignificant level.
- In April of 1952, during the Korean War, the USDA reissues Farmers’ Bulletin #1935, but, by 1957, prohibitionists have reimposed a total ban on the domestic hemp industry, which has been in effect ever since.
- Hemp seed production in Russia averages 250,000 tons and is twice that of Manchuria. Today, the best seed-producing varieties of Russian hemp can yield 1000 kg per hectare (892.5 lb. per acre).
- Locally grown hempseed and the oil pressed from it are observed by a National Geographic expedition documenting traditional Nepalese village life.
- Designer Ralph Laurén begins using hemp fiber in his clothing line. Calvin Klein is also reportedly doing the same, although neither reveals this for many years.
- Canada licenses research fiber-hemp crops on an experimental basis. This first crop is planted on six acres by Hempline on land in Ontario that was previously used to grow tobacco. The crop consists of five varieties of low-THC hemp from Europe approved by the federal Ministry of Health. In order for this pilot project to succeed, Hempline had to rely on support and information from hemp-activist groups. Prominent Canadian lawyer, Allan Young, also helped them navigate through the never-ending bureaucracy and legislative red tape. Of course, there are no grants or subsidies available for growing hemp in Canada. Hempline Inc. was obliged to pay its own way, including police surveillance fees. Hempline sent the major portion of their initial harvest to an Oregon Forestry product research laboratory where it was processed into sheets of wallboard. This medium density building material was found to meet or surpass industry standards of strength and finish. Other experiments with the first hemp crop produced fist-sized super-compressed pellets for low smoke/high calorie fuel suitable for urban institutional heating plants. Since cotton cannot be grown in Canada and Canadians consume millions of dollars worth of cotton goods each year, grown primarily in the United States and Mexico, it is believed that this is the reason why the US will not allow hemp to become a rivaling commodity – which is all the more reason for Canada to step up to the plate and fill the gap.
- The Hempstead Co. becomes the first commercial group to grow hemp in the US in recent times. The site was the old Timpkin Ranch, where Schlichten first developed his decorticator. The crop is cultivated on half an acre leased from the government with the cooperation of the US Department of Agriculture Desert Research Facility. Other groups in the area encouraged the project, and several commercial companies have pre-purchased the crop. For the last two years the fields has been used for kenaf research. Since kenaf and hemp fields look quite similar, no suspicions have aroused regarding the new crop. DEA regulations for hemp are very strict and call for barrier fences, guard towers, and constant surveillance. However, this field, under the supposedly watchful eye of the USDA, is protected only by a three strand barbed wire fence 200 feet from and in the plain view of the state highway – and guarded only 12 hours a day. Despite this, there have been no intrusions or attemps of breaches of security. Narcotics agents inspect the field periodically and have no complaints. At first, the biggest problem was Canadian blackbirds and white-tail doves eating the newly planted seeds. This would seem trivial to what happens next.
Because of an unrelated press conference held by Ron Kiczinski who was about to plant marijuana seed, the hemp research crop also comes under suspicion. Two days after this press conference, the agent in charge for the state of California tells the hemp farmers that he has gotten phone calls from state authorities claiming that, because the hemp tested positive for minute amounts of THC, its cultivation is in violation of the State Health and Safety Code. Unlike the European Economic Community which sets standards for the amount of THC allowed to be present in hemp, the State of California tests only for the presence or absence of THC. If there is any THC present, the crop is declared illegal, despite the fact there is no psychoactive potential. Shortly after the agent’s discussion with the farmers, state equipment enter the federally-owned field, cut the hemp and mix it into the soil. The entire commercial crop is destroyed all because marijuana advocates choose that particular time to make a statement and thus ruin any potential hemp has of becoming the versatile and nutritious food and fiber source it can be. Despite the states action in destroying the crop, a tremendous amount of research is completed before the plants are destroyed. Seeds are bred and collected for an enlarged seed bank.
- Four Canadian provinces are now growing hemp crops.
- The cultivation of low-THC hemp is once again permitted in Germany. Hemp and ecology are closely associated in Germany where hemp is now regarded as THE environmentally friendly natural resource.
- As of March 12, it has become legal to grow hemp in Canada after a 60-year ban.
- Health Canada grants 750 hemp licenses. Applicants are able to choose from 23 approved varieties of seed and fiber hemp. Nine out of ten Canadian provinces are now growing hemp. The only province not attempting to grow hemp is Newfoundland, whose short growing season and harsh North Atlantic climate will not adequately ripen corn (Zea mays). Since hemp and corn are similar crops, hemp, for now, has not been attempted. Manitoba is growing more than half of the Canadian hemp crop, with Ontario being the second largest Canadian hemp producing district. Hempline and Kenex remain the major provincial hemp producers.
- Health Canada has approved 24 varieties of low-THC industrial hemp for this growing season.
- The US has more than 500,000 acres of wild hemp growing every year, second in acreage only to China. Ironically, it is these wild patches that account for more than 95% of the DEAs publicized ‘marijuana’ seizures every year. Growing industrial hemp in the US has never been illegal, but the governmental bureaucracy has made it so difficult for farmers that it simply is not worth their time and effort. Prohibiting hemp products by the US is illegal, however, and would clearly violate NAFTA and WTO rules. Instead, there needs to be more education so that officials are able to differentiate between industrial hemp and the plant grown for the drug marijuana.
Non-specific Dates in Hemp History
- Hemp is mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit manuscripts under the name of Bhanga Indracana, meaning ‘food of the Gods’ and Ananada, ‘spring of life’. Locally grown and pressed, hemp seed oil was the sole domestic cooking oil in the outback of Nepal.
- Hemp seeds have never been found in any of the Pharaoh’s tombs nor was hemp fiber ever used for mummy cloths. No traces of hemp have ever been found in Swiss pile dwellings either.
- In Japan, warriors during the feudal age often used balls of ground hempseed and brown rice gluten to keep them strong during war. Hempseed still remains in the Japanese diet and can be found on tables of Asian restaurants around the world in such forms as shichimi, used for seasoning, and asanomi, a tofu burger with hempseed pressed into it.