History of Hemp
We are in the midst of a hemp revival. We say revival because for thousands of years, the hemp crop was an integral part of British society. We ate its seeds, used its fibre for everything from rope to clothing, lit our lamps with its oil, and doctors even prescribed it to their patients. It’s only in our lifetimes that hemp has been banished out of view. But now hemp is back. That’s why we want to celebrate by sharing this history of hemp.
What is hemp?
Hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa species and was one of the first crops to be cultivated over 10,000 years ago. Hemp stalks are extremely durable, thus making them a great source of fibre. Did you know that hemp is six times stronger than cotton? Not only that, hemp seeds are a highly nutritious source of protein and perfect balance of Omega fatty acids. And that’s without even mentioning the hemp flowers. Part of folk medicine for thousands of years, compounds found in hemp flowers called cannabinoids are now being studied by science thanks to the remarkable effects they have on the body
Hemp for Health in History
While hemp fibre gets a mention as far back as 6000 BC, the first written evidence of hemp’s use as medicine was in 2737 BC when Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung used hemp oils, creams and infusions for pain relief. Other ancient civilizations such as the Romans and Greeks noted hemp’s benefits for pain, stomach conditions, and burns. It was popular in the Middle East where doctors prescribed it for epilepsy, inflammation and nausea. Hemp gets also a mention in ancient Egyptian texts and in India it was seen a spirit lifting, nectar of the gods.
Hemp probably came to the British Isles in the Roman era, and it can be found mentioned in Anglo Saxon records as an ingredient in the ‘rite for salve.’ But it was Irish Doctor William O’ Shaughnessy who really brought us hemp medicine in the 19th century. Posted as a Surgeon with the East India company, he began using hemp for everything from tetanus to delirium. On his return to the UK he brought back supplies of hemp, which he turned into his own hemp tincture, called Squire’s Extract. Knowledge of hemp medicine began to spread throughout the medical community in Great Britain and Ireland, with possibly the most famous patient being Queen Victoria who was prescribed hemp for her menstrual cramps.
But by the beginning of the 20th century, hemp found its medicinal use already in decline with the discovery of opiates and introduction of syringes.
How Hemp Fell Out of Favour
Hemp was the first plant to be spun into useable fibre 10,000 years ago. It was considered such a durable source of fibre that under Henry VIII, farmers were forced to grow hemp in order to kit out the naval war ships. Failure to comply faced a fine of three shillings and four pence.
Hemp’s place in naval history shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s thought Christopher Columbus set sail to the new world on a ship laden with 800 tons of hemp rigging and hemp canvas.
In the United States, several of the founding fathers are thought to have been hemp growers, and Henry Ford even created a car entirely made of hemp.
Hemp was clearly a durable, cost effective and sustainable source of fibre, and this was probably a contributing factor to its downfall.
In 1930s America, an unholy triumvirate had formed between Harry Anslinger the head of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst and the Dupont Company, the creators of Nylon. All had their own personal interests why hemp should be prohibited, but the result was the same – a concerted propaganda campaign againstleading to the 1937 United States Marihuana Tax Act banning further cultivation of hemp for any purpose – fibre or medicinal.
Other countries soon followed suit, culminating in 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs where cannabis was received Schedule 1 status, later enshrined in the UK’s 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
Are We Hemp Deficient?
For the last 45 years we have stopped having hemp in our lives. It simply just disappeared. No hemp fibre, no hemp oil, no hemp medicine, it was as if thousands of years of agriculture and herbal medicine just didn’t exist.
You could say what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve. But we’d beg to differ. That’s because if you take away a vital nutrient from our diets, it’s quite possible our health may suffer.
Hemp is full of phytonutrients such as cannabinoids like CBD and CBDA, essential fatty acids, flavonoids, plant protein, and antioxidants. Cannabinoids like CBD can affect our body’s endocannabinoid system – the complex communication network found throughout our brain, central nervous system and immune system. This system is known as a homeostatic regulator, meaning it brings balance to our bodies and minds. It’s been suggested that a deficient endocannabinoid system could be behind a number of modern day health conditions such as fibromyalgia, IBS and migraines. Perhaps the sudden lack of hemp in our diets may also be a contributing factor.
Through our own personal journey, we have discovered the benefits hemp can bring to people’s lives. That’s why we started Hemp2Wellness. We are fully committed to restoring hemp back to its rightful place as a sustainable, multipurpose crop that is fantastic not only for our wellbeing, but also for the environment. We invite you to join us in making hemp great again.