The History of Hemp
Hemp is gaining popularity in the U.S. as it becomes legal as an agricultural crop in many states. As a derivative of the cannabis plant family, hemp has many uses. This plant isn’t a new creation in the plant world. It’s been around for centuries and is now reclaiming its status in the world.
Early Beginnings of Hemp
Hemp is recognized as one of the oldest agricultural crops with evidence as far back as 8,000 B.C. It has been found in what is known as China and Taiwan today. Hemp cords were used to make pottery while the seeds and oil were part of the food supplies in those early days.
Another of the early uses for hemp was as fabric. The Columbia History of the World indicates that a piece of hemp fabric is the oldest relic found which contains the plant, and it came from what is modern-day Iran and Iraq.
Continued Use of Hemp
Hemp was durable and versatile, and various cultures found many different uses for this plant. While it originated from the warm climate of Asia, it is adaptable to a variety of climates. As people migrated to the New World, they brought the plant with them, along with other flora.
With limited resources in the young country, early settlers found many uses for hemp. It was primarily used as fabric to build shelter and other fabric goods as well as sails for boats. Parts of the hemp plant were also food sources and in time would be used as medicine.
The cultivation of hemp was of such importance that settlers were fined if they didn’t grow the crop. With limited money, hemp was also used as tender for settlers who needed to buy goods. It became an important ingredient for fuel and to make rope. It was also used to make paper. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.
Hemp in the 20th Century
Hemp continued in popularity in the early 20th century. The USDA published a report in 1916 that indicated hemp could provide up to four times as much paper per acre than what would be harvested by trees.
Henry Ford used hemp to build the body of a car in 1942, making it even stronger than steel. According to an article in Popular Mechanics in 1938, there were 25,000 various products that could be made from hemp.
Changing attitudes in general altered the views of hemp about this time. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act put a tax on hemp and other cannabis products, which resulted in lower production of the plant. Cotton became popular for fabric and twine was used for rope, which reduced the need for hemp. The last commercial field of hemp was planted in Wisconsin in 1957.
Hemp Becomes Illegal and Legal Again
The Controlled Substance Act came into effect in 1970, which made hemp illegal because it wasn’t separated out from marijuana as cannabis plants.
It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that perception about hemp changed back. California, which was the first state to tax hemp would now advocate for its use with approval of medical marijuana legislation. In 2018, a farm bill would be signed into law which allows for hemp to be cultivated again. Hemp was also downgraded as a level five controlled substance which means it is legal in all 50 states.
Because of this change and the technology that is available, research is being done to find out more of the uses and benefits to hemp. Many companies are developing everything from supplements to beauty products with hemp ingredients.