The History of Hemp

You may think, by the way everybody talks about it, that hemp was just recently discovered. Kind of like how Columbus “discovered” America after natives had already been living here for thousands of years.

But hemp has been used by those very civilizations for thousands of years, too. From China to the Incas, hemp was and is integral to humanity’s development and evolution.

What is hemp?

Hemp is one of the two varieties of the cannabis sativa plant that is used for primary industrial and holistic wellness purposes.

It’s one of the strongest and oldest domesticated plants on earth.

Hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC, which is the primary difference between hemp and the other variant of the cannabis plant.

Hemp vs. Cannabis

These two plants may look similar, but they are different in one BIG way:

THC levels.

Marijuana is psychoactive when smoked, vaped, or eaten, while hemp is not psychoactive and used for its other potential holistic benefits.

What is hemp used for?

Hemp can be used for its medicinal properties, paper, clothing, biodegradable plastic fiber products, textiles (like carpets and rugs), salad and food oils, essential oils (flavors and perfumes, and fuel. That’s right, that kind of fuel–it’s possible that hemp can even be used to fuel cars. The research is going on as we speak.

Hemp Origin

Before cotton, silk, and your cashmere sweaters, hemp was actually the very first textile fiber. Archaeologists in the late 20th century found remnants of hemp cloth in ancient Mesopotamia (Iran and Iraq today) that dates back to 8,000 B.C.

On the other side of the world, hemp was used by the ancient Chinese for the world’s first paper. In the Lu Shi, a historical text written in the Sung dynasty (500 AD), there are references to an Emperor from the 28th century teaching his people to cultivate hemp for cloth. By 150 BC, they’d made the world’s first paper out of hemp.

The first Buddhist texts were written on hemp paper.

From China and Mesopotamia, hemp colored Europe green and spread throughout the ancient world.

Folk remedies and ancient medicines, then, used hemp as an indispensable ingredient.

The leaves, seeds, and roots could cure a multitude of conditions, the ancients said; and the flowers were recommended for childbirth pains, convulsions, arthritis, rheumatism, dysentery and insomnia.

Up until the 1920s, nearly 80% of the world’s clothing was made from hemp.

So, what changed?

We (governments) got swept up in reefer madness, that’s what!

History of Hemp in America

Hemp is actually as American as apple pie and.. baseball? Here’s why.

Hemp in Colonial America/ Colonial farms

The next time you’re debating your patriotic anti-cannabis cousin/uncle, let them know that hemp was essential to America’s independence.

Remember Old Ironsides? Its lines and rigging were made with 120,000 pounds of industrial hemp fiber.

And where’d it come from? You ask your America-loving cousin. Well, the cannabis sativa fields of Revolutionary War-era patriot farmers, of course.

Instead of supplying the British Empire with much-needed hemp, we built war ships to beat them in the war.

Hemp Prohibition

Throughout the 19th century, the hemp industry thrived. It was used for textiles, construction fibers, animal feed and food, especially grown in the Midwest and Kentucky.

Throughout World War I, hemp was used to make everything from ship parts to rope.

Then, just when hemp was gaining even greater popularity, politics and synthetic fibers, like polyester, got involved.

The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act inadvertently raised taxes on hemp farmers when the Department of Revenue became responsible for licensing hemp growers.

Then, one last boom for hemp came.

Hemp in WW2

In World War II, the USDA advertised a “Hemp for Victory!” campaign.

The government then convinced farmers in the Midwest to grow hemp for the war effort, because there was no limit to what hemp could be used for––and because it was cheap if widely farmed.

But just when the project was picking up steam, the war ended. By 1958, during the economic boom years, hemp had seen its last days in US crop fields. Or had it?

Hemp in Pennsylvania

You probably already know about hemp’s epic Michael Jordan-style comeback.

But we can’t do an article on the History of Hemp without talking about Pennsylvania’s rich hemp farming history. Plus, our state has some fun facts that might just inspire you to become an amateur hemp historian.

Pennsylvania Hemp History Fun Facts:

  1. Lancaster County was the hemp capital of colonial America. Hempfield Township was named for the “vast quantities of hemp raised there.
  2. Our state’s founder, William Penn, passed a law in 1683 that encouraged every farmer to grow hemp. He envisioned hemp being the state’s trade staple.
  3. The Philadelphia ship-building industry used hemp for thick anchor cables, rope rigging and canvass sails in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  4. In the colonial years, hemp was the most commonly used fiber for home-spun clothing.
  5. Hemp was a victim of “reefer madness” in Pennsylvania, especially. Governor Gifford Pinchot signed a law banning marijuana in 1933. Then, hemp farmers became victims of confusion–many were jailed by law enforcement officers and government officials who repeatedly mistook hemp for cannabis.

Now, with federal legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill, our lush green state is back to being one of the country’s hemp capitals.

At Rolling Acre Farms, we’re proud to carry on that storied tradition. Check out selections of our pesticide-free CBD tinctures made from PA hemp.

Now, hemp is as legal as corn or soy to farm.

So, let’s uncover the ancient (and modern) capabilities of this wondrous plant, together! While we’re at it, we can carry forward the torch of the American hemp tradition.

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