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The Amazing Hemp Plant - Cannabis Sativa


The Hemp plant is not only one of the oldest cultivated plants, it is also one of the most versatile, valuable and controversial plants known to man. The industrial Hemp plant has a long history, which has proven its innate worth and its stalks and seeds can serve as raw material for an exciting array of many diverse products. The plantís Latin name "Sativa" actually means "useful Hemp" and it definitely measures up to its name!

What is "Cannabis Sativa"?

The industrial Hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, should not be confused with the marijuana plant Cannabis Indica, which is a 'cousin' (much like Broccoli an Cauliflower are 'cousins' - same family, different plant). The appearance, planting patterns and uses of the two plants are quite different.

Cannabis Sativa is an annual belonging to the hops family. It grows from 5 to 15 feet in height with rich dark-green leaves composed of 5 to 9 serrated, narrow, tapering leaflets that are pointed at the end and measure 2 to 5 inches in length and approximately one-sixth as wide. Hemp is tall, thin plant with most of its leaves concentrated at the top. The plants are planted only inches apart: 900 plants to the square yard. The staminate, or pollen-bearing flowers and the pistillate or seed-producing flowers are on separate plants.

In contrast to the commercial Hemp plant, the marijuana plant is quite dense, leafier, shorter, bushier and is planted yards apart.

Cannabis Sativa will grow almost anywhere, requires little fertilizer, resists pests and crowds out weeds, therefore it is a crop that is relatively easy to grow and does well as an organic crop. The plant grows quickly, requiring only 70 to 110 days to maturity. Due to this fact, industrial Hemp is an abundant supplier of its extremely valuable raw materials.

A Brief History

The use of Hemp can be traced back to 8000 BC in the Middle East and China where the fibre was used for textiles, the oil for cosmetic purposes and the seeds for food.

From as early as 5 BC to the mid-1800ís Hemp fibres were used to manufacture 90% of all shipsí canvas sails, rigging, nets and caulk because of its strength and resistance to the destructive effects of salt water.

Hemp was also used for making paper, twines, carpet thread, carpet yarns, sailcloth and for homespun and similar grades of woven goods.

From the 1500ís to the early 1900ís, many of the worlds greatest painters including Veronese, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, created their masterpieces on Hemp canvas.


From the 1500ís to 1700ís Hemp and flax were the major fibre crops in Russia and Europe and in 1606 French botanist Louis Hevert planted the first recorded Hemp crop in North America in Port Royal, Acadia (present day Nova Scotia), where it became a major crop.

The Pilgrims first brought Hemp seeds to America in 1632 and by 1850 Hemp was Americaís third largest crop. In fact, early American farmers were required to grow it. Two U.S. Presidents, Washington and Jefferson were Hemp farmers when the U.S. was formed and they signed the Bill of Rights. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were first drafted on Hemp paper. Hemp was the worldís largest single industry until the mid-1800ís.

Hemp was formally christened Cannabis Sativa L. in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

In 1916 the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an urgent warning: "America does not have enough forest land to last to the end of this century, given our vast appetite for paper, building materials, cellulose and other useful wood pulp products." The bulletin containing this warning, bulletin 404, also offered a profitable and sustainable solution: "Grow more Hemp! Virtually anything made of wood can also be made with Hemp and it has a much higher sustainable yield, whereby we can enjoy a net gain in commercial productivity and an overall growth in our standard of living."

As Hemp cultivation flourished in many countries, Britain declared it illegal in 1928.

The 1916 warning given by the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. was not heeded. The Hemp plant, though it had the advantage of being easy to grow, was not easy to harvest and process. It was a labour-intensive procedure to separate the fibres from the woody core of the stalks and in the 18th century, more convenient resources such as cotton and imported sisal, jute and abaca became available. Processes were put into place that facilitated the production of paper from wood and synthetic fibres were developed. This series of events began to undermine Hempís importance and status as the top fibre crop.

The existence of industrial Hempís botanical cousin, marijuana, which contains high levels of psychoactive substances, further impaired Hempís standing. This, coupled with the desire to give a surge to the cotton, logging and synthetic fibre industries resulted in the Harrison Drug Act of 1937, which declared the cultivation of Hemp in America illegal unless grown under permit. Unfortunately, the number of permits issued was few and far between and Cannabis Sativa fell into the position of niche crop in most of North America.

In 1938 Canada followed suit and banned Hemp farming. As most Western countries banned Hemp, Hemp farming and production continued in Eastern Europe, China and a few other Asian countries.

Ironically, in February of 1938 just as the Harrison Drug Act of 1937 took effect, an article was published in Popular Mechanics Magazine: "New Billion-Dollar Crop." The article featured a new machine called a decorticator that separated the Hemp fibre and pulp at the rate of two to three tons per hour. The article also pointed out the highly exaggerated connection between Hemp and marijuana and stated that 5,000 textile products and 25,000 other products ranging from dynamite to cellophane could be produced using the industrial Hemp plant.

During World War II, the Canadian and American governments briefly lifted the restrictions on Hemp farming to aid the war effort and boost the economy. The U.S. government even produced a film named "Hemp for Victory" designed to encourage American farmers to cultivate Hemp. At the end of the war, Hemp farming was again banished.

In 1993 Britain legalized Hemp farming once again and in 1994 Health Canada issued the first research permit for growing industrial Hemp. In 1998 Hemp farming was again legalized in Canada. This has already helped many of Canadaís farmers save their farms and added a valuable resource back into Canadaís economy.

Ironically to date Hemp cultivation continues its illegal status in South Africa although the United States (which as was seen earlier, initially banned it) has now lifted the ban - and has in fact lifted the ban on it's cousin, Marijuana, that started the ban in the first place. Growing under permit is technically allowed, but no permits have been issued for a very long time nor are they being issued at present. American farmers and producers of Hemp products are now making efforts to educate people concerning the extensive potential of Hemp. The reintroduction of Hemp farming has certainly aided many U.S. farmers in saving their farms as it has in Canada.

It has also been beneficial to the U.S. economy to legalize Hemp cultivation as the U.S. until recently have been importing all their Hemp products. In 1999 the gross retail sales of Hemp products worldwide reached $150 million. Domestic cultivation of Hemp would not only boost the economy and benefit our environment; it would also reduce our need for petroleum, trees and imported textiles and clothes.

Recently there has been another encouraging development: As with Canada and the US, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malawi and Hawaii have introduced or passed legislation to legalize the cultivation of Industrial Hemp.


Hemp Facts

  1. Hemp is among the oldest industries on the planet, going back more than 10,000 years to the beginnings of pottery. The Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a bit of Hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.

  2. Presidents Washington and Jefferson both grew Hemp. Americans were legally bound to grow Hemp during the Colonial Era and Early Republic. The federal government subsidized Hemp during the Second World War and US farmers grew about a million acres of Hemp as part of that program.

  3. Hemp Seed is far more nutritious than even soybean, contains more essential fatty acids than any other source, is second only to soybeans in complete protein (but is more digestible by humans), is high in B-vitamins, and is 35 percent dietary fibre. Hemp Seed does not contain THC.

  4. The bark of the Hemp stalk contains bast fibbers which are among the Earth's longest natural soft fibbers and are also rich in cellulose; the cellulose and hemi-cellulose in its inner woody core are called hurds. Hemp stalk contains no THC. Hemp fibre is longer, stronger, more absorbent and more insulative than cotton fibre.

  5. According to the Department of Energy and Dr. Brooks Kelly, Hemp as a biomass fuel producer requires the least specialized growing and processing procedures of all Hemp products. The hydrocarbons in Hemp can be processed into a wide range of biomass energy sources, from fuel pellets to liquid fuels and gas. Development of bio fuels could significantly reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

  6. Hemp grows well without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. Almost half of the agricultural chemicals used on US crops are applied to cotton.

  7. Hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber on a sustainable basis, and can be used for every quality of paper. Hemp paper manufacturing can reduce wastewater contamination. Hemp's low lignin content reduces the need for acids used in pulping, and its creamy colour lends itself to environmentally friendly bleaching instead of harsh chlorine compounds. Less bleaching results in less dioxin and fewer chemical by-products.

  8. Hemp fibre paper resists decomposition, and does not yellow with age when an acid-free process is used. Hemp paper more than 1,500 years old has been found. It can also be recycled more times.

  9. Hemp fibre board produced by Washington State University was found to be twice as strong as wood-based fibre board.

  10. Eco-friendly Hemp can replace most toxic petrochemical products. Research is being done to use Hemp in manufacturing biodegradable plastic products: plant-based cellophane, recycled plastic mixed with Hemp for injection-moulded products, and resins made from the oil, to name just a very few examples.




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This Page was last updated on : 2016-12-08

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