The earliest recorded usage of Hemp is approximately 5000 years ago in China where hemp paper was made long before rice paper. By the time Hemp first appeared in the West, around 2500 BC in Eqypt, the Chinese had already discovered around three thousand uses for Hemp and before Hemp became fully established across Europe (about 1000 years later) it was accounting for nearly 75% of the trade between the West and East.
Hemp’s strength and resilience to a variety of climates made it the ideal plant for the New World, where it was used by settlers and Native American ‘Indians’ alike. Hemp supplied oil for domestic lighting and light industry, fibre for rope, sails and cloth making (Levi jeans were originally made from Hemp) and bedding for animals. Its medicinal uses, already known to the Chinese for thousands of years, probably came to the fore when African slaves were transported to America and it is definitely known that the Native American tribes had quickly recognised its medicinal worth.
It was the development of the recreational Cannabis Sativa variety (aka Marihuana, Grass etc) that, along with the political rise of the Cotton and Wood pulp industries, finally put paid to a comprehensive exploitation of Hemp in the West. America banned the cultivation of all varieties of Hemp in the late 1930s but, ironically, continued to import Hemp from China and Japan until the outbreak of World War 2. When the Hemp supply was cut off by the Japanese, America lifted the cultivation ban on Hemp and in 1943, grew 375,000 acres of Hemp for the War effort.
Although America once again banned domestic Hemp cultivation after the Second World War, it also formed a new trade agreement to import Industrial Hemp from China. Even today, Hemp still accounts for nearly 30% of fibre used to make clothing in America and Europe whilst, in France the clothing industry has managed to maintain a healthy, independent, domestic supply of Hemp since before the middle ages and now, Hemp clothing is chic once again.
Today, China remains the world’s largest cultivator of industrial Hemp; producing approximately 0.797 million hectares of hemp annually and its fibre processing output is around 0.6 million tons which is 10 percent of cotton fibre processing output. For the next five years, hemp fibre processing output is expected to reach 1.5 million tons and its consumption will reach 20 percent of cotton fibre consumption. China’s largest customer is the USA, which has also started to re-examine Hemp as a possible, future power source (biodiesel) with 11 US States now starting experimental growing programmes whilst another 7 US States have applied for licences to explore the medicinal qualities.
In 1995 Hemp went back into experimental production in Britain (under controlled licence) and nowadays companies such as The Springdale Group have ‘bio-diversified’ Hemp into oil, seed and fibre production for a variety of uses from foodstuffs to clothing to light industrial oils and cleansing products.
It is now estimated that Hemp has approximately 250,000 uses Worldwide and is connected to over 60% of World Trade – even the petrochemical oil industry! But, as fossil fuels begin to go offline over the next 10-15 years, Hemp is the only bio crop in a strong enough position to offer a truly sustainable, clean alternative without adversely affecting our environment and our economy.
History has turned full circle. Hemp is the new Agricultural and Industrial Revolution.