The History of Hemp: Origins

Lots of fresh hemp leaves and dried hemp leaves on green background.

CBD products have never been more in the spotlight than they are right now. As we watch the future of the CBD industry, we think it is also a good thing to pay attention to the past and where things come from. So, we’re delving into the history of hemp in a three part series: Origins, Hemp use in America, and the Future of Hemp. Welcome to part 1: Origins.

The history of hemp

History of Hemp Introduction

Hemp has historically been one of the most significant crops for human kind, up until about the last century. Unfortunately, a period in modern culture damned the plant that would only “get you high,” ignoring the rich, thousands of years old history of hemp. Luckily, we are seeing a resurgence in hemp cultivation and government bans and regulations of the plant are decreasing.

Hemp’s Beginnings in China

The history of hemp is a long, winding story that begins in ancient China. The first use of hemp dates back to 8,000 BCE; archaeologists discovered pieces of hemp cloth in areas that are now modern China and Taiwan. Some of the oldest discoveries so far are pieces of hemp cords which had been used in pottery, and records showing that hemp seed and hemp oil were used as foods in China. Considering that human agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, it is safe to assume that hemp was at the forefront of agricultural crops.

Hemp is also believed to be one of the oldest examples of human industry; a Chinese history book references the Emperor Shen Nung (28th Century BCE) who taught his people to cultivate hemp for cloth. China has a history of cultivating hemp for over 6,000 years, believed to be the longest history of continuous cultivation in the world.

The Chinese were also the first to recognize the usefulness of hemp in paper making. Around 150 the Chinese produced the word’s first paper made completely of hemp. The oldest documents written on these hemp papers were Buddhist texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Hemp Spreads across the World

As the history of hemp continues, hemp spreads across civilizations. Evidence of hemp has been found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North and South America. By 600 BCE hemp rope was found in Russia, a jar of hemp seeds and leaves from 500 BCE were found in Germany, remnants of hemp rope from 200 BCE were found in Greece, and a French queen was buried in clothing made from hemp in 570. Amazingly, hemp’s path is visible in its history and how it spread around the world.

Hemp is also mentioned in several ancient religious texts. For example, the Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda names hemp as one of the five sacred plants of India, calling it “Sacred Grass.”

As hemp spread across the globe it became an enormously important crop, supplying much of the world’s need for food and fiber. Hemp paper mills began to pop up in China and the Middle East in the 700s BCE. Ships depended on hemp due to it being three times stronger than cotton and resistant to salt water. In the UK, in 1533, King Henry VIII, king of England, passed a law to fine farmers who did not sow at least a quarter acre of hemp on their land.

As hemp spread to the Americas it was very important to the founding of the United States. The first permanent English settlement in the Americas, Jamestown, began growing hemp in 1616 to make ropes, sails, and clothing. In the 1700s, early laws require farmers in several colonies to grow hemp. In 1776 U.S. founders begin writing early drafts of The Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

North America and the King Cotton Coup

Unfortunately, the history of hemp in America sees hemp go down under the weight of cotton. Even though hemp was crucial to the early development of America, cotton eventually won out. This is because harvesting hemp is extremely labor intensive. With the invention of the mechanical cotton gin at the end of the eighteenth century, hemp just couldn’t compete anymore. In 1919, an American by the name of George Schlichten received a patent for a “decorticator,” a machine which helped with hemp production and reduced the labor cost by a factor of 100. Unfortunately, the product never garnered investors for production or had any main stream success.

However, the big crisis in the history of hemp starts in America during the 1930’s. By this time, new machinery was available for hemp production, and, according to the February 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics, hemp was on the verge of becoming “the billion-dollar crop.” At the same time, companies like DuPont are patenting new “plastic fibers,” and creating new petroleum based synthetic textiles. In September 1937 the U.S. government created prohibitive tax laws surrounding hemp, under pressure from lobbyists (like DuPont) who saw hemp as a threat to business. Eventually, hemp production in America was banned altogether. The Canadian government, too, followed along in banning hemp production in 1938.

History of Hemp Conclusion

Hemp has had an extremely long history of use throughout the world and has been a critical component of many societies. Unfortunately, the plant became demonized by corporations, government, and media, leading to the fallout of hemp production. That is what we will be covering in the next blog in this series, so stay tuned for more information about the evolution of the history of hemp.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or comments for us, don’t hesitate to contact us. To learn more about CBD, hemp, Kratom, and more, head on over to our blog. And when you’re ready to purchase top-quality Kratom and CBD products, visit our shop.


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