Hemp History

There are about 2000 varieties, or cultivars, of hemp and only about 10% of them are capable of creating hallucinogenic affects in humans. Industrial hemp (the non-drug varieties) is referred to by the botancial name Cannabis Sativa, whereas most authorities refer to the high-THC (drug compound) types as Cannabis Indica, or Indian Hemp.

Industrial hemp is not grown for producing the psycho-active drug agent tetra-hydracannabinol (THC) and cannot cause drug effects.

Many cultivars of this plant have been grown by civilisations for the past 10,000 years. THe oldest proof of human industry is a piece of hemp fabric from about 8000BC, found in Turkey. Hemp fabric from this era has also been found in Taiwan. The Egyptians spun hemp from about 4000BC and the Schythians introduced it to Europe about 1500BC. It was the primary scource of fibre for making clothing, shoes, rope and other general items and its seeds were ground for producing a high-protein flour for making bread and other food.

For thousands of years, pulped hemp stalk was the world’s major source of paper. The original modern-day version of The Bible, called the Gutenberg Bible, was printed in the 15th century on hemp paper.

England’s naval fleets in the 17th and 18th centuries used vast volumes of hemp for ropes, sails and uniforms because it was strong and resistant to sea rot. Each fully rigged sailing ship required the planting of about 130 hectares, which yeilded about 80 tonnes of fibre. Modern agronomy practices now deliver up to 10 times that return.

Australia’s founding botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, favoured growing a cultivar of hemp he discovered in the South Seas, a variety native to New Zealand. After a failed crop, he then decided to grow a variety called Cannabis Sativa, which is the plant now used worldwide for growing industrial hemp.

IBy the 1840s the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, was the country’s primary hemp-farming district. One of the biggest farms was a 400-hectare land grant near the town of Singleton that produced enough hemp to fully rig three English Navy ships. The farm was believed to have belonged to the chief police magistrate of the Windsor district, Archibald Bell,

Farms in Tasmania were also used for broad-acre Cannabis farming at the time. During the reign of Queen Victoria, drug versions of the plant were widely used by women, including the Queen herself, to stop the discomfort of period pain.

The demise of the era of sailing ships around the early 1900s also marked a temporary slump in hemp as a transport and military necessity. Sails gave way to steam power and, eventually, to fossil fuels.

The invention of the cotton gin in the 19th century also meant that for the first time, cotton production was viable against hemp-fibre, which led to cotton’s eventual dominance…. until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The US Government made a film titled Hemp for Victory to encourage farmers to grow industrial hemp for the manufacture of military uniforms, parachutes (former US President George Bush Snr, was among the servicement who used hemp parachutes), rope and other items. Hemp farming was also encouraged in Tasmania during WWII.

In the 1940s the Ford Motor Company produced a vehicle prototype with a body comprising hemp-cellulose plastic. The panels could withstand blows 10 times greater than steel could, without denting, but Ford’s production plans ended after the war because the US government again outlawed all hemp farming.

Industrial hemp farming is still banned in many US states but American car companies now sell models around the world made in Europe using hemp-sourced parts,including brake fittings, dashboards, interior trim, and driver airbags. Several European car companies now use hemp where possible to meet tax incentives and environmental laws.

Also spurring demand in deveoped countries is consumer demand for natural, healthy and eco-friendly products. This includes the wide use of hemp grain (seed) by international health food companies for making snack bars, bread, ice cream, tofu and protein drinks.

It if can be made from Soy, it can be made from hemp seed. Australia is the only developed country that bans the consumption of hemp-based food. Even in the US, where the growing is banned, it can still be eaten.

In the UK, hemp pulp is used by major horse bredders, the racing industry and stable owners, instead of straw or sawdust as stable bedding. The benefits are stable air quality, animal respiratory health and less handling/ cleaning. Hemp bedding is dust-free, super absorbent and removes ammonia from the air.

In developing and impoverished nations, the already overwhelming demand for hemp is maintained by the social need for food, clothing and shelter.

Hemp is one of the world’s strongest natural fibres, hemp oil is one of the easist vegetable oils for humans to digest and the oil and grain has optimum ratios of essential fatty acids for healthy cell growth.

Hemp pulp has one of the highest cellulose content, longest fibre structures and best fibre yield of any plant, iincluding trees.

Leading fasion, footwear and cosmetic houses of today all dabble with hemp products. There are several Austalian manufactures of cosmetics, clothing and accessories – so seek them out and support an Australian Hemp Industry.

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