Historical Uses of Industrial Hemp: From Ropes to The Building Materials

Throughout the annals of history, hemp has etched its mark as a versatile, very important and indispensable crop, offering and providing a plethora of benefits to societies throughout the whole world.

This article delves into the rich history and tapestry of hemp’s different applications, tracing its origins in ancient civilizations and highlighting its enduring relevance and importance in today’s times.

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Ancient Beginnings: From China to Europe

The beginning of hemp goes way back over 10,000 years ago when the evidence of its growth as a plant first appeared in China. Fast forward to 2800 BC then presents a Chinese legend wherein Emperor Shen Nung imparted knowledge to his followers who serve under him, about weaving hemp and using it to make clothing. Its innate strength and plentiful nature help it to become the ideal choice for clothing, ropes, and even serving for medicinal purposes. As the old Chinese dynasties honed their expertise in leveraging hemp, it proliferated and spread westward through transportation and trade routes, eventually reaching Europe with the help of the Scythians around 800 BC.

As soon as it was introduced to the European shores between 50BC and 1000BC, hemp was accepted by diverse societal segments, starting from royalty and naval commanders to farmers and artisans, and it became popular among them. It wasn’t just because of its robustness that made hemp highly invaluable but also its eco-friendly cultivation process which necessitated ordinary rainwater without any chemical inputs or serious labor to care for it or to cultivate it.

After being harvested from the farm, it came out as a superlative material, reputed for its sheer strength – it was even used in the construction of the Egyptian Pyramids. That’s serious stuff!

The Role in Empire Building and Global Expansion

The importance and usefulness of hemp weren’t just restricted to clothing or building materials. It played a very instrumental role in empire expansion and trade throughout the whole world. Entire naval fleets, from their sails to ropes, depend very heavily on hemp, primarily due to its strength and resistance to salt. A testament to hemp’s historical significance is Christopher Columbus’s famous voyage to America in 1492, which was made possible as a result of hemp sails.

The Versatility of Hemp

Hemp’s vast array of applications includes medicine, food, clothing, sails, ropes, building materials, and even bowstrings.

To add to this, hemp also found usefulness and utilization in the creation of paper, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, shoes, and in many other products. Its inner fibers, having a wood-like texture, we’re perfect and ideal for mulch, animal bedding, and litter. When oxidized, hemp oil from the seeds could be harnessed in the production of paints, creams, cooking, and plastics.

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Hemp’s Decline and Resurgence

The 18th century bring about the zenith of hemp utilization with an estimated 80% of the population of world adorning hemp clothing. However, the hard labor involved in the process of transforming hemp into the fabric, coupled with the emergence of other easier alternatives like cotton, led to its decline in the market.

The decline because of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, ended up putting so much levy prohibitive costs on its cultivation, thereby dis-incentivizing farmers.

As the whole world’s consciousness shifts towards sustainable alternatives, hemp, with its different abilities and benefits, is re-emerging as a viable solution, touted not only for its applications but also its rich historical legacy.