With its rich history that dates back to ancient times, we can safely say that the hemp is indeed a versatile, all-around plant. It has been around for a long time now, yet some people are just beginning to rediscover its wonders. Here are the many uses of hemp throughout history and in the modern world.
While papyrus dates back further, paper-making originated in China around 250 BCE, with hemp being a common material in early paper-making.
Legends have it that the Chinese kept it a top-secret that the hemp paper invention only entered Japan in the 5th Century. While around 751 AD, the Arabs learned how to create paper from their Chinese prisoners captured after the Battle of Talas. Thus, by the 12th Century when the Arabs spread to Moor-occupied Spain, hemp paper arrived in Europe.
Today, on an annual basis, an acre of hemp will produce as much paper as two to four acres of trees. With quality being more superior to tree-based paper, hemp can produce all types of paper products from tissue paper to cardboard.
Hemp paper has the potential to last hundreds of years without degrading, can be recycled many more times, and requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than tree-based paper.
Annually, one acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as two to three acres of cotton. Compared to cotton, hemp fiber is stronger and softer. It can also last twice as long as cotton and will not mildew.
Cotton grows only in moderate climates and requires more water than hemp. Hemp, on the other hand, is frost tolerant, requires only moderate amounts of water, and grows in all fifty states. Unlike cotton which needs large quantities of pesticides and herbicides to produce, hemp requires no pesticides, no herbicides, and needs only moderate amounts of fertilizer.
At least 29,000 years ago, hemp was utilized to make ropes. Our ancestors used it for carrying food, building of structures, hunting of prey, and domesticating of animals, which immensely carved the ancient world.
There had been several evidences of hemp being used as rope throughout history. It had been said that the mighty Vikings took hemp rope (and seeds) with them to Iceland during the middle of the ninth century AD. It was also found that Italian ships began using hemp rope as early as the tenth century AD. In Japan’s sumo wrestling, the highest-ranking sumo wrestler would ritually cleanse the sumo ring wearing a very heavy hemp rope around his belly. Hemp rope made an appearance in Greece around the year 200 BCE and imported hemp rope made an appearance in England in about 100 AD.
However, hemp ropes—which were used in ships for explorations—were susceptible to rot when exposed to seawater and it could rot from the inside. Thus, there was a danger of hemp ropes snapping if left unchecked regularly.
Hemp for ropes are still made today, mainly because hemp produces more fiber per pound than either cotton or flax, and these fibers are easily extracted in order to make hemp rope, twine, or cord.
Building Construction Products
In the EU, thermal insulation products are the third most important sector of the hemp industry. These are in very high demand because of the alarmingly high costs of heating fuels, ecological concerns about conservation of non-renewable resources, and political-strategic concerns about dependence on current sources of oil. It’s no surprise that it is a market that is growing very fast, with hemp insulation products increasing in popularity.
Hemp can also be used to produce fiberboards that are stronger and lighter than wood. In North America, the use of non wood fibers in sheet fiberboard (pressboard or composite board) products is relatively undeveloped. Flax, jute, kenaf, hemp, and wheat straw can be used to make composite boards. While its economic viability remains to be tested, the experimental production of hemp fiberboard has produced extremely strong material.
Moreover, hemp fibers have been considered for cement (concrete) and plaster. Utilizing the ancient technique of reinforcing clay with straw to produce reinforced bricks for constructing domiciles, plant fibers have found a number of comparable uses in modern times. Hemp fibers added to concrete increase tensile strength while reducing shrinkage and cracking. In fact, there have been whole houses built based on hemp fiber. Fiber-reinforced cement boards and fiber-reinforced plaster are other occasionally produced experimental products. Because hemp fibers are produced at a lot more costly than wood chips and straw from many other crops, it is, therefore, most appropriate for high-end applications requiring high strength.
Textile and Clothing
One of the oldest materials used in clothing is hemp. For most of human history, hemp primarily clothed us until the cotton gin overthrew hemp from its top fabric choice status.
Most of the major innovations of hemp occurred in China. The very first spinning wheels were invented to spin the arduous hemp fibers to create long-lasting, durable fabric. To this day, Chinese people still wear hemp clothing when mourning the deceased as part of their tradition.
Furthermore, archaeologists have found pieces of hemp cloth at a number of sites. In modern-day Iran and Iraq, a piece dated at 10,000 years old was discovered. As well, hemp cloth found in Mesopotamia has the noteworthy claim of being a cornerstone of use for hemp by the ancients. Today, hemp clothing continues to have a natural appeal to a sector of the population despite its repudiation of being sold at a premium price. Clothes made of hemp are resistant to abrasion but are typically abrasive.
Plastic Substitutes and Plastic Composites
There’s a huge plastic problem in the world today but did you know that hemp can produce strong, durable, and environmentally-friendly plastic substitutes? Hemp-based composites can produce thousands of products made from petroleum-based plastics.
Moreover, with respect to fiber, a “composite” is often defined as a material consisting of 30%–70% fiber and 70%–30% matrix. Plastic composites for automobiles are the second most important component of the hemp industry of the EU. Natural fibers in automobile composites are used primarily in press-molded parts. In the 1920s, Henry Ford recognized the utility of hemp by constructing a car with certain components made of resin stiffened with hemp fiber.
There are lots of promising ways that hemp can be used in the automobile industry, making it possible for other types of transportation vehicles to make use of such technology. Natural fibers have considerable advantages for use in conveyance: low density and weight reduction, favorable mechanical, acoustical, and processing properties (including low wear on tools), no splintering in accidents, occupational health benefits (compared to glass fibers), no off-gassing of toxic compounds, and price advantages. Additional types of composite using hemp in combination with other natural fibers, post-industrial plastics or other types of resins, are being used to produce non-woven matting for padding, sound insulation, and other applications.
The woody core or the hurds (sometimes called shives) of hemp makes remarkably good animal bedding. The hurds are sometimes molded into small pellets for bedding applications. It’s great for horse bedding—especially for horses allergic to straw—and even for cats and other home pets. The hurds can absorb up to five times their weight in moisture (typically 50% higher than wood shavings), do not produce dust (following initial dust removal), and are easily composted.
Food and Nutrition
Way before modern humans learned the nutritional values of hemp, ancient humans turned to hemp plants for its edible seeds, which contained an ideal mixture of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s also known to provide a high percentage of quality protein, fiber for digestion, vitamins, and minerals. For edible purposes, hemp seed oil is extracted by cold pressing. Quality is improved by using only the first pressing and minimizing the number of green seeds present.
In today’s modern times, hemp seeds can be consumed raw, cooked, roasted, or ground into a fine powder. It can also be enjoyed through milk, tea, or juice. It’s been said that about half of the world market for hemp oil is currently used for food and food supplements.
Personal Care Products
In the 1990s, European firms introduced lines of hemp oil-based personal care products, including soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, and perfumes. Hemp oil is now marketed throughout the world in a range of body care products, including creams, lotions, moisturizers, and lip balms. Hemp-based cosmetics and personal care products account for about half of the world market for hemp oil.
Ecological Friendliness of Hemp
Cannabis Sativa is exceptionally suitable for organic agriculture and is remarkably less “ecotoxic” in comparison to most other crops. It is believed to have the potential to save trees that otherwise would be harvested for the production of lumber, pulp, and the like. For instance, it can take years for trees to grow until they can be harvested for paper or wood, but hemp is ready for harvesting only 120 days after it is planted.
While forests and tree farms require large tracts of land available in only a few suitable locations, hemp can grow on most land suitable for farming. Furthermore, harvesting hemp instead of trees may also eliminate erosion due to logging, thereby reducing topsoil loss and water pollution caused by soil runoff.