Discover What Hemp Is and How It Grows
Is hemp being re-discovered by contemporary society or has this ancient plant’s benefits ever really been lost?
Before we walk the timeline of hemp’s historical use by people and societies across the globe, let’s first examine the makeup of this ancient herbaceous plant. A resource for wellness, nutrition, and textile purposes, hemp was one of the earliest agriculture crops grown by early humans with systematic cultivation beginning roughly 10,000 years ago in what is now China and Taiwan.
Hemp plants do differentiate themselves from marijuana plants in a number of biochemical and structural ways, but from a taxonomical naming perspective they are classified similarly under the same species and genus, Cannabis sativa L. — derived from the Greek word “kannabis” and latin “sativa”, meaning “useful.” A fun fact, hemp is a member of the urticales botanical designation—which also includes hops plants—known as a primary ingredient in making beer.
Like herbaceous plants of its size, the hemp plant grows from a seed roughly the size of a pearl. Sprouting from a tiny shoot, hemp typically grows to heights of 10 to 12 feet, but size can vary due to climate, terrain, and growing practices. Resilient to environmental factors like weeds and weather, hemp crops have few natural enemies and can reach full size within two to four months. Historically hemp was known to thrive in moist, wet terrains. Early farmers often grew hemp crops near riverbanks or abundant water sources.
At mature size hemp plants have petite stems consisting of strong cellulosic fibers known for their durability. From the stems, slender two to four inch branches develop the recognizable palmate leaflets—universally symbolized by their seven rich green fingerlike blades.
As resilient as hemp plants are they pose a low invasive risk and are helpful for soil health conditioning and cultivation of plants grown in their place. Because weeds do not grow easily within hemp crops, hemp leaves premier soil conditions as their root systems penetrate and loosen ground material in a balanced manner. Many nutrients are located in the foliage and contribute to soil regeneration when mulched in the earth. In cultures around the world, hemp was once used as a provisional crop for future growth of food crops like potatoes or corn.
Many sections of the hemp plant serve tangible purposes. The stalks, constructed of long, durable soft fibers are used to make paper, plastics, and film materials. Hemp seeds are a highly digestible source of nutrition for both humans and animals. Other health-related products—like hemp extracts—are derived from hemp compounds, like phytocannabinoids and terpenes, that are extracted from the plant’s stalks, stems, and flowers.
Different than its cousin, marijuana, industrial hemp plants have played a vital role in cultures around the globe for centuries. The resurgence of hemp’s use is a testament to the plant’s natural gifts.
Learn about the rise of hemp’s use in early cultures by visiting History Of Hemp Part II.