Hemp: A Resilient Healer
Is hemp being re-discovered by our contemporary society or has the plant’s benefits ever really been lost?
As #HempHistoryWeek rolls on we thought it fitting to begin our History of Hemp series. Before we walk the timeline of hemp’s historical use by societies across the globe, let’s first examine the makeup of this ancient plant that has been a resource for health, wellness, nutrition, and textile purposes for 10,000 years.
Hemp plants do differentiate themselves from marijuana plants in a number of biochemical and structural ways. Hemp’s scientific name, Cannabis sativa L., is derived from the Greek kannabis and latin sativa, meaning “useful.” Marijuana, of the same plant species, also carries the same classification. 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 15 feet. 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 fingerlike blades that are of a rich green on the topside.
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 more stable food crops like potatoes.
Many sections of the hemp plant serve tangible purposes. The stalks, constructed with long and durable soft fibers are used to make paper, plastics, and film. The seed is a highly digestible source of nutrition for both humans and animals. Other health-related products—like hemp oil—are derived from extractions of the hemp 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.