Hemp, one of humanity's first crops

Posted by Open HempShop Team on Apr 28th 2023

Hemp, one of humanity's first crops

Hemp has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, mainly due to the growing popularity of CBD supplements. However, surprising as it may seem, hemp is not exactly new; in fact, everything seems to confirm that it is one of the first plants cultivated by humanity and that for thousands of years it was part of people's daily life.

Origin and first uses of the crop

Although it is not possible to locate the exact origin of the crop, numerous investigations agree that it was on the Asian continent where hemp was cultivated for the first time, since the first references comes from ancient China. Indeed, in one of the oldest agricultural treaties in the world, the Xia Xiao Zheng, hemp is mentioned as one of the main crops in that country. Archaeological evidence in many parts of China corroborates this and shows that the Chinese were highly dependent on cannabis cultivation.

It is thought that the first crops date back at least 10,000 years and that they were used for food because their seeds are highly nutritious. These first farming communities are believed to have been located in eastern China, around the Wei and Yellow rivers. Later, when improvements in agricultural processes were introduced, the use of hemp diversified and its stems began to be used for the manufacture of fibers with which to make paper, ropes and cloth, among other things; the first hemp-derived ropes and papers may have emerged in China around 2,800 B.C.

From that same time date the first written testimonies of the medicinal use of hemp, also from China. The mythical Emperor Shennong, better known as Emperor Yan, who would have lived in the 28th century B.C., is credited with authoring the book known as Ben Cao ling li Zhu, a text that compiles information on agriculture and medicinal plants, written in from oral traditions.

In this book, which contains more than 360 files on plants and their medicinal properties, it is explicitly described that hemp produces a relaxing effect on the body. He also recommends its use for malaria, rheumatic pain, intestinal constipation, beriberi (vitamin B1 deficiency), continual distraction, menstrual cycle-related discomfort, and a few other ailments. By way of warning, he said that if you took too high a dose, "you ran the risk of seeing the devil."

Over time and the incipient exchanges between countries, hemp spread to nearby areas and is believed to have been introduced to the Indian subcontinent around 2000 B.C. There, farmers planted the hemp and used a process to soak the hemp stalks in water, known as “water retting,” which helps break down the fibers and prepare them for processing. This practice is still used today in some parts of the world where hemp is grown for its fiber.

The medicinal use of cannabis in India also has a long history. The Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit medical text, mentions bhanga (believed to be cannabis) as a medicinal plant that can help treat phlegm, diarrhea, and inflammation. Other texts from India refer to cannabis as a pain reliever, aphrodisiac, and more.

From 800 to 200 B.C., hemp and its derivatives were the center of a prosperous trade throughout Asia, reaching as far as North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. By 200 B.C., cannabis and hemp had reached ancient Greece and even the Roman Empire. For AD 500, hemp had spread throughout continental Europe and Asia, where it was used for rope, textiles, medicines and much more.

Do not miss our next articles, because the history of hemp will continue…


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