The first law regarding Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) was enacted in Jamestown, VA in 1619. That law required farmers to grow Cannabis Hemp. It seems ironic today, but in those days the government recognized the value of this plant for a variety of applications, including printed money. In fact, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson farmed Hemp, and the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on Hemp paper.
The history of Hemp dates back even further. China has been growing Hemp for 6000 years and currently is the world's largest consumer and exporter of Hemp seed, paper and textiles, reports by John Roulac in "About Industrial Hemp", an article posted on the Coalition for Agricultural and Industrial Hemp (CAIR) website. Other major growers of Hemp include Canada, Australia, France, Holland, Hungary and Russia.
In the U.S., however, the popularity of Hemp faded as more "convenient and economical resources", such as cotton became prevalent, according to Gerald Leson and Petra Pless, with Roulac, in Hemp Foods & Oils for Health: Your Guide to Cooking, Nutrition and Body Care. Then in the late 1930's Hemp was linked to marijuana prohibition as the differences between Hemp and the hallucinogenic drug blurred.
Hemp and marijuana are two distinct varieties of the genus Cannabis. On its website CAIR posts HR32, a bill regarding Industrial Hemp, which offers this distinction: "Industrial Hemp can easily be distinguished from marijuana by its appearance, cultivation methods and chemical analysis because Industrial Hemp is a nonintoxicating benign form of the (Cannibis sativa L.) plant that contains less than 1% THC, while marijuana contains 5% to 20% THC; and Industrial Hemp seeds are planted to yield more than 1000 stalks per two square yards, while only one marijuana plant can be grown in the same size plot. Industrial Hemp grows in 70 to 100 days and is harvested before it flowers, while marijuana is cultivated from flowertops and takes 120-180 days to mature; and when grown together, Industrial Hemp will pollinate marijuana, reducing HTC content to a nonintoxicating level.
Cultivation is the main reason why Industrial Hemp offers so much promise. Hemp is a dependable and low maintenance crop, it is a fast-growing plant that can reach its full height of 6-16 feet in as few as 90 days with little or no herbicides. Further benefits are that Hemp thrives on well-manured land, cleans the fields of weeds and returns a high portion of the nutrients it borrows for growth back to the soil, thereby leaving the land in good condition for the crops that will follow.
The versatility of Hemp also makes it appealing. Materials supplied by the Hemp Industries Association states that there is a wealth of products that can be manufactured from Hemp. These include accessories such as bags, belts, shoes, wallets and more. Animal care products such as feed and leashes; apparel; building materials such as Hemp "cement" and insulation; cosmetics and body care products including lotions, soaps and shampoos; housewares such as blankets and furniture; a variety of paper products and publications; sports equipment such as skateboards, textiles, toys and more.
Another major benefit of Hemp is its nutritional content. Hempseed is high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and vitamin A. Like soybeans Hempseed can be made into many nutritious food products and is easier to digest. Non-dairy cheese, milk and even ice cream can be made by soaking and processing Hempseed. Seed cake can be processed into flour for making high quality breads, pastas, cakes and cookies.
Hemp oil has a strong nutritional profile. It has a low content of saturated and trans-fatty acids. Also Hemp oil contains a high fraction of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in a proportion close to an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 4:1 and provides small quantities of other long-chain omega-3 and omega-5 fatty acids in which some people are deficient.
In addition it is said to be a good source of vitamin E and offers modest amounts of phytosterols, phospholipids and carotenes. The presence of these nutrients in Hemp oil further supports its reputation, as a holistic food that provides a range of the nutrients our bodies need in a balanced and tasty blend.
While Hemp products quickly are gaining popularity, the government is considering the future of Industrial Hemp. Today the plant is being re-evaluated as a vital agricultural crop on the order of corn, wheat or cotton. It has been legalized for commercial farming in some states.