Hemp: Why do we love to hate it ?

hemp cultivation

Why do we love to hate hemp, did we always shun this plant or weed, or was there a much more sinister reason for banning this plant which has possibly shared our history.

Before we dive into this, did you know?

The original Levi jeans were made from hemp cloth?

Henry the eighth decreed that farmers who did not grow hemp would be fined?

The American Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper?

Hemp was possibly the first plant that was used in making textile, dating back to 8000BC in Mesopotamia.

The word canvas came from cannabis, as it was made from hemp.

It was considered a sacred plant in the ancient Indian texts of the Vedas.

So why is hemp only associated with marijuana and reduced to a plant which gives a high?

Hemp had over 25,000 diverse uses ranging from paints, printing inks, varnishes, paper, Government documents, banknotes, food, textiles, ropes, sailcloth, sandals, parchment paper, canvas (artist’s canvases were used by the great masters), and building materials.

With modern technical developments, uses have increased to composite boards, motor vehicle brake and clutch pads, plastics, fuels, bio-diesel, and Eco-solid fuel. In fact, anything that can be made from a hydrocarbon (fossil fuel) can be made from a carbohydrate, including bio-degradable plastic.

Hemp had many enemies, the cotton industry, the lumber and paper industry, and the petroleum-based synthetic textile companies. Hemp cloth making was considered laborious but by 1930 new machines made separating the fiber from the plant faster and economical. Hemp was fast on its way to becoming a million-dollar crop. Yet by 1937, large companies with vested interest lobbied in the USA to ban hemp as a narcotic substance and soon the rest of the world followed. To get a deeper historical view click

So Cannabis Sativa, the million-dollar crop was banned, shunned by the whole world until now. With people looking at sustainable products and recognizing the fact that synthetic textiles are ruining our land, water, air a new revolution is here, and Hemp is back with a bang.

Hemp is better stronger more organic than cotton. It is lighter and stronger as a fabric, think ropes, and sailcloth and the first Levi jeans made from sailcloth was made from hemp. It is a weed so it is easy to grow, it doesn’t need fertilizers or chemicals and it adds to the nutrition of the soil.

Hemp  vs cotton

Most cotton grown is not organic and it contributes to the of pesticides and fertilizers. Comparing organic cotton to hemp, hemp plants need less water to grow. It is hardier than organic cotton.  Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers. The material lasts longer and keeps its shape even when wet. Like cotton, it’s breathable and is thought to have anti-bacterial properties. Where hemp plants score above cotton is the fact that hemp cleans up toxins from the soil and groundwater and is a natural carbon dioxide cleaner. Cotton on the other hand depletes the nutrients from the soil, hemp adds nutrients to it. For a detailed analysis

It is the best crop to grow in soil where nothing else can grow due to nutrient depletion of the soil. Hemp adds nutrients to the soil. With a new market for hemp clothing, it may be a win-win situation for the Indian farmers as well as Hemp clothes manufacturers who have to import hemp to meet their requirements.

Hemp Clothing

Hemp is making a resurgence again In the world and India is not far behind.  Many states are legalizing the growth of hemp in India, Uttarakhand being one of them. Hemp is being used in making sustainable clothing. Interested to read my interview with Salendra Gupta, who is manufacturing hemp clothing in India click.  Hemp clothes are not as rough as Khadi. They are lighter and more durable. It is perfect for  Indian Summers and winters alike.  It keeps you warm in winters and cool in summers. Like canvas,(it was used to make canvas) the more we wear hemp clothes the softer it gets. Because it is strong and can be stretched without tearing Hemp fabric is also ideal for furnishing.

Despite our love-hate relation to hemp, this material is here to stay. It is the ideal fabric and in my opinion a better alternative to organic cotton which has a higher carbon footprint. If we, in India, start cultivating organic hemp we could see a rise in the manufacture of hemp paper, particleboard,  and even bioplastic.


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