Humans have known about the benefits of hemp for a long time. As in, 10,000 years at least. Shortly after discovering the plant, our ancestors immediately began incorporating hemp into their daily lives in many different forms. These uses ultimately paved the way for the advancement of human civilization. Here are the top five ways humans have utilized hemp throughout history:
The use of stone tools by early humans was undeniably groundbreaking. Equally as groundbreaking was the Fiber Revolution. According to Carl Sagan, hemp might have been the very first plant actively cultivated by homo sapiens. The ability to create rope for the carrying of food, the creation of structures, the hunting of prey and the domestication of the horse changed the world immensely for early man. Later, the hemp rope’s ability to withstand the punishing saltwater of the sea helped us to conquer the oceans, migrate, and trade around the globe.
Clothing made from hemp covered the peoples of the world for most of human history. Only with the rise of the cotton gin did hemp finally lose its top status as the fabric of choice. That’s because its rugged durability caused it to last for a long time. It was in China, known as “the Land of Mulberry and Hemp,” where most of the major innovations of hemp occurred. The first spinning wheels spun hemp clothing and because of its traditional importance, hemp cloth is still what people wear when mourning their deceased relatives. In the sumo circles of Japan, hemp is the holy fabric and the only cloth allowed to enter the ring. Hemp clothed the first settlers of North America and its planting was even ordered by the government because of its importance.
Of course, the first real paper made by man occurred in China as well. The oldest fragments are 6,000 years old and it revolutionized the Middle Kingdom, allowing for the spread of bureaucracy and stable governance. The first printed book of all time was the Buddhist manuscript ‘The Diamond Sutra’ in the year 868. The important technology was a closely guarded secret but it’s said that at the Battle of Talas - where the Chinese lost to the Arabs - the capture of two paper makers brought the secret west and helped to ignite the Golden Age of Arabic Science. When papermaking reached Renaissance Europe, cities like Florence would forbid the export of hemp rags because of their importance for the production of paper. Gutenberg’s Bible, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson and most of the famous books of the Renaissance were all written on hemp paper.
One of the reasons early humans would have taken to the hemp plant was because of its edible seeds. They contain an ideal mixture of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, high-quality protein and a lost list of essential vitamins and minerals. Because of the amount of fiber they contain, hemp seeds aid digestion. Their ease of use contributed to their popularity. The seeds can be consumed raw, cooked, roasted, or ground into a powder. They can be turned into a liquid form such as hemp milk, hemp juice, and hemp tea. Hemp seeds have been a staple of the Chinese diet for thousands of years and are still consumed there in huge amounts, just as the seeds are starting to become popular in the United States.
One of the most obvious uses that early humans would have found for harnessing the hemp plant was the altering of consciousness. With whole mountain slopes of it growing wild, throwing many plants onto a bonfire and dancing around it would have been an easy way for an entire community to access a sacred space.
Indeed, cannabis is found at the root of many religions. The first Taoist monastery was founded by two men and a woman who used cannabis at very psychoactive levels. Ma Gu is still the hemp goddess worshipped across China. In India, we see the largest uninterrupted human use of cannabis in the world in the worship of Krishna. The founder of Zoroastrianism seemed to favor it - before his later followers went conservative and tried to write it out of the history books. The famous monk and writer François Rabelais wrote his epic ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’ specifically about the wonders of the cannabis plant, risking the roasting fires of the Inquisition for his openness. In the modern era, a number of sincere cannabis churches have opened and the Rastafarian movement made cannabis a cornerstone of their faith.