Amazing Hemp: A Look at Hemp Uses Throughout History
GBL Staff Writer
March 24, 2023
It’s a marvelous plant. Really, once we start digging into the history of hemp, what hemp is used for, and its environmental benefits — you’ll start marveling at it.
Our bias aside (We LOVE hemp!), this cannabis plant is sustainable, versatile, dynamic, and mighty. Its endured and thrived through the ages, since before recorded history. And it’s been used in everything from folk remedies and food to clothing and construction to energy production and environmental clean-up. Pretty incredible!
What Is Hemp?
Hemp is a plant in the cannabis family. There are three varieties of hemp, subspecies of Cannabis sativa L, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis.(1) (Most of the time, we’re talking about the sativa kind.)
Industrial hemp refers to the federally-legal version of Cannabis sativa L. It has no more than 0.3% THC by weight. But, usually, people just say “hemp” as a sort of shorthand for “industrial hemp.”
Is Hemp the Same as CBD?
No, they’re two distinct — but related — things.
Hemp = Plant, CBD = Cannabinoid
Hemp is the whole leafy green plant we defined above.
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s a cannabinoid, just one type of molecule or plant compound found in cannabis plants. CBD can be extracted from cannabis plants (hemp or marijuana) to create a highly-concentrated CBD oil.
Also, different hemp-based products come from different varieties or parts of the hemp plant. Each has its own unique characteristics which may be more or less desirable or useful for the final product.
For example, CBD oil is typically made from the flowers, leaves, stems, and stalks of Cannabis sativa L. Other hemp goods may be made from the seeds.
50,000 Uses of Hemp — So Many Hemp Products!
Maybe there aren’t that many uses — but once you start looking, it does seem like there are infinite hemp products possibilities.
People are quite an industrious breed, full of ingenuity. Hemp lends itself well to this innovative spirit of ours! It’s astounding how far humans have taken hemp.
Moreover, every part of the plant is usable. From the lowest, finest wisp of root to the tippy-topmost leaf, clever folks are producing all manner of hemp goods.(2,3,4)
Below is a round-up of confirmed ways hemp’s been used throughout history and in present day. It’s a bit of a laundry list — but you’re sure to be impressed and perhaps surprised.
Hemp in Medicines & Personal Care
Hemp and its byproducts — like CBD oil and hemp oil — have been leveraged as health and wellness aids since before formal medicine was a thing.(5)
Some of the earliest indications of this are in Chinese medical texts from about 1500 BCE. In the Chinese pharmacopeia, it mentions the “yin and yang” of cannabis — perhaps an allusion to the properties of both CBD and THC?
In the 1500s and 1600s, Western medicine starts taking notice of hemp (specifically, the flower with cannabinoids). Various publications touted hemp’s medicinal uses, going so far as to say hemp is essential to the herbalist’s kit.
Research catapulted forward starting in the late 1800s when scientist first identified cannabinoids. The ensuing decades saw the discovery, isolation, and synthetization of specific cannabinoids — including THC and CBD. More recently, the endocannabinoid system was discovered. Investigation into all aspect of cannabis and the ECS continue.
Here are some personal-care products that may be made from or with hemp components:
Ready-made CBD products and DIY CBD-infused items (e,g,. smoothies or bath bombs)
You’ll find CBD-oil and hemp-seed-oil variations of all the above items. Have fun going down that rabbit hole!
Hemp in Food & Beverage
Eating and drinking hemp as a foodstuff is nothing new. Food and drink items made from hemp seed have probably been enjoyed for as long as hemp has been cultivated.
Hemp seeds come with or without the hull and can be used as-is or sprouted. They’re incredibly nutritious, and offer loads of health benefits. They really are a tasty way to get some of your daily load of omega 3s and 6s, protein, fiber, and more!
The FDA has given hemp seed the stamp of safety approval, classifying them as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Hemp seeds may contain minute amounts of cannabinoids — but so little they aren’t a factor. (i.e., You won’t derive any benefits or effects from the cannabinoids.)
Here are some yummy forms of hemp for you to chew on:
Hemp seeds of hearts
Hemp seed oil
Hemp protein powder
Hemp flour and meal
Hemp seed butter
Hemp seeds are also used in some animal feed, alcoholic beverages, and dietary supplements. You’ll often find hemp added to candies, baked goods, granola, and other processed foods. Suffice it to say — knowingly or not — you’ve probably consumed some hemp seeds at some point.
The first remnants of hemp cloth date back more than 10,000 years.(3) Hemp is ideal for textiles because the plant is naturally fibrous and makes fabrics that are exceptionally strong and resilient. Textile uses for hemp include:
One of the oldest examples of hemp used in construction hails from India. Hemp-infused plaster lining the Ellora Caves prevented decay for more than a millennium and a half.(6) Currently, hemp is finding its place in a wide array of building materials, such as:
Varnishes, oil, and sealants
Concrete (aka hempcrete) and drywall
Acoustic ceiling tiles
Using hemp in these materials is a real win. Hemp is cheaper, more renewable, easier to procure, and healthier to work with than many alternatives. Plus, it has properties that make it: sun-proof, moisture-resistant, fire-retardant, pest-resistant, and anti-mold. It’s strong, lightweight, and breathable. If that’s not enough, incorporating hemp into building materials could cut energy consumption and pollution and sequester CO2 from the air!(4) Phew — hemp’s a power plant!
Before petrofuels, there was biofuel. These are basically fuels made from vegetation. They’ve come back into vogue in recent years — everything old is new again, right?
Biofuels is another area where hemp shines. Hemp seeds and stalks can be turned in biodiesel, alcohol fuel (e.g., ethanol), and biogas.
Hemp-derived fuels are a gamechanger. Obviously a more planet-friendly source than petroleum, hemp is more renewable and less harmful to the environment. These fuels are safer to handle and store, less flammable, and biodegradable.
Hemp in Land Management
Hemp’s not just good for us, it can give planet Earth some much needed TLC, too. Agriculturalists, conservationists, environmental restoration workers all make use of hemp’s wonderous abilities to protect and revitalize the air, soil, and water.
Superfund and disaster sites — like Chernobyl — use hemp in a process called bioremediation.(7) Bioremediation is the use of plants to remove contaminants. The plants draw the toxins — chemicals, radioactive waste, sewage, etc. — out of the environment. The bad stuff is stored in the plant and the once-poisoned area is purified.
Hemp can also be used to manage healthy land.
As a densely-growing crop, farmers can install a thicket of hemp plants to crowd out or “shade out” invasive plants and weeds. Hemp is also naturally pest-resistant. This can reduce the need for chemical weed killers.
Hemp can help prevent soil erosion and compaction and restore nutrients to the soil, both of which can spur better growth in years to come.
Hemp straw, used in storm drainage systems, can help capture and release flood waters in a controlled manner. This safeguards surrounding land so they aren’t devastated by inundations.(8)
Have you considered planting hemp at your homestead?
Hemp — Been There, Done That
There doesn’t seem to be one corner of home or industry untouched by hemp. This versatile, adaptable, durable plant has so many applications. It’s busy improving:
Building and construction
Food and nutrition
Medicine and personal care
The environment, including the very ground it grows in!
So, hemp, hemp hooray! Show this mighty plant its due respect — and go enjoy its countless uses.
FAQs Buzzin’ Through the Hive
When did we first start using hemp?
Archaeological findings indicate that hemp was first used in textiles at least 12,000 years ago. Other evidence suggests that hemp was the first cultivated plants.(9)
What was hemp originally used for?
Data suggests that hemp was originally used as food and medicine and as a textile, crafting, and building material.
Is hemp the same as CBD?
No. Hemp is a type of cannabis plant; CBD is a compound found in cannabis plants. CBD oil can be extracted from certain parts of the hemp plant, not including the seeds.
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