Today hemp is best known as an illegal drug in many parts of the world. However, it was probably first grown for its seed oil and stem fibre. In South Asia hemp is grown as an oil crop and for medicinal and ritual uses. There is new interest in many countries in hemp as an environment-friendly fibre crop. It replaces synthetic materials such as plastics.
Botanical watercolour of hemp leaves, 1750-1800.
What's in a name?
In the English-speaking world hemp has many names, often linked to its drug use: cannabis, marijuana, pot and grass. Even botanists have become confused, but most agree that the narcotic forms of hemp belong to one species, Cannabis sativa.
Compounds within hemp can help treat nausea, pain, and multiple sclerosis. However, the side effects are still unclear.
High fibre
Plant breeders have developed varieties of hemp which contain high levels of fibre which are now being grown in Europe as an industrial crop.
Delicious and nutritious
Hemp seed is nutritious and contains more essential fatty acids than any other source, and high levels of protein and B-vitamins. The seeds are not psychoactive and cannot be used as a drug. They can be found in health food shops in Britain.