Famine Reduction

Australian citizens have, throughout history, survived numerous droughts by reliance upon hemp to prevent starvation and malnutrition. The seeds formed their source of protein and the leaves served as roughage (Frazier, 1972). The seeds can also be ground and mixed with water to from a highly nutritious gruel/porridge. The plant has even been used in hospitals to replenish the under-nourished and for treatment of other various ailments. For more information of the healing properties of hemp, please visit Clearspring (www.clearspring.co.uk) for instance claim in an advertisement that :
‘Hemp oil comes from one of the oldest cultivated plants and has followed civilizations as they moved around the globe. Jute and hemp fibres were the mainstay of many cultures (History) … Since the 1930s, hemp oil has been regarded as a healing oil’.

Biona, suppliers of organic hemp seeds to Health food stores claim that their seeds are ‘steamed to prevent germination … without further concern from the authorities’ and vouching that they are ‘protecting the environment and protecting your health.’ Biona highlight the the crop is also ‘very fruitful’.

Hemp also grows well on marginal lands, being particularly suited to rural Third World countries suffering famine due to environmental and developmental problems.

Case study of South African Countries
The South African Climate is becoming increasingly variable, with greater tendency for drought and consequent failure of traditional crops. In 1993-4, for example, over 1 million Zimbabwe rural dwellers were dependent upon food relief from the government due to the premature ending of the rainy season (The Herald 28th May, 1994). Rapid population increases had meant that traditional farming techniques (such as shifting cultivation) were becoming unsustainable. Villagers have inadvertently contributed to reducing the soil’s nutrients and stability by attempting to increase productivity beyond the optimum, for their survival. More marginal land is also being farmed. These have all lead to greater unsustainability and reduced food security.

Hemp plants could alleviate the problems being experienced in South African countries in a number of ways:
Hemp as a source of food aid
The crop is very productive and could be produced at a much lower cost and with greater nutritional value than traditional food aid (simple grains and rice). It also has a large role to play in helping sufferers of malnutrition.
Hemp as a reserve crop should others fail
The ability of the crop to withstand the harshest of environmental conditions should be exploited and the crop can be used to as a standby to help villagers survive the worst dry seasons.
Hemp planting on marginal land
Hemp is able to tolerate these conditions and can also through proper management increase soil stability and prevent soil erosion (see biodiversity)

Global Warming

Whilst there is still some doubt that global warming is occurring, the possibility of it has been recognized for over a century. Reports including those from the Office of Technology of Assessment from the 1970s onwards indicate that warming IS occurring. Temperature records (1850-2000) indicate that there has been a fluctuating, gradual rate of increase in both temperature and energy – hence the increased occurrence of ‘freak’ weather incidents such as hurricanes and floods. Climatologists agree that greenhouse gases are responsible for warming the atmosphere and that 66% of greenhouse gases are caused by burning fossil fuel, deforestation and fertilizers.

All though some ‘experts’ (most notably those with affiliation to greenhouse gas producing industries) remain sceptical over whether global warming is occurring or not, we should at least err on the side of caution. Freak weather incidents, and rising sea levels are likely to have significant negative effects upon human civilizations. The UK government is committed to increased reliance upon nuclear energy, which creates the additional risks associated with the storage of radioactive waste and radioactive emissions. Alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels, nuclear waste, deforestation and nitrate chemical fertilizers need to be developed. Hemp could have a vital role to play in the development of friendly alternatives.

Energy production
A report published by the FCDA of Europe outlines the Cannabis Biomass Energy Equation (CBEE), outlining a convincing case that hemp plants can be used to produce fuel energy CHEAPER per BtU than fossil fuels and uranium – WITHOUT PRODUCING GREENHO– USE GASES! Hemp plants have the highest known quantities of cellulose for annuals – with at least 4x (some suggest even 50-100x) the biomass potential of its closest rivals (cornstalks, sugarcane, kernaf and trees) (Omni, 1983). Biomass production still produces greenhouse gases, although the idea is that the excess of carbon dioxide will be used up by growing hemp plants – they are effective absorbers and thrive at high levels – Unlike fossil fuel energy which produces energy from plants which died millions of years ago.

On reading the report of the FCDA, Hon. Jonathon Porrit (ex-director of Friends of the Earth, currently on the Board of Forum for the Future) commented  ‘I DID enjoy reading it – the report should contribute much’. Three years later – authorities are still not taking the potential of this plant seriously. MAFF are currently engaging in supporting research into the biomass potential of poplar trees which they claim has the most scientific support for biomass energy production. H-E-M-P recommend use of the hemp plant if biomass energy production is to have any real impact in reducing carbon dioxide levels.

IT’S SO PRODUCTIVE! 1 acre of hemp = 1,000 gallons of methanol.

In fact, Henry Ford’s first car ran on hemp-methanol! – and at just a fraction of the cost of petroleum alternatives. Alternatives to coal, fuel oil, acetone, ethyl, tar pitch and creosote can be derived – from this one single plant!

As regards depletion of the ozone layer – hemp actually withstands UV radiation. It absorbs UV light, whilst resisting damage to itself and providing protection for everything else.

Risk-free, pollution-free energy. No acid rain, and a reduction in airborne pollution of up to 80% … There’s further potential for the same in industry.


Hemp plants have few insect enemies, and respond to most soil types. They have a huge potential to be grown organically – without the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. There is also no need for genetic modification (GM) of these plants – they already have the desired characteristics.

The plants are very fast growing – this means that they soon swamp out weeds. They also have very few pest enemies, especially so in North America and Canada. They tend to attract a larger proportion of pests in Western Europe, although still comparatively fewer than traditional crops.  Research in Holland suggests that fungal diseases and pests can be reduced in traditional crops if grown in rotation with hemp.

Hemp has also traditionally been used to stabilize the soil in regions where there is a high chance of soil loss, for example upon the slopes of the mountains of the Himalayas. The plants have very penetrative roots. The main tap root can grow up to 12″ deep in just 30 days. There is also a system of finer lateral roots which disperse themselves through the subsurface soil over 7-8″, providing further stability.

Hemp plants are also wildlife friendly. Monoculture tends to lead to low levels of wildlife, particularly due to the loss of hedgerows and suitable habitats. Hemp plantations on the other hand have been shown to be beneficial to animals. Montford and Small (1999) found that hemp is biodiversity friendly in terms of species numbers and in competition of nutrients with wild land. Hemp plantations especially increase the numbers of birds. As many bird keepers will be aware, hemp seed is by far their favourite food. Scientific studies have shown that birds with a staple diet of hemp seeds can live up to 20% longer, be much healthier, have more lustrous feathers and produce more off-spring. The plant has the potential to resolve the problems associated with conventional farming.

Case study of conventional farming
In the 1950s, farming under went mass intensification, with the aim of producing as much as possible at the lowest possible cost – for profit. This lead to the production and application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, mechanization of labour and removal of hedgerows. The resultant effects upon wildlife have been well documented, beginning in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in which she described prior thriving animal habitats as lifeless. Whilst the worst of the crude pesticides of the 1950s and 60s have largely been eradicated (from more developed countries), there are still problems with chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen in particular causes problems when washed into water ways (including eutrophication and drinking water contamination) and can also be converted to nitrous oxides, contributing to the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion. There are also unknown effects of consuming toxic pesticide residues – which have been found in quantities 5x higher than the recommended EC levels on inorganic produce.

Hemp plantations can alleviate the problems associated with conventional agriculture in a number of ways:
The plants will mop up excess chemical nitrogen from agricultural plots, preventing its run-off into waterways.
Hemp itself can be grown without any artificial inputs.
The crop can be grown as a food source – it is ideal for organic agriculture and could perhaps replace other crops requiring high chemical inputs.
The crop can be used for a wide variety of industrial uses – to replace other crops which require high artificial inputs (such as cotton)
It can play a vital role in soil stabilization.

Can Hemp Save The Planet?

Can Hemp Save The Planet?

In his book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer states that hemp can save the planet. He says that hemp grows easily anywhere, including marginal land, with little water and no fertilisers or insecticides. He says that hemp, an annual crop, could supply humanity with everything that it needs, and that there is no need to exploit the planets dwindling resources. Herer offered $10000 to anyone who could disprove this, and eventually his ideas crossed over to the mainstream press. The Emperor is now a bestseller in English, French and German, and a British edition was published in 1994.

Another book published in 1994 was Hemp Today, edited by Ed Rosenthal. This book summarises the state of the global hemp industry in the early nineties, outlines the many potential uses of hemp, and asks whether Herer is right. Hemp Today concludes that hemp is no magic bullet, and will not save the planet on its own. However if there is investment in new technology, and a social and political revolution, then hemp and other annual plants will play a major role in a sustainable future for the planet.

According to Hemp Today, there are a number of flaws in Herer’s argument. Firstly, hemp does require fertilisers and lots of water, to achieve maximum growth rates, so that it can compete economically with current practices. However hemp does do well in rotation with other crops and if fertiliser is supplied then it can be grown for at least 50 years on the same soil with no drop in yield. There may be few pests that effect hemp in the US, but in other countries insecticides are needed.

One of the main problems facing the hemp industry is that the main consumer demand, entrepreneurial spirit, technological research and source of finance are all in the US, where it is illegal to grow all hemp, even if it contains little or no THC. Many of the processes suggested for hemp will only be economic if the transport costs are minimised by building the factory close to the fields. Thus there must be legal growth of hemp in the US before anyone will invest money in new technology.

Paper from Hemp

Until the close of the 19th century, all the world’s paper was made by recycling worn-out cloth such as sails, sheets, clothes and rags. These were mainly made from hemp (but also flax) so that Herer claims that 75-90 % of paper was made from hemp. With the Industrial Revolution the demand for paper exceeded the availiable rag supply, and inventors began to develop new processes to make paper from natural resources. Unfortunately the largest profits were made by exploiting the worlds forests. A hundred years later we have cleared almost all the primary forest in Europe and North America. Now we must use a sustainable resource for our paper, either managed forests or an annual plant.

Hemp produces paper of a far higher quality than trees. Throughout the 20th century speciality papers were made from hemp. These include most cigarette papers, scientific filter papers, coffee filter papers, tea bags, art papers etc. Currently only 0.05% of the world’s paper is made from hemp.

According to Herer, 3-4 times more paper can be produced from hemp than from trees. Pulp made from trees must be bleached using environmentally destructive processes, such as chlorine-bleaching. Hemp pulp can be bleached with relatively harmless hydrogen peroxide.

Paper can be made from hemp hurds, thus if hemp is grown for fibre or seeds, famers will have an extra product they can sell. However if paper is to made from hemp, it will require massive investments in new technology to process the hemp. Paper-making industries will need to be relocated close to hemp growing areas to minimise transport costs.

The feasibility of paper-production from hemp was recently assessed in a comprehensive three-year Dutch research program involving scientists from 12 institutes and costing Dfl 17 million (£7 million). The Dutch are searching for new crops which can be grown in rotation with their standard crops. They believe that rotating crops will control potato parasites, without needing dangerous pesticides! The researchers found that hemp would be economically viable and developed a detailed business plan.

They recommended that 1000 arable farmers from the north-east of the Netherlands should set up a co-operative, which would own shares in a new pulp factory. Additional funding would be needed from government subsidies and loans. The initial cost would be Dfl 57 million (£22 million) and after 5 years production capacity would be increased making a total investment of Dfl 127 million (£51 million).

However when the plan was put to a committee of farmers, government officials and paper-makers, they decided that some of the assumptions of the business plan were uncertain and that further research, and a pilot plant were needed. This would take a further 2 years and cost Dfl 8-10 million (£4 million). UKCIA are still looking for information on how the project is going.

field of Hemp in the UK

A field of Hemp, somewhere in England

Hemp Seed Food

Throughout world history people prized the nutritious and delicious hemp seed as a valuable food resource. Each culture had its own traditional recipies. Typically they would be ground and used like flour, pressed to produce oil or toasted and used in celebratory treats. Today they are still used in cooking in many countries worldwide, while hemp enthuasiasts in the west are developing and marketing new products such as chewy bars, cheese and ice-cream!

Hemp seeds also continue to be used as bird feed. Indeed the testimony of parakeet fanciers that their birds would not sing, unless they were fed hemp seeds convinced the US congress to make an exception in 1937, so long as the seeds were sterilized so that no plants could be grown from them. The seeds contain no THC. Sterilization however lowers the shelf-life of the seed – they can go rancid much quicker.

Hemp seeds have nutritional qualities which make it extremely valuable as a human food. They are high in essential minerals, but low in dangerous heavy metals. They are low in vitamins but you should be getting those from fresh vegetables. They contain a high proportion of protein, containing all eight essential amino acids (needed by, but not made by the human body) in the correct proportions that humans need. Soybeans contain more protein, but these are complex proteins that many people find hard to digest. The proteins in hemp are so easily digestible, that scientists advise their use for treating malnurishment.

Hemp seeds contain large amounts of oil, almost all of it unsaturated. Hemp oil is mainly composed of the essential fatty acids (needed by, but not made by the human body) in exactly the correct proportion that humans need. The supplementary oil industry in the US is just becoming big business, with sales of primrose oil and flax oil rising. These don’t contain the right balance of oils, and they taste unpleasant – hemp oil has a delicious nutty taste. However hemp oil has one major drawback – it goes rancid extremely quickly after exposure to air. Vacuum pressing and bottling will keep the oil fresh for up to a year, but after it has been opened it must be kept refrigerated and used very quickly.

History of Hemp Cultivation in Britain

History of Hemp Cultivation in Britain

Cannabis hemp was widely grown across Britain in the Middle Ages, from at least 800 to 1800 AD, though the amount grown varied widely through the centuries. It was mainly grown for fibre which was used to make sails, ropes, fishing nets and clothes. Old clothes were recycled into paper. Oil was produced from the seeds and was burned in lamps. It may also have been used as a folk medicine and for food, but it’s a mystery whether or not it was taken as a drug. In this section we’ll first explain what types of evidence of hemp cultivation there is, then summarise where and when hemp was grown in Britain.

The evidence that hemp was grown in Britain comes in several different forms. First there is some written evidence in parish records and government reports. There aren’t that many references to hemp, because agricultural practices were not widely written about. Secondly there are many places in Britain today with names such as Hemphill or Hempriggs, and many more places are marked on old maps such as Hemp-buttis, Hempisfield and Hempriggis. Thirdly there is evidence from pollen analysis of lake sediments, although again not much for two reasons. Firstly the sites chosen for pollen studies, tended to avoid agriculturally favourable areas. Secondly, until 1987 it was diffficult to identify hemp’s pollen.

Sediment accumulates slowly at the bottom of lakes and the pollen of whatever plants were grown around the lake is buried with it. A metre of sediment contains a few hundred years of history, and deeper you core the older it gets. The sediment can be carbon-dated or there may be distinctive bands of other plants’ pollen which have known dates. Gradual variations in the amount of hemp grown can be seen across the years.




There was an early peak in hemp production in England from 800 – 1000 AD, followed by a slackening in interest by farmers as new crops were discovered. In the early sixteenth century hemp was re-introduced and its growth recommended. Large quantities of hemp were needed to supply the English navy, and Henry the Eighth ordered his subjects to grow hemp. Large amounts of hemp were grown in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but not enough for the British Navy – the war against Napolean’s France in 1812 was fought, in part, to control the supplies of Russian hemp. In Victorian times peasant produced imported hemp undercut domestic hemp, and its growth died out in Britain.



Hemp didn’t appear in Scotland until about 1000 AD, 200 years later than in England. There was a general explosion in agriculture around this time (shown in the pollen records) and hemp was one of a number of crops, such as cereals and carrotts, that were grown widely for the first time. By 1200 agriculture became more intensive in Scotland, and specialist crops were grown in different areas. Thus hemp became less common in most of Scotland, but stayed an important crop near the fishing communities where hemp was used for fishing nets, ropes and sails for the fishing boats, and where manure and seaweed were availiable for fertilizer. Hemp was grown in Scotland up to the 18th century when hemp fields were replaced by the wooded estates of the gentry.

Place names which still exist include:

  • Hemphill (Kilmarnock Parish, Aryshire)
  • Hempland (Torthorwald, Dumfriesshire)
  • Hempriggs (Wick, Caithness)
  • Hempy Shot (Oldhamstocks, East Lothian)

Placenames found on old maps include:

  • Hemp-buttis (1556, Auchtermuchty, Fife)
  • Hempriggis (1571, Alves, Morayshire)
  • Hempisfield (1642, Plenderleith, Roxburghshire)
  • Hempshaugh (1663, Selkirk)

The Kelton (Kirkcudbright-shire) Kirk Session Minutes of 1724 mentioned that a man appeared before the church court because he had thrown a woman against a hemp rigg, while another old history book records that a papal legate travelling in Scotland in the fifteenth century observed in every rural habitation, the people employed in speparating the hemp from the stalks. Other old books mentioned hemp being grown in:

  • Lewis, Outer Hebrides, 1771
  • Islay, Inner Hebrides, 1814
  • Mouswald parish, Dumfriesshire, early 18th century

Two lake cores, taken from Black Loch in north-west Fife (near Newburgh) and Kilconquhar Loch in south-east Fife (near Elie) were analysed for hemp pollen. In Black Loch cannabis appeared around 1045, at the time of the increase in agriculture. Large amounts of hemp were grown until 1210 after which there was a decline and no more hemp was grown after 1265. In Kilconquhar Loch however hemp pollen was found consistently throughout the core, only dissapearing during the eighteenth century.

In Medieval times religious hospitals commonly grew hemp. Hemp features in the recommended plants section of the great religious gardening books! Many monastic houses have areas of land named after hemp, and some have remenants of hemp-retting pools. It is likely that hemp was mainly grown for its fibre, but also for medicine for the hospitals. Little evidence exists of the growth of hemp at archeological sites because traditional archeologists threw away the soil etc looking for artifacts. Only a few environmental archeologists bothered to look for (and find) hemp pollen in the grounds of medieval hospitals.




SHARP (1989) Third report into the medieval hospital at Soutra, Lothian/Borders Region, Scotland. ISBN 09511888 28

Whittington, G. & Edwards, K.J. (1990) The cultivation and utilisation of hemp in Scotland. Scottish Geographical Magazine 160 p167-173.