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Hemp: It Ain’t About Drugs

May 24, 2012

I like plowing through old agricultural entries, books and journals. Hemp is one of my favorite topics to research and not for the reasons that you might assume as obvious. None of us has ever lived in a world where we’re “allowed” to even grow the most useful plant on the planet much less use it to its fullest potential, so looking at how hemp used to be cultivated strikes me as a fruitful endeavor. It’s also a window into a world that’s long gone but could be partially regained if only a critical mass had both knowledge and motivation.

There’s much knowledge and folklore about hemp that’s been forgotten about. It used to be as prevalent as corn, wheat or bad TV shows. In Elizabeth’s England, the town of Bridport was known for its flax, hemp, ropes, yarns and canvas sails (the word ‘canvas’ comes from the Latin word for hemp, cannabis), materials that ensured the defeat of the Spanish Armada. As such, the hangman’s rope was also known as a Bridport dagger, made from the Bridport’s hemp. The reason that Bridport’s canvas was so good was because the material used to make it was boiled and sized, never rotting or shrinking on the rigging. Rotting and shrinking sails were a life-threatening hazard for anyone using ships, much as bad tires make for dangerous driving today.

Thomas Tusser, 16th century author of Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, has some things to say about hemp in his couplets. While going through this book, I found this tidbit:

“Where plots full of nettles be noisome to eye,
sow thereupon hempseed, and nettles will die.”

He said it very matter of factly, as though it was known that hemp was a natural herbicide. It was a fact unknown to me, mostly because I’m a thoroughly free and modern fellow that isn’t permitted to grow one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth because banks, oil companies, drug companies and a host of other centralized industries and their various political dependents might lose their grip and their shirts should we all be “allowed” to compete with them via agriculture. But I digress…

This couplet got me curious about what other information regarding hemp as an herbicide might be obtained. In looking at available material (thank you, Google Books), we find that hemp was known as both an herbicide and a natural pesticide. Hemp oil itself, obtained from hemp seeds, can be used to kill fleas, lice and other historical traveling companions of both humans and beasts.

Here’s another area where hemp’s very existence conflicts with the interests of the aforementioned centralized Capital-Industrial Complex. The huge agrochemical market, representing tens of billions to be shared by the likes of DuPont, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, etc., would be quite threatened by an unpatentable natural herbicide/pesticide that grows most anywhere. Considering the decades, effort and money that large agrocorps have put into positioning agriculture in a full nelson, for them to allow hemp to be grown is as crazy an idea as legal hemp is to the Prison-Industrial Complex, one of the few industries that profits from hemp’s existence.

In closing, a few links that will hopefully back up my balderdash. Please note the sources. I look forward to the day when governments are advising people on how to grow hemp again rather than throw them in jail to protect the financial interests of a few.

Entry for Hemp, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1810

…Besides these uses of hemp, it is said to possess a property as a plant which renders it almost invaluable; via. that of driving away almost all insects that feed upon other vegetables. Hence in some places of the continent they secure their crops from these mischievous attacks, by sowing a belt of hemp round their gardens, or any particular spot which they wish to preserve.

Pantologia: a new cabinet cyclopaedia, comprehending a complete series of essays, treatises, and systems 1819

The culture and management of hemp makes a considerable article in agriculture; requiring divers operations, as fulling, watering, beating, and swingling. It is sown in May, in a warm, sandy, rich soil; and is of itself sufficient to destroy weeds on any ground…

The British farmer’s cyclopaedia, 1808

WEVIL. Mode of destroying. Mr. Willpole having suffered for many years by the wevils, and having tried every possible means to get rid of them, made use at last of a plant, the smell of which attracted these insects from their habitations. He put on a heap of corn, thyme and sweet marjorum, and changed each of these plants every twenty-four hours, in hopes of discovering one which would answer his purpose. He tried also hemp, took a handful of it, and put it on a heap of corn, and found the next morning that the hemp was full of wevils. These little insects seem to have a liking to a smell of a bad nature, since they find the disagreeable smell of hemp pleasant, and it appears that they like the soft rind of it. The handful of hemp was cleaned from these insects, and put again on the corn: the result was that in five days afterwards lucre were no wevils to be seen in the said heap of corn.

In the season when there was no green hemp, they make use of mould and old hemp, and with equal success, except that it requires a longer time to destroy the insects. —Malcolm’s Compendium

Flax and hemp: their culture and manipulation, 1854

“…the hemp will be gathered when it is ripe, which will be known by the whiteness of the stem, and by other signs to be learned by practice. But in pulling it, the male plants must be distinguished from the female, drawing the former firsfand leaving the latter in the ground till the seed is ripe. And not only is the sterility of the male plant the reason of its being gathered first, but in order that the rind may be more productive of fibre, than if it were left standing to harden. On the other hand, waiting for the seed to ripen causes the rind of the female to be harder than it otherwise would. Plucking it from the ground is the fashion of gathering hemp, as vegetables are plucked, with the additional proceeding of sowing turnip-seed amongst it, which, being favoured by rain falling soon afterwards, or by waterings by hand, cannot fail to fructify, in land which has been so well prepared by the hemp, whose strength will have killed all noxious plants and insects. No further trouble need be taken about these turnips than to throw the seed over and amongst the hemp before pulling it; for in the act of gathering, the earth is raised, which is all the tillage the turnips will require, if, after the hemp is pulled, the surface of the ground is smoothed with a rake.

…Land does not tire of bearing hemp several years in succession, as it does of almost every other thing, provided there is no spare of ploughing and manuring, by means of which it may be made to continue this service as long as you choose. The strong smell of hemp chases from the ground many noxious herbs and troublesome animals; a very useful thing in gardens. When they are attacked by these nuisances, hemp is grown in them a couple of years successively, which thus ameliorates and renovates the soil, to the great benefit of such herbs as affect fresh ground.

A history of the vegetable kingdom, 1841

…After this period, the hemp ground requires very little care or labour till it is fit for pulling. This plant is never overrun with weeds, but on the contrary, has the remarkable property of destroying their vegetation. The cause of its producing this effect is attributed by some cultivators to a peculiar poisonous quality residing in its roots; by others it is considered to be so great an impoverisher of the soil as to draw off a11 the nourishment, which would otherwise contribute to the growth of weeds.

Agriculturists sometimes take advantage of this well known fact, and by sowing a crop or two of hemp on the rankest soils, they subdue all noxious weeds, and entirely cleanse the ground from these troublesome intruders. One of the greatest difficulties attending the clearing a tract of ground in the vicinity of Naples, the swamp near the Lago di Patria, was to rid it of an exuberant growth of canne, or reeds, that rose considerably above the head of a man on horseback. The sowing of hemp was found to be by far the most efficacious means. After hemp, Indian corn was very successfully sown in some of the fields.

It is said that this plant has likewise the peculiar property of destroying caterpillars and other insects which prey upon vegetables; it is therefore very usual, in those countries where hemp is much cultivated, for the peasantry to secure their vegetable gardens from insects, by encircling the beds with a border of hemp, which in this manner proves a most efficient barrier against all such depredators.

United States Department of Agriculture, 1896

There will be little trouble with weeds if the first crop is well destroyed by the spring plowing, for hemp generally occupies all the ground, giving weeds but little chance to intrude. For this reason the plant is an admirable weed killer, and in flax-growing countries is sometimes employed as a crop, in rotation, to precede flax, because it puts the soil in good condition. In proof of this, a North River farmer a few years ago made the statement that thistles heretofore had mastered him in a certain field, but after sowing it with hemp not a thistle survived, and while ridding his land of this pest the hemp yielded him nearly $60 per acre where previously nothing valuable could be produced.

Report of the Director, University of Wisconsin. Agricultural Experiment Station, 1911

Hemp As A Weed Eradicator

Experiments have been conducted by the Agronomy department on the value of hemp as a means of eradicating noxious weeds. On the state prison farm at Waupun, a field of 3% acres, infested with quack grass and Canada thistles, was treated two years ago. This field was heavily manured and plowed in July, being harrowed weekly and the loose roots removed with ;j hay rake. The following spring it was sown to hemp at the rate of one bushel per acre, and a yield of over 2100 pounds of fibre per acre, valued at $118, secured. This treatment resulted in complete destruction of thistles, and nearly complete annihilation of quack grass. As a result this year over 125 acres of hemp have been sown on the quack and thistle infested lands surrounding Waupun. In all cases, except where sowing was made too late and growth was therefore checked by the drought, marketable hemp has been produced. In many instances, this land was not previously summer fallowed, nevertheless the growth of these noxious weeds was seriously checked. “Where previous summer fallowing is practiced, this treatment appears efficacious in the destruction of these weeds. The fact that land can be used for the growth of a money crop during the process of eradication makes the method the more valuable.

Scientific American: Supplement 1907

Hemp and Hempseed Oil as Protectives Against Vermin: It ought to be more generally known that hemp seed oil can be recommended as a safe and speedy means of getting rid of the parasites which infest the skins of animals. A farmer writes “I have used this protective for thirty years and always with complete success. In two to three hours after the oil has been rubbed into the skins of domestic animals the troublesome itching ceases, the vermin have been exterminated. The oil is also very effective against lice. It is cheap and easily procurable and does not like other substances of this kind possess poisonous properties. It can therefore be safely used with horses as a preservative against horse flies etc also with cats and dogs which are apt to lick off the oil. My long experience has shown that it is particularly useful with poultry. In gardens also hempseed may render effective service as a protective against earth fleas eg In keeping these insects away from cabbage seedlings. Hempchaff has a similar action. Hemp is also a pretty plant and will contribute to the adornment of the garden.”


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