HEMP – HISTORY OF A “HISTORICAL PLANT” (February 4/05)

“Hemp and Marijuana are both in the Cannabis family, but hemp seed do not contain the psychoactive compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that Marijuana does. Hemp is grown for industrial purposes; food, fiber and fuel. This is why hemp is legal and marijuana is not.”

I found this explanation of the difference between hemp and marijuana in various websites devoted to natural foods. Several of the sites called hemp a “historical plant” and an important crop in colonial days. This is an understatement, as I found after digging through websites and history books. From the Acadians to the Planters, the growing of hemp for various uses was often vital if these early colonists wanted to survive; hemp was so important a crop that settlers apparently had to agree to cultivate it as one of the conditions for receiving a land grant.

Actually, when it comes to the history of hemp, Nova Scotia has a special claim. “Hemp has a long history in the Annapolis Valley,” says an advertising brochure promoting the health benefits of the plant’s unique oil. The hemp crop was considered so essential, the brochure reads, that (in 1768) “new settlers were required to ‘plant two acres… with hemp and to keep up the same or a like quantity of acres planted during successive years’.”

While it’s true that early settlers, the Planters for example, were required to plant hemp, it was cultivated in the province long before the 1768 date given in the brochure. On a website on the industrial use of hemp I found the following: “In 1606, French Botanist Louis Hebert planted the first hemp crop in North America in Port Royal, Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia).” Several other historical references confirm the 1606 date and mention that hemp was one of the crops grown by the Acadians

The same website notes that “as that early as 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of the province of Upper Canada, on behalf of the King of England, distributed hemp seed free to Canadian farmers. Hemp became the first crop to be subsidized…” Another reference said that Nova Scotia is believed to be the first place in North America where hemp was introduced. Yet another source says that it was “European hemp” that was introduced and hemp was growing here in the wilds when the first colonists arrived and was being used by the natives.

On the Planters being required to grow hemp as a grant condition, Eaton in his Kings County history confirms this and gives the details. Eaton’s work has the full text of the first grant in the township of Cornwallis, which as well as naming the grantees, spells out their obligations. “Each of the said grantees obliges and binds himself, his heirs and assigns to plant, cultivate, improve or enclose one third part of the land thereby granted, within ten years.” Further the grantees were required to “plant within ten years… two acres of the said land with hemp, and to keep up the same or a like quantity of the acres planted during the successive years.”

Our historical hemp has gone modern, by the way, and can be found in a variety of health products and cosmetics. Several local stores sell hemp seed oil, hemp nut butter, and hemp seed nuts. Log on to www.manitobaharvest.com for more on hemp oil.

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