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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

The versatility of hemp

Constituent parts of plants from the cannabinaceae family, including flowers, seeds and fibres of hempConstituent parts of plants from the cannabinaceae familyThe plants of the cannabinaceae family are described as being of ‘a very small natural order ... including but two species of distinct genera, widely spread through the North temperate zone’. Of this family, hemp (cannabis sativa) is a versatile plant, being historically used in the production of textiles and rope.

The bark of the plant can be constructed into cordage of great strength and ‘affords on maceration a fibre of great tenacity, which has been in use from remote antiquity’.

In modern times its by-products have also been used in the construction industry and in health and skincare products. The plant grows across the world; in Japan hemp is used to provide the loincloths of sumo wrestlers and in the United States it was used in the Second World War to produce uniforms, canvas and rope.

The cultivation of hemp, though widely undertaken for millennia has, however, often drawn the eyes of the authorities, due to what the narrative in this book describes as ‘the dangerously narcotic resin in the glands of the herbage’, which the plant produces when cultivated in warm climates.

Widely used across the world as a recreational drug, cannabis is cultivated today both indoors and out and recent legislation by a number of US states easing restrictions on its cultivation is likely to see it utilised further, for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

The painful symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer treatment are all said to be alleviated by the use of marijuana and further research is likely to lead to a better understanding of how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other chemicals found in the plant act as pain relievers.

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