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The 1909 Children’s Encyclopedia Entry on Hemp

Posted on January 1, 1909

Fibre Plants — Hemp

We all know hemp as a roadside weed, tall, straight, with whorls of spreading, lady-finger leaves, all pitched at a downward slant, the flowers clustered at the bases of the leaves, as happens with all members of the stinging nettle family, to which hemp belongs.

Wild hemp, as it grows escaped from cultivation, and in its native region, western Asia, has poor fibre. But in the hemp fields of Russia, Austria, Turkey, Italy, China, Japan, and the United States, it may reach ten, and even twenty feet in height. The fibres of the inner bark, when properly separated, come out
creamy-white, soft, pliable, and with a silky sheen. It is substituted for linen in all but the better grades in the north of Italy, where methods of cultivation and curing produce the best
quality of fibre.

The great hemp region of this country is the Blue Grass region in Kentucky, where a rich, moist, well-drained loam overlies limestone. The seed is sowed and rolled, but not cultivated after it comes up. The vigorous plants get the start of the weeds and kill them out. The roots plow deep, and the stems soar. When the flowers appear and the tops turn yellow, then comes the harvest. The stems are cut as low as possible, for the best fibre is at the base. The September sun dries the stalks that lie with butts down hill on the grass. In a week they are gathered into small bundles, tied, shocked, or stacked.

In November the stems are spread for two months so that moisture and frost rot the outer bark and woody center of the stems from the fibrous layer. This “retting” is sometimes done in water. When the fibre separates easily, the stalks are set up to dry. The old-fashioned hand-breaks are used to “decorticate” the fibre, and clean it of the fragments of bark and wood left after the breaking is done. The freed fibre is tied in hanks, and these are baled for market. After being hackled it goes to the twine factory. Often the hemp-grower clears $30 to $60 an acre, after cost of growing is deducted. And the land is left in better condition than before the hemp was planted.

The British navy consumes a quantity of hemp fibre in the manufacture of the bags in which coal is carried. Sail cloth, coarse sheeting’s and canvas, carpet warp and rugs, fish lines and nets, and all kinds of twines and ropes are made of hemp. Hemp seed is not ripe when the canes are right for fibre, so special plots are grown for seed, which is valuable as poultry food. Oil for paint is extracted from the seed. The plants are best grown in hills so that they have room to branch and produce the greatest amount of seed. The seed crop often nets the farmer almost as much as if he grew hemp fibre.

In the Far East the resinous substance in flowers and leaves of hemp is a commercial product in great demand. In various forms, to drink, to chew, and to smoke, the intoxicating drug is universally used. The bhang is the dried leaves and fruits. It may be mixed with tobacco, for smoking, or with honey and spices, for a kind of candy, or steeped like tea. Hasheesh is the name it is known by in Turkey and Syria. Hasheesh cakes, often huge in size, are sold in the bazaars. The effect of hasheesh is pleasantly stimulating at first; then follows loss of sensation, dulling of pain, and sleep with pleasant dreams. The result of constant use of the drug may be insanity.