Slide 1
Slide 2

Pliny’s laughing leaf

Posted on July 1, 1998

“Now American Liberty League (ALL)1 was made when I was born, They strangled hemp for plastics dawn. Their profits fuelled foul biocide And Wannsee’s manic genocide. Technotic hubris culls creation: Raise commons hemp, ’tis our salvation.”

At the heart of this Ecologist you will now find a representation of that laughing leaf of antiquity:2 the watermark of our Treefree® hemp content, long-life paper.

As the 1980 Hempathy edition of The Ecologist outlined, ’common hemp, ’true hemp culture was as indispensable to the Roman Empire, among a great many other peoples, for medicine, food, clothing, shelter and communication, as it was to any peasant, his family, or self-supporting community that possessed the soils and skills to grow it. This was so from the beginning of civilization down to our own misbegotten industrial era, plagued by its current ethos of unsustainable expansion.

Hemp has been used in a great many ways for centuries for everything from food to clothing. Indeed, Herodotus, Homer, Ovid, Pliny, Virgil, Livy, Martial, Gallien and many others all commented on the diversity of uses in which hemp was employed.3 As our 1980 issue showed, there is good reason why hemp was so popular — both in terms of resource conservation and for, among other things, its quality. The paper you will find at the heart of this issue, in the Campaigns and News section, will by all accounts, remain intact a great many decades longer than will the paper on which this editorial is printed. What’s more, neither the slaughter of trees nor treatment by so many toxic chemicals has contributed to its quality.

The story of the sudden downfall of hemp is a long and well-documented one, and not surprisingly concerns the self defence of very powerful vested interests. John C. Lupien4 describes in great detail the hand played by DuPont in removing what had become a major threat to their vast forest holdings, wood pulp paper and associated chemical industries.

Almost all Europe now grows hemp for fibre (even the UK caught up in 1993 following the launch of Treefree). But we do so under draconian, bureau-cratically infested conditions. Home office vetting, expensive licence fees, end-user certificates, police controls on location, masses of documentation, and expensive restriction to the use of patented hybrid strains of hemp that generally produce poorer fibre than natural varieties, all cripple the process.

They are void of healing ability, bring no laughter to the grower, produce joyless seeds for birds, and are useless sentinels for vegetable gardens.

What’s more, as you may have guessed, all of these patented, genetically-deformed strains are owned by DuPont5 — via de Mauduit or Kimberley Clark — a profitable venture since the seeds they produce — if any — are infertile, and so must be purchased annually.

The good news is Dr Joan Thirsk’s latest book: Alternative Agriculture: A History from the Black Death to the Present Day.6 This magnificent, daedal work, from the doyenne of agricultural historians, is the fruit of a lifetime’s assimilated research. It could be neither more timely, nor more welcome. One need only repeat her own conclusion, in which she quotes James E. Thorold Rogers, the 19th-century economic historian:.

“The Sibyl offers her books, in which the future is forecast, to the Roman statesman, according to the legend.7 The price is refused twice, and, after each repulse, she destroys irrevocably one of the volumes, demanding the same price for the third. This is what Bacon called the wisdom of the ancients, and the moral is plain.”8.


  1. American Liberty League, 1934. (see G. Colby’s DuPont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain, USA, 1974, reprinted 1984, Lyle Stewart, New York.
  2. Sir George Watt, Commercial Products of India, London 1908 charas, the resin from the leaves, stems, inflorescences and fruits of the hemp plant, is very possibly the gelatophyllis (laughing leaf) of Pliny.
  3. (M. Marcandier’s A Treatise on Hemp, Paris, 1755. JH/Cht. 1996).
  4. Op.cit. 1 John C. Lupien, “Unravelling an American Dilemma: The Demonization of Marihuana”. Masters thesis, USA, 1995.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Dr Joan Thirsk, Alternative Agriculture: A History from the Black Death to the Present Day, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  7. It was in the Temple of Moneta that the books of hempen cloth, containing the destiny and fates of the Roman Empire were kept with great care. Titius Livy, History of the Roman Empire L.X. (M. Marcandier’s A Treatise on Hemp, Paris, 1755. JH/Cht. 1996).
  8. “Chère honorable Thirsk’s hempen cachet” surely suggests a reprint on suitable paper?

Copyright © 1998, The Ecologist. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.