The history of hemp
Hemp has been a traditional food source in Europe for thousands of years. All parts of the plant were consumed. Hemp seeds, leaves, flowers and extracts are all traditional food ingredients and food supplements that have been part of our diet for centuries. In the pre-industrial era hemp oil (extract) was one the most consumed vegetable oils in the human diet, hence hemp extracts and cannabinoids have been consumed in significant amounts. Hemp is tied to European agrarian culture, and its culinary use can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Countries such as Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia among others, documented how hemp could be used to make dishes and improve people’s well-being. In fact, one of the oldest cookbooks, De Honesta Voluptate Et Valetudine, published in 1475 AD by Bartolommeo de Sacchi Platina, shows a recipe of a health drink of cannabis nectar.
In many European countries, Sweden and Poland particularly, old recipes refer to hemp as a vegetable. However, the crop was most popular in temperate regions for its ideal characteristics to make textile and cordage fibre. Together with flax, hemp is one of the oldest natural fibres used by humans.
Hemp production in Europe sharply declined as soon as the new synthetic fibres made their grand debut in the 1950s. Only France and some Eastern countries aligned to the Soviet Union retained their expertise and limited manufacturing facilities. Elsewhere, thousands of companies, working with natural fibres, closed under the pressure of competition from new “artificial” fibre products.
Moreover, the hemp plant, which had been widely used as food for centuries, was erroneously designated alongside the cannabis (marijuana) flower as a narcotic substance in the UN Single Convention. Throughout the years, this has caused a lot of confusion, as the cultivation of cannabis plants for industrial purposes is clearly exempted from the scope of international control. The industrial hemp sector has been severely restricted in terms of onerous licensing procedures and unclear and complex European and national regulations dealing with hemp-derived food products.