The versatile hemp plant

Cannabis comes from the hemp plant: Cannabis sativa. It is believed to be a native plant of India, and probably came from a region just north of the Himalayan Mountains.

The hemp plant  is a herbaceous annual that can grow to a height of between 13 and 18 feet (4 to 5.4 metres). The plant has flowers that bloom from late-summer to mid-autumn. The plants normally have one of two types of flowers, male or female, though some plants have both. Male flowers grow in elongated clusters along the leaves and turn yellow and die after blossoming. Female flowers grow in spike-like clusters and remain dark green for a month, until the seed ripens.

Hemp is a plant with a long history of human use, stretching back at least two or three thousand years. It is grown for its fibres, its seeds, which contain about 30 percent oil, and for the narcotic drugs marijuana (made from its leaves and blossoms), and hashish (made from the resins contained largely in the hairlike outgrowths or trichomes).

In terms of fibre, hemp shares features with flax, from which linen is made. In both hemp and flax, the fibres are to be found in the stalk of the plant. The fibres are not unlike the threads you see in a celery stalk – long and sinewy. Hemp fibres tend to be coarser than those found in cotton but they are very strong. This strength makes hemp a really useful fibre for making ropes.

The reason why hemp shows up in organic magazines and catalogues is because it is eco-friendly, and so appeals to environmentalists.
Hemp fibres can be used to make cloth, paper, cardboard, and fibreboard. By using hemp for paper and construction materials, the pressure on forests is reduced. Compared to cotton, on the other hand,  hemp requires much less pesticide and fertilizer.

There are varieties of fibre hemp that eliminate the drug component from the plant to a large degree.

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