The Origins of Hemp in Ancient China

 The modern hemp plant has many practical uses, and the benefits of hemp farming are nearly endless. Industrial hemp can function as a more eco-friendly plastic alternative, hemp textiles are durable and sustainable, hemp-derived CBD is an excellent addition to a personal wellness routine and can even be great for our skin when added to beauty products. These are just a few of the uses of this one incredible plant. 

We are living in a sort of hemp renaissance where cannabis is moving away from its illicit reputation and being viewed more favorably by mainstream society than it has in the last hundred years. You can even buy high quality, CBD-rich legal hemp flower online these days. 

Hemp may be enjoying a renewed time in the sun, but there’s nothing new about the use of this fibrous plant for a wide variety of purposes. Hemp was actually one of the first plants to be cultivated by early humans. 

Where Does Hemp Come From?

The Origins of Hemp in Ancient China

Scientists speculate that cannabis sativa, the plant of which hemp is a subspecies, originally grew somewhere in central Asia in an area that would now be considered Mongolia and China. To this day, wild hemp flower grows completely unassisted by humans in the region. Dali City in the Yunnan province of China, in particular, is famous for the abundance of wild cannabis plants growing in its hills. 

Hemp began being cultivated by humans as early as the pre-Neolithic period. One Archeological site on the Oki Islands determined that cannabis was probably used in the area back in 8000 B.C. By the time the Han Dynasty ruled China (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.), the techniques for growing hemp were already fairly advanced. 

Ancient Uses of Hemp

Ancient uses of hemp

Just like modern humans, our ancient ancestors had a myriad of different uses for the hemp plant. 

Textiles were mainly made from spun bast fibers of the hemp plant. Ancient Chinese hemp clothing was the standard clothing for people living in the region until the Mongol Empire discovered cotton textiles in India and introduced them to China when they conquered it around 1200 A.D.

Hemp was also used as a food source, similar to modern uses in that the seeds of the plant were consumed. The Classic of Rites lists the “five grains” that were a staple of ancient Chinese cooking as soybeans, broomcorn, wheat, foxtail millet, and hemp seeds. 

Today many people use hemp and hemp-derived CBD medicinally or therapeutically, but this isn’t some novel phenomenon. Hemp was often employed in ancient Chinese medicine. Primarily the achenes, or seeds, were used to treat maladies such as pain or mental illness. The Tibetan Materia Medica Sutra also makes several references to the potentially intoxicating and psychoactive effects of cannabis. 

Coincidentally, much of the recorded history of this time period was written on hemp paper, hemp scrolls, or in hemp books. At the time, hemp was the preferred crop used for papermaking. Our knowledge of the ancient history of hemp itself was originally recorded on ancient hemp!  

Hemp In Modern China

Hemp In Modern China

To this day, China maintains a close relationship with the hemp plant. Though marijuana is decisively illegal, and you won’t see any hemp stores anywhere in The People’s Republic of China, the country does embrace hemp cultivation for its economic benefits. In fact, Chinese hemp production is unrivaled by any other country currently exporting the cash crop. By some estimates, China supplies over 50% of the entire world’s hemp needs, and Chinese companies own half of the cannabis product patents currently on the books.

While CBD in the form of smokeables, edibles, or tinctures isn’t readily available in the country like how they are in the United States, CBD-infused beauty products are plentiful. The Chinese cosmetic industry is booming, and the market is the second-largest in the world, behind the USA. With CBD being such a hot trend in the beauty industry, the Chinese government has made special allowances for its nation’s cosmetic companies to manufacture and sell products infused with cannabidiol.  

Hemp has been around for thousands and thousands of years, and it’s clearly not going anywhere!