The New International Encyclopædia/Hemp

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HEMP (AS. henep, OHG. hanaf, hanof, Ger. Hanf; connected with Lat. cannabis, Gk. κάνναβις, kannabis, OChurch Slav, konoplya, Lith. kanapes, hemp, and probably with Skt. śana, hemp). Cannabis sativa. A fibre plant of the natural order Urticaceæ (q.v.), which has the male and female flowers on different plants. There is only one known species of the genus, which varies considerably, however, in different soil, climate, and cultivation. It is an annual, a native of the warmer parts of Asia, but has been cultivated in Europe from the earliest historic times, and is now naturalized in many parts of Europe and America. Like flax, it adapts itself to diversities of climate, and is cultivated equally well under the burning sun of the tropics, and in the northern parts of Russia. It is, however, readily injured by frost, particularly when young; and in many countries where it is cultivated, it succeeds only because the summer is sufficiently long for its whole life. Hemp varies very much in height, according to the soil and climate; sometimes it is only three or four feet, sometimes fifteen or twenty feet. Notwithstanding the nettle-like coarseness of its leaves, it is an elegant plant, and is sometimes utilized in shrubberies and large flower borders. The stem is erect, more or less branched; the leaves are five to nine-fingered, the flowers yellowish-green, small, and numerous. It is hollow or filled with only a soft pith, surrounded by a tender brittle substance, consisting chiefly of cellular tissue, with some woody fibre, which is called the ‘reed,’ ‘boon,’ or ‘shive’ of hemp. Over this is the thin bark, composed chiefly of fibres extending parallel with the stalk, with an outer membrane or cuticle. The female plants are taller and stronger than the male.

Hemp is cultivated for its fibre in almost all countries in Europe; most extensively in the centre and south of European Russia, which is the chief hemp-exporting district. French hemp is much esteemed in the market, as is also that of England and Ireland, of which, however, the quantity is comparatively inconsiderable. Hemp is cultivated to some extent in the United States; especially Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois. The production has been greatly reduced in the last quarter century, owing to the introduction of Manila hemp and jute. Limestone soils and alluvial soils are best adapted to this plant. It is very necessary to have the soil so rich, and to sow the seed at such a season, that the plants shall grow rapidly at first, as they thus form long fibres. Hemp sown thinly produces a coarser fibre than that sown thickly. It is not considered an exhaustive crop when the leaves of the plant and the shive or boon are returned to the land. As with flax, a thorough preparation of the soil is necessary. With the ground well prepared there is little trouble with weeds, as hemp occupies the entire ground. The crop is ready to cut when the first seeds are ripe, or about 100 days from planting. Cutting is done by a knife or by a heavy mower. The treatment of hemp by ‘retting,’ etc., is similar to that of flax (q.v.). It is usually dew-retted by spreading evenly over the ground to rot out the gums that hold the filaments together. The hemp-stalks are afterwards decorticated by hand beating or machinery and cleaned from the fibre by ‘hackling.’ The fibre is tied up into ‘hands’ and baled. The average yield of hemp-fibre is about 1000 pounds per acre. The fibre of hemp is generally used for coarser purposes than that of flax, particularly for sail-cloth, pack-sheet, ropes, and the calking of ships.

The seed of hemp is produced in great abundance. It is commonly sold as food for cage-birds; and birds are so fond of it that not only the ripening fields, but the newly sown ground, must be carefully guarded against their depredations. Hemp is cultivated in warm countries for a resinous secretion which has narcotic or intoxicating qualities. In India the resin is commonly known as churrus or charras. See Hashish.

While strictly speaking the name hemp belongs to the plant Cannabis sativa, by common usage it is now applied to other fibre-plants that in a great measure supply the uses once filled by common hemp alone. These are designated as bowstring, Manila, Sisal, and Sunn hemp (see below). Many lesser known fibre-plants pass under the general name of hemp, though they vary widely in their botanical aspects and relations.


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