Encyclopaedia Britannica


Hemp, (Cannabis sativa), plant of the family Cannabaceae cultivated for its bast fibre or its edible seeds. Hemp is sometimes confused with the cannabis plants that serve as sources of the drug marijuana and the drug preparation hashish. Although all three products—hemp, marijuana, and hashish—contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a compound that produces psychoactive effects in humans, the variety of cannabis cultivated for hemp has only small amounts of THC relative to that grown for the production of marijuana or hashish.

Physical description - Cannabis sativa

The hemp plant is a stout, aromatic, erect annual herb. The slender canelike stalks are hollow except at the tip and base. The leaves are compound with palmate shape, and the flowers are small and greenish yellow. Seed-producing flowers form elongate spikelike clusters growing on the pistillate, or female, plants. Pollen-producing flowers form many-branched clusters on staminate, or male, plants.

Cultivation and processing

Hemp originated in Central Asia. Hemp cultivation for fibre was recorded in China as early as 2800 BCE and was practiced in the Mediterranean countries of Europe early in the Christian era, spreading throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. It was planted in Chile in the 1500s and a century later in North America.

Hemp is grown in temperate zones as an annual cultivated from seed and can reach a height of up to 5 metres (16 feet). Crops grow best in sandy loam with good drainage and require average monthly rainfall of at least 65 mm (2.5 inches) throughout the growing season. Crops cultivated for fibre are densely sowed and produce plants averaging 2–3 metres (6–10 feet) tall with almost no branching. Plants grown for oilseed are planted farther apart and are shorter and many-branched. In fibre production, maximum yield and quality are obtained by harvesting soon after the plants reach maturity, indicated by the full blossoms and freely shedding pollen of the male plants. Although sometimes pulled up by hand, plants are more often cut off about 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the ground.

Fibres are obtained by subjecting the stalks to a series of operations—including retting, drying, and crushing—and a shaking process that completes separation from the woody portion, releasing the long, fairly straight fibre, or line. The fibre strands, usually longer than 1.8 metres (5.8 feet), are made of individual cylindrical cells with an irregular surface.

The fibre, longer and less flexible than flax, is usually yellowish, greenish, or a dark brown or gray and, because it is not easily bleached to sufficiently light shades, is rarely dyed. It is strong and durable and is used for cordage—e.g., twine, yarn, rope, cable, and string—and for artificial sponges and such coarse fabrics as sacking (burlap) and canvas. Some specially processed hemp has a whitish colour and attractive lustre and is used to make fabric similar to linen for clothing. Hemp textiles can be used to make shoes. Hemp fibre is used to make bioplastics that are recyclable and biodegradable, depending on the formulation. The novel “hempcrete,” a composite material made of hemp and a lime binder, can be used similarly to traditional concrete in non-load-bearing applications. Hemp can also be used as an alternative to wood pulp in some instances; it is frequently used in papermaking and is a sustainable alternative to fibreglass insulation in buildings.

Other hemps

Although only the hemp plant yields true hemp, a number of other plant fibres are called “hemp.” These include Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida), and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea).


Advantages of Hemp Fabrics 

Author: All Naturals, 22 June 2023

A very important advantage of Hemp clothing is that the plant grows like a weed. As a result, Hemp Fibre Fabrics are considered to be organic as the plant Hemp requires no fertilisers to grow, which keeps the soil cleaner to let the plant grow in an all-organic atmosphere.

Hemp grows freely in such a way that there is no possibility of any kind of weed to take root in between or impact its growth in any way.

Clothing made of Hemp Fibres is completely pesticide-free, chemical-free, and fertilizer-free.  The fibres are not only more hypoallergenic and gentler on the skin, but also help protect our soil, waterways, and groundwater from harmful pollutants.

It is strong, retaining its shape far better than other textiles. Hemp keeps you cool in the summer and warm in winter. It is soft and becomes softer and more comfortable over time.  You can barely worry about Hemp washing - hemp fabrics are naturally very soft and with more washes, the fabric tends to become softer! 

Hemp is machine washable. It thrives on regular use and washing which improves its natural lustre and feel. Hemp is also very fast drying - you can wash and dry clothes overnight.

It is naturally moisture-wicking & odour resistant. Perspiration is quickly absorbed and released. This means less body odour-causing bacteria can build up. Its hypoallergenic qualities make hemp great for sensitive skin and allergies. Hemp is highly resistant to mould, mildew, salt water and rotting, making it ideal for humid climates or travelling. Hemp is the most resistant natural fibre to ultraviolet light, offering protection from the sun’s rays.  

What are the advantages of Hemp fabric?

Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable organic fibres available today, which makes it an excellent choice for outerwear. Hemp clothing is even said to have triple the tensile strength of cotton. It blends easily with other fibres to produce a hemp-hybrid material, and this technique retains the strength of the hemp fibres while adding the comfort of softer, more refined fabrics.

Another advantage of Hemp clothing is its resistance to mould and mildew. This is especially useful in climates where hanging clothes to dry always leaves them smelling like eau de mildew. Mould and mildew in your clothes can be hazardous to your health, in addition to creating an unpleasant odour.

Mould is a type of fungi that lives and feeds off organic matter in moist conditions. Damp clothes left in your washer and stagnant water can cause infections if the mould is allowed to grow and the water is not changed frequently. Nevertheless, this might not be the case in Hemp!

Because Hemp is resistant to mildew and mould, it was used to make the majority of rope, sails, and rigging on ships throughout the 19th century. In fact, the word canvas is thought to have originated from cannabis!

Hemp has been farmed since the beginning of agriculture, and that added longevity makes it an excellent choice for those looking for reliable garments. On top of that, the cultivation of Hemp for the purposes of creating fabric has a fairly low environmental impact. This makes it ideal for those who are interested in green living.