Lately, modern societies have been trying to make peace with hemp. The non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana has a long history bonded to humankind. Many interesting hemp history facts show that countries had long-lasting happy relationships with the plant and its products. And as hemp is present in different cultures, there are many different hemp names around the world.
Hemp’s scientific name is the same everywhere: Cannabis sativa, but the common name varies significantly in different languages. Read on to understand more about the different hemp names and how each country relates to this plant.
The Origin of Hemp
Long before prohibition and even before the modern occidental societies settled in, cannabis was an integral part of human civilization. In Japan, there are images depicting hemp in ancient cave paintings, and there is evidence of its use in burial ceremonies in China. Many believe that humankind’s relationship with cannabis goes back to the advent of the species. There is a wealth of evidence across many cultures throughout the history of its importance in textiles, medicine, and spirituality.
The origin of the word “hemp” comes from the Old English word “hænep”. This word has many different sources like the Old High German “hanaf”, the Old Saxon “hanap”, Old Norse “hampr”, and others. In Proto-Germanic, the word “hanapiz”, or “hanapaz” comes from the ancient Greek κάνναβις (kánnabis). In the Proto-Indo-European language, the initial “k” becomes an “h” in Germanic. This means that both cannabis and hemp have close etymological origins.
Hemp in Chinese Mandarin: Má (麻)
Má is the oldest name recorded for the hemp plant, in Ancient Mandarin. The Chinese used this word to describe the cannabis plant and its medicinal uses. The first-ever written history of hemp dates to 2800 B.C., and is in the Chinese book Materia Medica Classic, written by Shen Nong. He is known as a legendary figure in Chinese culture, part of the “celestial emperors”.
Shen Nong is often regarded as the inventor of irrigation in agriculture, instruments like the plow, the ax, and the hoe. The invention of acupuncture is also credited to this emperor, also considered the first pharmacologist. When he was compiling the research for his book, he discovered the medicinal properties of cannabis. He claimed it could treat rheumatism, malaria, gout, and hundreds of other illnesses.
However, the Chinese were already using hemp for millennia for its fiber to produce cloth, ropes, paper, and other materials. In acupuncture, they used hemp to be burned in the process called moxibustion, later replaced by mugwort.
When a physician named Hua Tuo first used anesthesia in a surgery, around 250 A.C., many believed he used cannabis in the process. Although his formula for anesthesia has not survived, its name “Ma Fei San” could be approximately translated into “cannabis boiling powder”. The recipe was believed to consist of alcohol in combination with cannabis and herbs like mandrake, jimson weed, datura, opium, and others. The traditional Chinese medicine toolkit had cannabis as one of the main 50 plants.
Although Cannabis in China has been illegal since 1985, hemp has been cultivated throughout centuries as a source of fiber. Nowadays, China is by far the largest hemp producer in the world, planting up to 250,000 acres per year.
Hemp in Hindi: Bhaang (भांग)
Another name for hemp, the word bhaang in Hindi, comes from the Sanskrit bhaṅga (भङ्ग). The word bhaang is present in some of the earliest written texts in Sanskrit. The Vedas, which means knowledge, still existing today, are the base of what current society knows about ancient Indian history. The Vedas are essential to the Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths. Cannabis is mentioned as one of the five sacred plants in Atharva Veda, the fourth book. The book says cannabis is capable of relieving anxiety.
Shiva, one of the Hindu gods, is sometimes referred to as “Lord of the Bhaang”, and there are many legends that associate Shiva to cannabis. Although the use of cannabis is widespread in India for traditional preparations such as the drink bhang lassi, industrial hemp is not that popular. Authorized by the government, bhang lassi is very popular during the Holi festival. Sikh priests also use cannabis as a sacred element. The cultivation of industrial hemp in India, however, is still partially legal. Some states cultivate it and recognize it as a source of high-value oil, biomass, and fiber.
Hemp in German: Hanf
In German, the hemp plant name is Hanf. It is known that many European societies cultivated hemp for its fibers. However, the history of cannabis in Germany dates back to the late stone age. In the region of Thuringia, there’s archaeological evidence of cannabis seeds from at least 7,500 years ago, from the early Germanic period, and the 5th century.
Rural Germans planted cannabis extensively, and the medicinal properties were widely documented. The visionary writer Hildegard von Bingen wrote about cannabis medicinal benefits in the 12th century. In her book for medical work, named Physica, she wrote about hemp’s medical applications, how to grow it and recommendations of use. She says that it can reduce “head pains” and that it can be “laid upon sores and wounds”.
In the 19th century, hemp was widely used in Germany for its fiber, for food, in religious rituals and recreationally. Hemp cultivation was prohibited in 1982, but the ban was lifted in 1996. The recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in Germany. Hemp, however, is legal and widely consumed for therapeutic purposes.
Hemp in Dutch: Hennep
Another name for hemp is the word hennep to describe it in Dutch. Until the late period of the renaissance in Europe, the western region only treated cannabis as a source of fiber. Cannabis use did not take off in Europe at that time. However, the discovery of America changed their cultural paradigm. Everybody in Europe started smoking cigarettes because of the American tobacco. The Dutch merchant Jan Huygen Van Linschoten was one of the first to describe hashish, a preparation of cannabis resin very common in the Indian colonies during the 16th century.
Although some cities in the Netherlands, like Amsterdam, are widely known as cannabis-friendly places, the plant is illegal in this country. However, personal use is not a crime, and cannabis is considered a less-dangerous drug and the use is tolerated by authorities. In the Netherlands, industrial hemp is legal and the allowed amounts of THC is under 0.05%. The country is one of the leaders in hemp production in Europe.
Hemp in Spanish: Cáñamo
Other names for hemp include the interesting cáñamo, derived from the Latin word cannăbum. The current situation of hemp in the Spanish-speaking countries is rather diverse. Uruguay, for example, was the first country in the world to fully legalize all types of cannabis for all purposes, back in 2015. In Latin America, Uruguay is leading the hange for the hemp industry. However, there isn’t a local market yet to absorb the demand of industrial hemp, as it is still illegal in many countries.
In Europe, Spain was one of the first countries to decriminalize the personal use of cannabis. Although they have progressive legislations that allow people to even grow their own supplies at home, producing cannabis for sale is still considered a crime. Hemp, on the other hand, is legal and the THC levels allowed are no more than 0.2%. Farmers are legally allowed by a Royal Decree to grow up to 25 varieties of hemp in Spain and the seeds must be certified by the European Union.
Hemp in Portuguese: Cânhamo
In Portugal, the cultivation of industrial hemp was widespread around the 14th century. They used hemp fiber as a source of naval material for the many marine vessels that were booming there. During the 16th century, the King John IV created laws that encouraged harvesting hemp to aid Portugal’s battered naval fleet.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the production was spread to Portugal’s colonies, including Brazil. They established a state-owned royal factory for hemp linen, which had African slaves as servants. When the authorities became aware of the psychoactive effects, they prohibited its use around the early 1830s.
During the 20th century, like many other countries in the European Union, Portugal banned all cannabis from being cultivated. The ban was only lifted in 2001 with the decriminalization, and in 2003 the new drugs law allowed the growth of industrial hemp. Now, the production and distribution of hemp products is legal in Portugal, but it’s regulated.
Brazil stopped prosecuting cannabis users in 2006, but the cultivation of cannabis and hemp is illegal. Since 2018, the therapeutic use of cannabis is allowed, but patients need special authorization to import the products at a hefty price.
Hemp is most certainly an exciting opportunity for various countries and cultures. The variety of the names for hemp shows us how each society connects to this plant differently. We hope that more and more countries change their laws and open their doors to the possibilities of this plant.