Tuesday, July 11, 2006
HEMP IN INDIA
Hemp has been cultivated for centuries in India, and is believed to have originated in that part of the world. Its role as medicine is mentioned in the work of Suskota, dating to before the 8th century AD. In the 16th century Raja Rudradeva of Kumoan advises its use in avian medicine. A 2nd or 3rd century AD work is printed on hemp paper with Sanskrit characters. European discovery of hemp use in India led to its inclusion in Garcia da Orta's Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India in 1563.
The British were keen to investigate the flora of India, sending botanist Dr. William Roxburgh to the sub-continent to study fibre plants. In 1800 he wrote: "I have seen it in great abundance, in a wild state, in the Deyra Doon, and also in the Khadir land of the Saharunpore district, especially along the upper part of the Doab Canal, where it was chiefly valued for its leaves; being made into bhang and supjee, and the stems, when dried up, being burnt for firewood."
He goes on to recommend its cultivation in the low Khadir land, where it was already found wild. He notes that the inhabitants of Malabar were reported to use it in their fishing nets.
Robert Wissett of the East India Co. wrote a treatise on the cultivation of hemp and Sunn hemp in 1804, which became a seminal work. Other writers attest to hemp's use in the nineteenth century as a fibre plant, Major Heber Drury observing in 1895 that: "... in point of strength and durability as evidence by the samples produced, there is no doubt that good Himalayan hemp is superior to Russian hemp..." At the time, Russian hemp was the preferred hemp, used on all British and American ships.
Hemp as medicine was well known also in India, as valuable as it was for a number of ailments, which Dr. William O'Shaughnessy wrote up in 1838-1840 for the Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bengal. In that century hemp was regarded by all classes of society, with Queen Victoria using it as prescribed by the Royal Physician.
Today hemp is not as common in India, jute is the dominant fibre crop and other medicines are produced in great quantity. However, jute is a rather limited crop, and as pressure to produce food, fibre and medicine from the land increases, hemp is being reviewed. Not surprising a recent quote on the North American Industrial Hemp Council website stating that: "The hemp industry is growing faster than the expectation while the jute industry is declining."
Interest in hemp is growing not just in India but world-wide, and India is looking at this crop, so much a part of its history, to take a part in its future. While there is sufficient demand to sell thousands of tonnes of hemp each year, there will have to be machinery in place to process hemp into the many products for which it is renowned. With this infrastucture in place, India can very well be one of the leading hemp cultivating and processing nations, giving to the country great economic value as well as reducing the use of pesticides.
(related posts on India can be found on this blog, including a talk with Vandana Shiva)