What is hemp? History, culture and usages of this ancient plant

Dec 4, 2023

Far from preconceived ideas, the world hides a precious treasure little known to the general public. A versatile plant, with a thousand virtues and uses, which has nourished the history of ancient civilizations in every corner of the globe: hemp. Whether on the roof of a house or in a bottle of milk, this delightful guided tour will show you just how integral hemp is to our daily lives.

What is hemp?

Contrary to popular belief, the world harbors a valuable, little-known treasure. Hemp is a versatile plant with a thousand virtues and uses that have nourished the history of ancient civilizations worldwide. Whether on the roof of a house or in a bottle of milk, this pleasant guided tour will show you how hemp is an integral part of our everyday lives.

Genetic classification and varieties

Hemp belongs to the botanical family Cannabis, which mainly includes two subspecies: Cannabis sativa indica, known for its high THC content, and Cannabis sativa sativa, commonly referred to as hemp. You can also find it under the name Cannabis sativa l. The latter is characterized by a THC content of less than 0.3%, making it unsuitable for recreational use.

Hemp classification in diagram form

Ecological and agricultural benefits

Hemp is distinguished by its rapid growth. As well as its ability to absorb CO2 and its beneficial role in soil structure. Its deep roots help prevent weeds, thereby reducing the need for herbicides.

The history of hemp in the world

From antiquity to the 16th century

Hemp is an ancient plant that dates back thousands of years. Evidence of its use goes back at least to the third millennium BC and possibly to the Neolithic Pre-Ceramic period (8800-6500 BC), according to archaeological evidence. As an ambassador of agriculture since the Neolithic, hemp was used for its strong fibers, particularly in producing ropes and fabrics. This versatile plant was used in India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and even China, where, as early as the 5th millennium BC, its fibers penetrated the pottery of the Yangshao culture. In the Middle Ages, “agricultural hemp” was an economic mainstay in Europe, strongly promoted by personalities such as King Henry VIII of England for its use by the English navy.

The golden age of hemp in the 17th and 18th centuries

These centuries saw “industrial hemp” shine, crucial for Europe’s maritime supremacy. The sailing navy and its ships, including those of Christopher Columbus in 1492, were equipped with sails and rigging made of hemp. The increasing demand of the navies made the plant a strategic material, especially in France under the reign of Louis XIV, where cultivated hemp was strongly encouraged for industrial production.

Decline of hemp in the textile industry between the 19th and 20th century

The petrochemical era, which began around 1850, replaced hemp with wood in paper production. Influenced by the extensive forest resources of Canada and the United States. Hemp production was banned in the United Kingdom in 1928 and France after World War II, marking the beginning of its decline in Europe.

Two hands in the soil planting hemp
Two hands planting hemp into nourishing soil

The marijuana “Tax Act” and its impact on the industry in the 20th century

The Marijuana “Tax Act” of 1937 banned the cultivation of hemp in the United States despite its everyday use in the American pharmacopeia. This legislation significantly contributed to the diversion of its use and replaced it with other raw materials.

Genetic crossbreeding with low THC content

In the 1970s, analysis and technical innovations made it possible to better distinguish between industrial hemp and Cannabis. This paved the way for a gradual rehabilitation of the plant. Today, France is the leading producer in Europe. The plant is experiencing growing interest worldwide thanks to its numerous environmental virtues and contribution to developing innovative bio-based materials.

The cultivation of hemp in the world

Overview of the global market

The global industrial hemp industry, estimated at $6.63 billion in 2022, is expected to experience significant growth. From $7.90 billion in 2023 to $31.98 billion by 2030, with an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.11%. The diversity of applications drives this growth in areas such as food and beverages, dietary supplements, textiles, and food products.

Legalization and government support

About 40 countries had legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp in 2021. Governments are introducing laws to boost production, particularly by increasing the allowed THC levels. Countries that have not legalized cultivation of hemp contribute to global demand, promoting international trade.

France: European market leader

France is the largest hemp producer in Europe, representing more than 70% of European production. The area for cultivation in Europe has significantly increased. From 20 hectares in 2015 to 34 hectares in 2019, with a production increase of 62.4% in this period.

Swiss hemp: A liberal approach

In Switzerland, hemp cultivation is legal, with an allowed THC limit of 1%, higher than in many other countries. This liberal policy has promoted steady growth in the industry, especially in the areas of health and wellness, thanks to the growing popularity of CBD-based products. Switzerland’s advantageous regulatory environment has also stimulated innovation and expansion in the industrial hemp sector.

Key regions

  • North America: The USA and Canada dominate the North American market. The versatility of hemp in various industries, such as textiles, building materials, cosmetics, food and beverages, and pharmaceuticals, drives demand in these markets.
  • Asia-Pacific: China is one of the largest producers and exporters of industrial hemp, followed by South Korea and Japan. The region extensively utilizes the plant for the production of textiles and paper.
Global industrial hemp market by region 2022-2029

How is it cultivated?

The cultivation of hemp is a crucial aspect of modern agriculture, characterized by the resilience and versatility of this plant. Cultivated worldwide, hemp is significant in the wellness and industrial sectors.

Selection and preparation of foil

Effective hemp cultivation begins with the wise selection of soil by producers. This selection is crucial, as the soil characteristics directly influence the quality and quantity of the harvest. Fields designated for cultivation must provide adequate drainage, good soil aeration, and sufficient sunlight. This initial step is fundamental to creating an environment conducive to the healthy growth of hemp.

Agricultural techniques in hemp cultivation

Once the soil is prepared, farmers proceed to sowing. Plant density and spacing between plants are determined based on the variety of cultivated hemp. These details are crucial as they affect air circulation and sunlight exposure, two critical factors for optimal growth. Modern agricultural practices, such as crop rotation and minimal use of chemicals, also contribute to sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation.

A sunny hemp field
A hemp field bathed in sunlight, symbolizing natural growth

Sustainability and resilience of the plant

Hemp and its Cannabinaceae are known for their robustness and ability to thrive under various conditions. This plant proliferates and requires little agricultural intervention, making it a sustainable and economical crop. Its resistance to pests and minimal reliance on chemicals highlight its potential role in sustainable farming systems. Moreover, hemp contributes to the regeneration of the soil, making it advantageous for long-term agricultural practices.

In summary, the cultivation in the fields is a process that combines refined agricultural techniques with the natural resilience properties of the plant. This synergy creates a sustainable cultivation system that benefits both the environment and the producers.

Composition of hemp

First, let’s take a look at the hemp plant from top to bottom, a species as intriguing as it is useful.

Hemp compositon in graphic form


A pictogram representing a hemp root

The story of hemp begins with the root. It can dive up to three meters deep into the soil! What is its task? To supply the plant with nutrients essential for its growth. Initially, the roots were used in traditional medicine for their anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.


A pictogram representing a hemp stalk

Then follows the woody part in the form of a robust stalk. Inside, it contains a woody substance known as “pith.” The outside is covered with a thin protective layer rich in fibers. The Industry values the fibers for their high strength.


A pictogram representing hemp fibers

Who says hemp also says fiber? Fibers are environmentally friendly and sustainable and are obtained from the plant’s stalks. Clothing or textile made from hemp is known for its breathability and durability thanks to this natural material.


A pictogram representing hemp shives

Hemp shives are an integral part of the original material used for centuries: the hurds (short fiber mix). They play a crucial role in ecological construction and gardening as natural mulch.

Hemp seeds

A pictogram representing hemp seeds

Now, we come to the climax of our plant: the seeds, also called hemp. They are known to be very nutritious and contribute to a healthy and balanced diet with their content of essential fatty acids, proteins, and vitamins. They are also pressed to obtain an oil with many favorable properties.

Flowers and leaves

A pictogram representing a hemp leaf

Let’s finish with the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant. They are decorative, but not only! They contain cannabinoids, including the famous CBD (Cannabidiol). Cannabis is often used in the wellness industry for its relaxing effect without psychotropic character.

Thus, each element of the plant has a specific function. This extraordinary versatility gives hemp its privileged status in many industries.

Uses of hemp

Hemp is a highly versatile plant, with each part offering different and valuable applications. Here are some of the primary uses of this beautiful plant.

Hemp in nutrition

As an innovative concept, hemp is increasingly becoming a superfood complementing our diet.

Hemp seeds

Among the edible products from the plant, we find the seeds. They are a source of complete proteins, offer a perfect balance of omega-3 and 6, and contain all the essential amino acids our body needs for proper function. It’s no wonder many nutrition experts consider hemp seeds a superfood.

Consumers can eat hemp seeds raw, roasted, or ground. They have a pleasant, slightly nutty taste and add an exciting note to salads, yogurts, or smoothies.

They are also used in animal feed production, are rich in trace elements, are used in agriculture as an alternative to corn, and offer positive effects for the herds.

Loose hemp seeds
Loose hemp seeds, ready for use

Hempseed oil

Consumers also seek hemp oil for its exceptional nutritional properties. Known for its content of vitamins (especially E), polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, minerals, and antioxidants, it also has an ideal concentration of essential fatty acids.

This oil can be used for preparing sauces and dressings, and It is also an excellent moisturizer for the skin.

Hemp oil in a pipette
Extracted hemp oil, ready to use in a pipette

Hemp protein

Hemp protein powder, obtained by grinding the seeds, is an excellent source of plant protein. Vegetarians and vegans often use this oil as a protein supplement, incorporating it into shakes, smoothies, or recipes for protein bars.

Hemp milk

Made from hemp seeds and water, hemp milk is a vegan alternative to animal milk. It is naturally free of lactose, soy, and gluten and fits perfectly with cereal, coffee, and culinary and baking recipes.

Glass of hemp milk
Glass of hemp milk, a nutritious alternative

Hemp teas and infusions

The leaves and flowers of hemp can be used to prepare CBD teas and infusions. Although they contain fewer cannabinoids than flowers used for other purposes, they offer a relaxing experience and can benefit health.

Hemp-infused foods

Increasingly, more foods infuse hemp oil or extracts, including chocolates, CBD candies, CBD gummies, beverages, and baked goods. These products aim to combine the nutritional benefits with the convenience of ready-made products.

They are characterized by their richness in nutrients and versatility in the kitchen, offering a healthy and nutritious option for various diets.

Cannabis candies in a glass container
Cannabis-infused candies presented in an elegant glass container

Hemp for textiles and clothing: A sustainable and antibacterial fiber

Manufacturers also use hemp to create a resilient and aesthetically appealing textile. They process the plant’s fibers into yarns, which they weave or knit.

This fabric utilizes the natural properties of hemp: it is antifungal, UV-resistant, and has higher absorbency than cotton. Additionally, its cultivation requires neither pesticides nor herbicides.

Hemp in construction

Here again, the genius of hemp shows that this plant can be used in ecological construction.

Insulation and hemp wool

Like straw or cork, hemp produces an exceptional thermal insulating material. It does not irritate the skin (unlike mineral wool) and contributes to a noticeable reduction of our CO2 footprint.

Hemp and lime concrete

The mixture with lime creates a “plant-based concrete” that is breathable and acts as a natural moisture regulator. Therefore, it is ideal in terms of energy savings!

Moreover, the ratio of stored to emitted carbon in this type of concrete makes it a natural carbon sink.

Hemp insulation
Sustainable hemp insulation, combining ecology and innovation

Hemp for wellbeing

The world of wellbeing has recently integrated hemp into its arsenal, using its diverse cannabinoids to improve health and wellbeing. These compounds interact with the human endocannabinoid system and affect various physiological aspects, paving the way for promising research findings.

Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system

Cannabinoids are natural compounds found in the hemp plant. They interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, a complex network regulating many body functions such as sleep, appetite, pain, and immune response. This interaction, particularly with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, has sparked growing interest in scientific research and offers promising perspectives for health and wellbeing.

The CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system and their effects.
CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system and their beneficial effects

Cannabidiol or CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD), non-psychoactive, is one of the most researched and valued cannabinoids of the Cannabis sativa plant. Known for its relaxing effects, it helps calm the mind, manage stress, and promote restful sleep. Numerous studies suggest that CBD may have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anxiolytic properties, making it helpful in treating various conditions.

Cannabigerol or CBG

Cannabigerol (CBG) is often referred to as the “mother cannabinoid” as other cannabinoids are derived from its acidic form in Cannabis sativa. Although less researched than CBD, preliminary investigations suggest that the active principle CBG may regulate mood and cognitive functions and might have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Cannabinol or CBN

Cannabinol (CBN) is still in exploratory research but shows promising potential. Manufacturers often use the active principle CBN, mainly known for its soothing effects, in products aimed at improving sleep. It also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Other Cannabinoids

Besides CBD, CBG, and CBN, the hemp plant contains over a hundred other cannabinoids, each with unique properties and effects. Researchers are exploring compounds like THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin), CBC (Cannabichromene), and others for their potential health impacts. This opens up a promising future for new therapeutic applications.

In summary, hemp plays an increasingly important role in health and wellness with its various cannabinoids, offering natural alternatives for treating multiple conditions and improving quality of life.

Nutraceutical properties of hemp and their benefits for health

The impressive nutrient profile of hemp is one of the reasons for its growing popularity as a superfood. It contains a wide range of nutrients beneficial to our body. Therefore, it makes sense to consider it a “nutraceutical,” a term that refers to foods with both nutritional and therapeutic benefits.

The nutraceutical properties of hemp in a single graph

Here are some of the critical nutrients you will find when analyzing hemp:


A pictogram representing the proteins in hemp

Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein and are among the few plant sources that contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. About 25% of the calories in these little seeds come from proteins.


A pictogram representing antioxidant

Hemp seeds are also a rich source of antioxidants, including Vitamin E, phytol, and caryophyllene oxide. Antioxidants help us fight harmful free radicals in our body, which can contribute to strengthening the immune system.


A pictogram representing lipids

The oil extracted from hemp seeds is especially valued for its perfect ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. These lipids support heart health and help maintain hormonal balance in men and women.

Vitamins and minerals

A pictogram representing vitamins

The plant provides a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E. These nutrients are necessary for various body functions, from energy maintenance to cognitive functions.

Dietary fiber

A pictogram representing dietary fibers

Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of dietary fiber. Fiber aids digestion by improving gut health – an often overlooked factor fundamental to overall wellbeing.


A pictogram representing carbohydrates

Let’s remember our friends, the carbohydrates! Although they sometimes suffer from a negative image, it’s important to remember that they remain our primary energy source. Hemp seeds contain about 27% carbohydrates in the form of simple (mono- and disaccharides) and complex (polysaccharides) sugars.

ConclusionWith its wealth of essential nutrients such as proteins, antioxidants, beneficial lipids, and indispensable vitamins and minerals, hemp effortlessly positions itself as a superfood that should be integrated into our daily diet.

You might be wondering whether it’s legal to grow and consume hemp in Switzerland. The answer is a fascinating mix of “Yes” and “But”… Let’s clarify this !

Legality of hemp cultivation in Switzerland

In Switzerland, hemp cultivation is legal, but only with some rules. Here, the magic lies in the THC content (active ingredient: Tetrahydrocannabinol). The Swiss government allows the cultivation, provided that the THC content of the plant does not exceed 1% (beyond this, it is considered a narcotic). Yes, you read that right, 1%, a bit more lenient than our French neighbors! This higher rate opens the door to more varieties of industrial hemp.

Use and sale of hemp

Switzerland, known for its pragmatic approach, also regulates the use and sale of hemp CBD products. Here, the same threshold of 1% THC (active ingredient: Tetrahydrocannabinol) applies. Products such as CBD oils, cosmetics, and hemp-based dietary supplements are widespread and can be freely marketed as long as they comply with this THC limit.

Hemp and ecology: A forward-looking and environmentally friendly plant

In ecology and sustainability, hemp stands out as a plant of the future and plays a crucial role in building a greener future. Let’s look at how hemp, beyond its traditional applications, becomes a key player in modern ecology, offering innovative, environmentally friendly solutions.

A hemp field as a symbol for ecological aspects
A hemp field as a symbol for the ecological contribution of this versatile plant

The hemp culture: A step towards sustainability

Let’s explore how the cultivation of hemp harmoniously aligns with the principles of ecology and sustainability. Using environmentally friendly agricultural methods, the lant contributes to reducing soil pollution and embodies a model of sustainable agriculture.

Industrial hemp plays a crucial role in phytoremediation by absorbing toxins in the soil. This natural ability to clean the soil makes it an essential player in the fight against environmental pollution.

Hemp fields are unique carbon sinks. For every ton produced, they absorb 1.63 tons of CO2 remarkably, significantly contributing to the fight against climate change.

Environmentally friendly cultivation and biodiversity

Hemp is characterized by its easy-to-cultivate nature. Naturally resistant to diseases and pests, it does not require intensive use of chemicals, promoting healthier and more sustainable organic agriculture.

By cultivating hemp, we promote biodiversity and create ecological alternatives such as bioplastics and biodiesel. These applications reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and pave the way for a greener future.