"It is a green, very abundant and ubiquitous plant. It is
surprisingly precious from an economical point of view, it is potentially
dangerous and certainly mysterious under many aspects" (Schultes,
Hemp is an annual field crop. It is very productive and has been
successfully grown in many different environments - from Finland
to South Africa, and Canada to Australia. For this, indeed, hemp
can be considered as ubiquitous.
Traditionally hemp was grown for its long bast fibres, which were
used for producing clothing, linen, ropes and sails. Nowadays the
potential applications of hemp are many. This, in addition to the
low environmental impact of it cultivation has brought many authors
to consider hemp as an extremely interesting crop for the future.
Hemp has even been described as a crop that will "save the
planet" from deforestation, ozone layer depletion and pollution.
Despite the known industrial potential of hemp, it remains as a
crop shrouded in suspicion. The suspicion derives from the use of
Cannabis as a drug, and this has been the major obstacle hindering
the reintroduction of hemp as a fibre crop. Laws governing the growth
of hemp proposed fictitious distinctions between hemp strains and
this fed doubt and caused disputes on the subject. According to
one of the most credited theories, all hemp genotypes belong to
the species Cannabis sativa L. with two subspecies, sativa
In recent years many countries have begun to reconsider the restrictions
imposed on hemp cultivation since textile and paper industries have
expressed interest in hemp, there is a need to diversify cropping
systems and hemp is recognised as a crop that can be grown with
minimal negative environmental impact. Scientific research on hemp
cultivation, and especially on its processing, has consequently
intensified over recent years. Research has also targeted hemp as
a natural raw material for replacing petrochemicals.
Hemp represents a model crop in the non-food sector, and being well
suited for organic agriculture and crop rotation systems it is a
viable option for sustainable agricultural systems.