Herb: Hemp

Latin name: Cannabis sativa

Family: Cannabidaceae

Medicinal use of Hemp:

Hemp, or more appropriately cannabis since the form grown for fibre contains much less of the medicinally active compounds, has a very long history of medicinal use, though it is illegal to grow in many countries since the leaves and other parts of the plant are widely used as a narcotic drug. The leaves and the resin that exudes from them are the parts mainly used, though all parts of the plant contain the active ingredients. Cannabis contains a wide range of active ingredients, perhaps the most important of which is THC. The principal uses of the plant are as a pain-killer, sleep-inducer and reliever of the nausea caused by chemotherapy, whilst it also has a soothing influence in nervous disorders. Although cannabis does not effect a cure for many of the problems it is prescribed to treat, it is a very safe and effective medicine for helping to reduce the symptoms of many serious diseases. For example, it relieves the MS sufferer of the distressing desire to urinate, even when the bladder is empty. As long as it is used regularly, it also greatly reduces the pressure in the eye to relieve the symptoms of glaucoma. The whole plant is anodyne, anthelmintic, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antispasmodic, cholagogue, diuretic, emollient, hypnotic, hypotensive, laxative, narcotic, ophthalmic and sedative. It is used to relieve some of the unpleasant side effects suffered by people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer - in particular it is very effective in removing the feelings of nausea and indeed helps to create an appetite and positive attitude of mind which is so important to people undergoing this treatment. It has also been found of use in the treatment of glaucoma and relieves the distressing constant desire to urinate that is suffered by many people with multiple sclerosis. Given to patients suffering from AIDS, it helps them to put on weight. Since it strongly increases the desire for food it has been found of benefit in treating anorexia nervosa. It is used externally as a poultice for corns, sores, varicose veins, gout and rheumatism. Few plants have a greater array of folk medicine uses. Cannabis has been used in the treatment of a wide range of conditions including alcohol withdrawal, anthrax, asthma, blood poisoning, bronchitis, burns, catarrh, childbirth, convulsions, coughs, cystitis, delirium, depression, diarrhoea, dysentery, dysmenorrhoea, epilepsy, fever, gonorrhoea, gout, inflammation, insomnia, jaundice, lockjaw, malaria, mania, menorrhagia, migraine, morphine withdrawal, neuralgia, palsy, rheumatism, scalds, snakebite, swellings, tetanus, toothache, uteral prolapse, and whooping cough. The seed is anodyne, anthelmintic, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, emmenagogue, febrifuge, laxative, narcotic and tonic. It is used to treat constipation caused by debility or fluid retention. The seed is an important source of essential fatty acids and can be very helpful in the treatment of many nervous diseases. A high content of very active antibacterial and analgesic substances has been found in the plant. It has bactericidal effects on gram-positive micro-organisms, in some cases up to a dilution of 1:150,000.

Description of the plant:


2.5 m
(8 1/4 foot)


Habitat of the herb:

Fluvial deposits on crags and stony slopes. It is occasionally found as a casual on waste ground in Britain. It is especially found as a weed of nitrogen-rich soils near human habitations

Edible parts of Hemp:

Seed - raw or cooked. It can be parched and eaten as a condiment or made into cakes and fried. The seed is quite tasty, but it is very difficult to separate from the husk. We have tried grinding the seed, husk and all, and eating it this way, but it does then have a very gritty texture. The seed contains about 27.1% protein, 25.6% fat, 7.4% carbohydrate, 6.1% ash. A nutritional analysis is available calculated on a zero moisture basis. A highly nutritious edible oil, rich in essential fatty acids, is obtained from the seed. Leaves. Used in soups. The leaves contain 0.215% carotene.

Other uses of the herb:

A drying oil is obtained from the seed. It is used for lighting, soap making, paints, varnish etc. In the temperate zone, oil is produced from females which have been left to stand after the fibre-producing males have been harvested. A varnish is made from the pressed seeds. Seed is harvested from the female plants when most of it falls off when the plant is shaken. Best time of day to harvest seed is in early morning when fruits are turgid and conditions damp. As fruits dry out by mid-day, seed loss increases due to shattering. Usually stems are cut and the seeds shaken out over canvas sheets or beaten with sticks to extract the seeds. A fibre is obtained from the stem. It is strong and very durable and is used in making coarse fabrics, rope etc. Male plants produce the best fibres and they are harvested when the plants turn brown and the flowers begin to open. When used for making paper the stems are harvested in the autumn and either retted or steamed until the fibres can be removed. The fibre is cooked for 2 hours or more with lye and then beaten in a ball mill or Hollander beater. The paper is off-white in colour. A good companion plant for cabbages and other brassicas, it repels the cabbage white butterfly and also secretes a volatile essence from its roots that inhibits pathogenic micro-organisms in the soil.

Propagation of Hemp:

Seed - sow in early spring in the greenhouse. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Seeds germinate well at low temperatures, but not below 1C. The seed can also be sown outdoors in situ in mid spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Fluvial deposits on crags and stony slopes. It is occasionally found as a casual on waste ground in Britain. It is especially found as a weed of nitrogen-rich soils near human habitations

Known hazards of Cannabis sativa:

The plant is a narcotic. Its action is almost entirely on the higher nerve centres, it can produce an exhilarating intoxication with hallucinations and is a widely used street drug. It has also been widely used in the past by mystics and sages wanting to communicate with the higher forces of nature. The nature of its effect does depend much on the temperament of the individual. The use of cannabis is considered to be less harmful than alcohol or tobacco by many people, nevertheless its use has been banned in many countries of the world including most western countries, New Zealand and Australia.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.