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Hemp is a natural fiber product of the Cannabis sativa plant. There are other byproducts of this plant, but hemp is produced from a type specifically bred to yield long fibers. Its cultivation for industrial purposes has been undertaken for thousands of years, and the fibers were used to manufacture rope, canvas, paper, and clothing until alternative textiles for these purposes were discovered.


Hemp production originated in Central Asia thousands of years ago. The plant is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber. In fact, hemp rivaled flax as the main textile fiber until the middle of the 19th century.

As a fiber source, hemp is undergoing rapid growth as a natural fiber in everything from clothing and textiles to automotive composites. The fiber is also gaining popularity as insulation.


Hemp "bast," the outer surface of the hemp stalk, has the longest fibers and is used for textiles. Hemp "hurds," the inner woody portion of the stalk, have shorter fibers that are extremely absorbent, thus making excellent animal bedding. Special machinery is required to separate the more valuable outer hemp fibers from the inner fibers.


China is the source of most hemp fiber for hemp clothing industry, cultivating more than 150,000 acres of hemp and looking to expand that to well over 1 million acres.

Industrial hemp may be an excellent rotation crop for traditional crops, because it suppresses weeds and decreases outbreaks of insect and disease problems. Hemp may also rebuild and condition soils by replacing organic matter and providing aeration through its extensive root system.


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