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Hemp Was Native to North America. « Hemp Hoax

Hemp Was Native to North America.

Frazier (1972, 1991) was an early proponent of the idea that hemp was either native here, or was brought by contact earlier than that of Columbus. Frazier cites the accounts of several early explorers who reported hemp growing wild on this continent. The prevailing interpretation of these accounts has been that they were speaking of various wild plants that either resemble hemp or were used by the natives as a source of hemp-like bast fiber. Frazier tries to discredit this interpretation by asserting that “Europeans knew of only one hemp” before 1850, and therefore the early explorers were “most definitely speaking of cannabis sativa.” He knew he was up against the establishment, as he says, “No encyclopedia, history, botany, archeology, or anthropology text, to my knowledge, mentions a date earlier than 1600 for the introduction of hemp into North America.”

     Frazier’s argument is wholly invalid. Without going into the specific details of his cited accounts, I’ll just point out that such historical accounts, in general, are filled with misidentified plants and animals of all sorts. Perhaps Frazier never considered that when Europeans came to North America, they didn’t have names for any of our endemic plants; if they wanted to mention an unfamiliar species, they could only give it a local native name, or use the name of a similar European plant—both of which they did regularly. Furthermore, well before 1850 it was already a well-established habit in the English language to call any plant that produced a coarse bast fiber “hemp,” as can be seen in the names of plants such as sunn hemp and Manila hemp.  

     This is part of a universal linguistic practice of calling new plants and animals by the names of familiar ones that are similar in appearance or use. That’s why we have more than a dozen North American plants with edible roots or tubers that have been called “Indian potato” or “wild potato,” but which are unrelated to the true potato. That’s why we have a grain called “wild rice” that’s not actually wild rice, and more than a dozen plants called “wild carrot” that are not actually wild carrots. We also have plants that are misnamed wild celery, wild oats, wild chervil, Indian fig, wild sarsaparilla, and so forth. This pattern is so pervasive in plant names that Frazier could only have been unaware of it through profound botanical ignorance.

     North America is unusually rich in native plants with excellent bast fiber. Among them are stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), wild flax (genus Linum), spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), and common dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). This latter herb, widespread and abundant, was widely used for its hemp-like bast fiber (the Latin species name means hemp-like), and it was usually called by the names of “wild hemp” or “Indian hemp,” and it is certainly this plant, or the wood nettle, that most of the early historical accounts refer to.

     Frazier also cites a single archaeologist (Holmes, 1892) who reported hemp fiber crafts in archaeological sites from eastern North America. Bast fibers are notoriously difficult to identify on sight, and there is no indication that Holmes submitted his fibers to any sort of rigorous microscopic analysis to confirm his identification. If hemp were widespread and widely used by pre-Columbian Americans as Frazier tells us, we would expect to find hemp seeds in archaeological sites. Not only are seeds more readily preserved than fibers, they are, unlike fibers, easy to identify. Yet none have ever been found.

     Considering the food value of hemp seed, which Hempologists claim is the most nutritious and most important food in the world, it would be very surprising if the Native Americans did not eat it. Yet there is no tradition of eating hemp seed known from any North American tribe. Pre-Columbian peoples of the Midwest made extensive use of several annual oil and protein rich seed crops (Iva annua, Helianthus annuus, Chenopodium berlandieri, Ambrosia trifida) that inhabit rich, disturbed alluvial soil such as hemp thrives in, and their seeds are found in great numbers in archaeological sites in the region. If hemp were native to North America, it would be expected to be most common in precisely this region and precisely this habitat. But hemp seeds have not been found there, or anywhere else, in North American pre-Columbian archaeological sites.

     Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany (1998) attempted to list all reliable ethnographic records of Native American uses of plants for food, medicinal, and utilitarian purposes. It contains no account of any use of hemp seed for food, or hemp fiber for any purpose.

     Are we to believe the collective wisdom of thousands of botanists, archaeologists, and archaeobotanists, who have dedicated their careers to objectively answering such questions; or do we believe the obviously biased conclusion of one cannabis activist?

    The conclusion that hemp was not found in North America prior to colonization by Europeans is very well-founded. There is no credible evidence that Cannabis sativa was present in North America prior to the arrival of Europeans.

4 Responses to “Hemp Was Native to North America.”

  1. Dan says:

    Jaques Cartier and other explorers noted wild hemp in the Americas…

    • Samuel says:

      Your comment is already addressed in this section. Such explorers were referring to fiber-bearing plants, but clearly not Cannabis sativa. There is no reasonable support for your contention otherwise. Please add things of value (such as the biomass articles you brought to my attention) rather than repeating the same falsehoods about which you know nothing.

      Also, in making such specific claims that are not common knowledge, please indicate the source of the information so other people can verify or examine it. And do be more specific than “other explorers”.

  2. Phytoremediation says:

    “From A.D. 1000-1200 northwest Iowa was home to a highly distinctive and short-lived group of inhabitants whose arrival, existence, and disappearance has puzzled researchers for nearly 100 years. These people, now known as the Mill Creek culture, followed a way of life completely different from those before them. The uniqueness of this culture has created an interest unparalleled among many Iowa archaeologists.”

    The Mill Creek Culture
    by Rich Fishel


    “The Indians who lived in the region of Cherokee County left remains of a culture entirely different from that of any other. This has been called the Mill Creek culture because bits of pottery and bone weapons of this type were first found along Mill Creek, in the northern part of the county…Some of the mystery surrounding the 30 or more Indian village sites recognized in the region extending from the town of Linn Grove in Buena Vista County, across the southeast corner of O’Brien County, and thence southward through Cherokee County almost to the southern border, has been solved by the excavations of F. L. Van Voorhis of Alta, Iowa. In two years of careful digging he has opened one of the family dwellings and recovered thousands of relics…Three pipes, two of stone and one of clay were recovered, and scraps of mullen,kinnikinnick, dried bark of the red willow, and hemp(marijuana) found, indicated that these had been used for smoking.”

    Cherokee County, Iowa
    Page 7


    • Samuel says:

      Thank you. This sounds really interesting and I’ll have to look into it. At first glance this appears to be a credible and unbiased source. Of course, highly anomalous findings of this sort should not be taken as definitive until they are corroborated or verified by multiple parties–identifying plants from small scraps of tissue is not easy, and the history of archaeology is littered with misidentified, unidentified, and re-identified plant remains. But i greatly appreciate you bringing this to light.

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