Hemp In Holland, The Secret of Dutch Success - It’s no secret that the Netherlands and cannabis have a special relationship. Most commonly discussed is the tolerance towards recreational use and possession of small amounts of the plant. However history goes much further back.
The Dutch have also made strides in modern hemp production and processing it into household goods, cosmetics, food, and clothing. In fact, the Dutch have cultivated hemp for centuries and several hundred years ago were responsible for spreading a large amount of genetics across the planet. In order to supply the ships navigating the world with necessities such as ropes and sails, hemp crops were grown at home in the Netherlands, abroad in the colonies and at trading posts tracking their progress around the world. Other nations such as Spain, Portugal, and England also depended heavily upon hemp for their industrial use and therefore the ability to trade, explore (and possibly conquer) new territories, expand business and simply travel.
While hemp, the non-psychoactive version of the cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years for spiritual, medical, nutritional, and industrial purposes, it was also partially responsible for enabling European imperialism in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Supporting a famous history in horticulture and botanical breeding, it’s been said that the Dutch were integral in the later development of the hemp plant as well as for introducing it to the American colonies in the 1600’s. After that time much of the paper and clothing in colonial America was made from hemp, with the textiles being recycled into ‘rag paper,’ known to this day as one of the strongest and most long-lasting types of paper in the world.
During colonial hemp shortages it was a punishable offence for landowners (sometimes by death) for refusing to grow the plant. Along with new technologies and crops the Dutch hemp influence was also visible in other arenas.The modern English word ‘canvas’ is believed to be a Dutch pronunciation, derived from the Latin Cannabaceae, meaning ‘made of hemp’. ‘Canvas’ has roots in French and Latin and today is known as thick cotton cloth, but was until the last century almost always made from hemp fibres. Although people these days still encounter hemp in the form of clothes, shoes, tents, twine and nautical equipment, the availability of and dependence on hemp is nothing compared to a few hundred years ago.
Most of the seagoing nations, including the Dutch, would never have been as successful without the strong fibres with which to craft 90% of their sails, plus ropes, rigging, and even the ‘oakum’ that sealed cracks n the boats and made them watertight. In basic terms, if it wasn’t made of wood on a ship, it was made of hemp! Hemp rope and sails were incredibly strong and resisted the salt water damage and mould that were among the common wear and tear experienced in the nautical industry. Even flags, uniforms and fishing nets were fashioned from the fibre, and all these were above decks. Below, ships’ logs, maps, charts and bibles were printed on hemp paper as it was up to 100 times stronger than traditional papyrus preparations, and many of the lamps that lighted the dark evenings were dependent on hemp oil fuel. In fact, prior to 1883 between 75% and 90% of everything made of or printed on paper was from hemp, and before petrochemical companies most paints, oils, varnishes, and even glues and adhesives were manufactured from hemp.
Some say that the value of the hemp plant and its seeds rose to that of almost currency in different societies of different centuries. Competing European nations often stole seed stocks as part of the bounty that accompanied vic tory over the enemy at sea, bolstering the winner’s agricultural (thus nautical) value while depleting that of his rival. The Dutch imported hemp seeds from South Africa and India upon return from their missions past the Cape of Good Hope. In addition to industrial applications the flowers of the plant were used as a substitute for the highly popular yet expensive tobacco. Paintings of the time show sailors and farmers smoking at inns and coffeehouses, a custom still alive 400 years later.