Hemp, growing at the Eden Project in 2006

Back in 2006 when I visited the Eden Project they were growing hemp (under license) in the Outdoor Biome and had a hemp fence. Hemp, Cannabis sativa, used to be widely grown for its useful products – fibre, seeds and leaves. It can be used for clothing and rope, for food and medicine, for paper-making and for repelling insects (have a look at PFAF for more information on its uses), and this recent video from the Eden Project is also fascinating:

On a recent trip to Glastonbury, we went into the Hemp Shop. Pete pointed out the packets of hemp seeds (quite often sold in health food shops) and wondered whether they would grow. They would, I told him, but growing hemp is illegal in the UK. I did a little bit of research when we got home and found out that the rules have been relaxed in recent years – it is now possible to gain a license to grow hemp commercially if you can prove you have a market available.

I could not find any information on whether it would be possible to gain a license to grow hemp non-commercially and on a small-scale. I thought it would be an interesting project for alternative kitchen gardeners – hemp is a plant that’s reputedly easy to grow and has many uses, and I wondered whether it would turn out to be a good kitchen garden plant.

When hemp featured in a recent episode of River Cottage, with a visit to a commercial hemp farm followed by making hemp seed bread and other recipes, I decided to see whether I could get a license – and I wrote to the Home Office Drugs Branch to find out what the situation is on growing hemp non-commercially.

Yesterday I received their response and the upshot is that although commercial cultivation of hemp is allowed as a ‘special purpose’, hemp is still classed as a schedule 1 controlled substance and a license would not be issued for small-scale non-commercial hemp growing. The letter does include some of the uses for commercial hemp, which is interesting – paper and textile production, manufacture of motor vehicle components, horse bedding (I assume for horses) and mattresses (for humans).

Whilst this is not unexpected it is somewhat disappointing, and hopefully the situation will change in the not-too-distant future as hemp’s virtues as an eco plant outweigh its associations with its more narcotic cousins. An interesting blog to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of hemp is Hemp for Victory, a companion to the book of the same name.

I am fully aware that now that I’ve mentioned cannabis on this blog there are people who will find it in searches looking for something else entirely (especially as my last post was about the Grow Your Own Drugs tv series!) and people who think I’m a hippy nutter who just wants to get high. If you’re one of the former then I’m afraid this is a gardening blog and you’re in the wrong place; if you’re one of the latter then grow up – industrial hemp is bred to make fibre, not drugs.