As the United States celebrates Asian Pacific Heritage Month in the month of May, this is an opportunity to shed light on  Asia hemp culture. From traditional weaving to cuisine to medicine, let’s go on a brief journey on how hemp has been beneficial to everyone worldwide for thousands of years. This blog post is an extension of the NHA Standing Committee for Social Equity to bring awareness about diversity and inclusion in the hemp industry.

Hemp in Southeast Asia

Traditional Lao Sinh skirt made from hemp, silk, and cotton

According to historical records and archaeological research, hemp has been cultivated, sowed, and used in ancient China 6,000- 10,000 years ago. As hemp seeds migrated throughout Asia and European countries, people have used this seed in different applications. From food, to textiles, to medicine, let us explore how the use of hemp has been applied back in history and today, particularly in Asian countries.

As China leads the world as being the largest hemp producers on our planet, a lot of countries have imported hemp from China, including the United States and Europe. Though China banned the production of hemp since 1985 up until 2010, they currently produce half of the world’s supply in those short 11 years. Heavily restricted, hemp can be cultivated in three provinces in China; Yunnan, Heilongjiang, and the latest province, Jilin. The planting, processing, and selling of industrial hemp is currently authorized in Yunnan and Heilongjiang. The sale of cannabidiol in cosmetics is legally allowed, but prohibited as an additive in food and medicine. The production of industrial hemp, in the People’s Republic of China, is dominantly used on the fiber spectrum for paper, rope, textiles, canvas, etc.

Hmong people of Laos were known for planting hemp and then weaving the fiber for clothing for their families thousands of years ago. Growing season in Laos for hemp takes 3-4 months, similar growing time in certain regions in the States. They plant their seeds closely together so the stalk grows tall and thin. After harvest and drying, Hmong women hand-strip or peel the bast fiber from the stalk and pound the fiber with stone or rock to make malleable. The fiber is then place on a spinning machine to twist and extract the fibers, which then goes through another process to soften the fiber, to then to a weaving or loom machine. The traditional process of creating hemp clothing is time-consuming and labor intensive.

Growing up in a Laotian household, Buddhism was practiced. My family would visit the Buddhist temple and us girls would sometimes be given hemp and silk skirts to wear. These traditional skirts are called sinhs. The sinh skirts that were passed down to me by my mother and has been in the family for over half a century! Hand-made with hemp, silk, and cotton, this durable skirt is embroidered with beautiful patterns. The sinhs produced today are primarily made from cotton as they are readily available at the market and a rarity when hemp is woven into the skirts.


Cannabis in Asian Cooking and Medicinal Purposes

          Hemp seeds can and have been eaten as whole and roasted or raw and can be seen as a nutritionally packed snack. High in protein with the ideal ratio of omegas 3 and 6, hemp seeds rank high in healthy foods and seeds. Hemp flowers and leaves can be used in stews, porridges, and soups releasing cannabinoids in a natural decarboxylation process. Thailand earlier this year has legally approved cannabis and hemp to be in foods, which include leaves, bark, roots, and stems. Flower is excluded from the approved cannabis and hemp food list.

In Ancient China, oil extracted from hemp with a mixture of other herbal extracts was used as a laxative, clearing bowels in a natural and holistic way. Other medicinal applications to further promote health and wellness in Asian countries were to apply it topically or ingest it to reduce soreness or pain during the menstrual cycle and aid in other illnesses.

Heavily practiced in India, Ayurvedic physicians used hemp mixed with other minerals and herbs to treat dozens of medical issues like jaundice, fevers, nausea, anemia, and more. Ayurvedic is a traditional medicine practice that promotes health and wellness through nutrition, mindfulness, and exercise. In recent news, in the country of India, there are two states allowed to grow hemp, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is working with Bombay Hemp Company to grow cannabis for medicinal and scientific research. There is no formal regulation in regard to CBD in India.

There are currently restrictions revolving around cannabinoid hemp in most Asia countries, but China has promoted medicinal research from hemp. There are a few provinces in China that have approved hemp for cannabinoid cultivation and are tightly regulated. There are two states in India where hemp cultivation of .3% or less of THC is legal and allowed and different laws vary when pertaining to CBD which makes traveling in Southeast Asia a bit tricky. High-THC cannabis is illegal in most Asia countries and the consequences can be severe depending on their local law enforcement and government. Thailand is the first Asian country that has allowed the use of cannabis for medical patients, which may cause them to be leaders in the Asian cannabis market.


Will More Asian-Americans Cultivate Hemp?

          Though there are very little to no reports on which ethnic demographic grow hemp in the United States, news about Asian-American farmers growing for hemp isn’t heard of. A lot of Asians migrated to the States with very little, let alone possess generational farmland in America; creating social and economic disparities in the commercial-scale agricultural industry. To support and promote diversity and inclusion, Federal and State agencies, as well as not-for-profit and private businesses, are rewarding those in the BIPOC community with grants to close the social gap in the agricultural world. Despite where your family lineage has originated from, growing industrial hemp will benefit the soil, the air we breathe, and the end-user. Let our innate ability to nurture this planet sustainably come to fruition by growing hemp globally.

Anna Chanthavongseng – Assistant Executive Director of National Hemp Association