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On the history of hemp in the Germanic area

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A few days ago, you as readers were given a first insight into the history of hemp. The focus of the article was on the United States of America (USA). In the following article, would like to present you again a chapter of “hemp history”. This time, however, the emphasis is put on the German-speaking area, more exactly on the southwest Germanic area. Especially because the majority of the readers of our magazine come from the border triangle Germany/Switzerland/Austria, it is obvious to take a closer look at the history of hemp in this area.

The first archaeological evidence of hemp in the German-speaking world is a find of seeds of the plant species Cannabis sativa. These were found in an early Germanic burial urn from the 5th century BC in what is now the German state of Brandenburg. However, the intended use of these seeds is unclear. They may have served both as food and for cultic purposes. There is archaeological evidence that early Germanic peoples used wild hemp to make fire even before they settled down (it was not until the beginning of the 1st century BC that many different peoples finally settled in what is now called the “Germanic” language area). In addition, hemp is repeatedly depicted in Germanic sources as a ritual symbol of fertility. Other sources report that hemp was considered a sacred plant for the North Germanic goddess of love, Freya.

Then, in the Middle Ages, a written source reports for the first time about the medicinal and mind-expanding abilities of the hemp plant. The Benedictine monk and polymath Hildegard von Bingen, who was demonstrably intensively involved in natural medicine, wrote about the hemp plant: “Whoever has an empty brain and eats hemp, it causes some pain in the head. But to the healthy head and full brain it does no harm.” She seems to have understood, in broad strokes, a very important aspect about the hemp plant about a thousand years before our time: Hemp is not the solution to every ailment, and not all people should be treated with just that. However, especially considering the results of current scientific research, some components of the hemp plant may well have a medically helpful effect (e.g. in epileptic seizures or in depressive disorders).

Very briefly:
Hemp played an important role in the German-speaking world for thousands of years. It was said to have “divine” and ritual as well as medicinal effects. The polymath Hildegard von Bingen had already understood in the Middle Ages that hemp could be quite medically helpful in certain situations.


Herer, Jack (2016): Die Wiederentdeckung der Nutzpflanze Hanf, Cannabis, Marihuana. Herausgegeben und mit einer Vorbemerkung von Mathias Bröckers zur Neuauflage 2013, S. 275f.

Schmidt, Wilhelm (2013): Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. Ein Lehrbuch für das germanistische Studium. 11., verbesserte und erweiterte Auflage, S. 38f.

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