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The Healer from the Hills:
The Lore and Life of Cannabis

Himalayan Hemp

Be it the vivid and exaggerated psychedelic scenarios flashed across movies and pop videos or the long folk tales of bravery and healing we heard from our grandparents, we are all familiar with the Hemp Leaf Extract and the phenomena that surround it. Akin to a writer’s muse, it is a plant that is magnificently kaleidoscopic in its appeal and the lore that surrounds it.


The Roots

Regaled as one of the oldest cultivated crops in history, the Hemp Leaf Extract has its origins around 2300 BC. The leafy bushy crop proved to be a reliable companion to the ancient nomadic tribes around Europe and South & Central Asia. Over time, it found a home atop the tall mountains of the Himalayas in the Indian subcontinent. Spreading like a canopy of greenery, Hemp Leaf Extract has been- and still is a center stone of the local culture, community, and ecology.


Building a Community

With a plant as versatile as Hemp Leaf Extract, there is an array of ways this plant made its way into the local homes and lives. The communities residing in these remote hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have depended on leaves, stalks, and seeds to shelter, protect and nourish themselves while building an economy around this local crop. The dense protein-rich seeds are a vital food source to help maintain health and immunity with the severe climate atop the chilly hills. Its leafy yet immensely durable fibre is used to create a variety of everyday essentials such as- footwear, ropes, cords as well as yarn for clothes and weaves. The strength and protection provided by Hemp fibre made it an important aspect of the attire donned by the locals.

The plant is a common occurrence within the rural community, with almost every household having four to five plants that they reap for its seed and fibre. With the abundance of wild Hemp Leaf found around these villages, the cool, dry weather creates the ideal conditions for the plant to grow and thrive. In return, the plant’s phytoremediation properties help bring life and nutrition back into the often-dry soil of the mountains.


Influencing Culture & Tradition

The widespread affinity of Hemp Leaf Extract among local communities was further amplified with the deep-rooted connection the plant holds in ancient folklore and texts. Associating plants with holy deities is a common occurrence throughout ancient Indian traditions and stories. Shiva is often associated or depicted through the mention of Hemp Leaf Extract known colloquially as Bhaang.

A multitude of folktales depicts the special bond the deity has with this ancient plant. After spending a night alone under the foliage of Hemp Leaf, he relied on the rich seeds to satisfy his hunger and chewed on the leaves to alleviate and rejuvenate himself, leading him to regularly reach out to the plant for a variety of needs. From being a saviour in the moment of need to a healing companion, Hemp Leaf Extract is considered one of Shiva’s favourite foods and herbs. This long-standing bond has eventually translated into tradition with Hemp Leaf Extract becoming a regular offering to the deity.

Hemp Leaf Extract is also considered one of the most treasured gems of the ancient compilation of Ayurveda. Being the foundational text for modern medicine and pharmacy, the high praise and relevance Hemp Leaf Extract holds in these texts speak volumes of its powerful healing ability.

It is in this work that Hemp Leaf Extract earned another popular moniker of Vijaya, a joy giver and a liberator of ailments and negativity. An integral ingredient in 191 formulations and more than 15 dosage forms, Hemp Leaf Extract is a highly valued medicinal plant. It is known to help heal ailments like high blood pressure, gut imbalance, anxiety, insomnia, and other infectious diseases. It was also used to create anesthetics used to help numb and soothe patients during surgery.

These detailed accounts in the Vedas trickled down into small practices and rituals that make use of Hemp Leaf Extract as a home remedy. Bhaang, made from ground Hemp Leaves paired with either spiced milk or yoghurt is a drink commonly offered and consumed through the heavy and hot summer festivities such as Holi. It is also used as a remedy to treat conditions such as glaucoma and hypertension. A topical salve known as Kshatantak Malam contains ground Hemp Leaf Extract, chaff flower, and onion is used to heal deep cuts, wounds, and burns.


What Changed and What’s to Come

Throughout several ancient cultural practices, Hemp Leaf Extract was hailed as a gem of nature; one to be revered and reaped for the benefit of mankind. But as the country's political scenario changed, so did the perception that surrounded this ancient knowledge.

The subsequent invasion of the British Empire led to the complete shift in the history of Hemp in India. Beginning in 1798, the colonial powers made several attempts to classify Hemp Leaf Extract as a drug to further diminish its regular and widespread usage. While the efforts were mooted citing religious and cultural relevance, the seeds of fear and apprehension were sowed.

While the local entities continued to resist the pushback against Hemp, the pressure on the international end intensified. In 1961, the International Treaty Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs classified Hemp Leaf Extract as a hard drug forcing the Indian government to take stricter measures around the consumption and commercialization of Hemp. In 1985 the Indian Government passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, which banned the production and sale of Hemp Leaf Extract resin and flowers but allowed the use of leaves and seeds.

Despite these restrictions, the NDPS Act recognized Hemp Leaf Extract as a source of biomass and fibre, leading to the Great Legalization Movement in India in 2015. An attempt to re-legalize Hemp Leaf Extract in India.

Over the last decade, innovation and exploration in the world of sustainability have put Hemp back into the spotlight. Today, Hemp forms the foundation of a wide range of sustainable materials such as hempcrete, plastics, fibres, biodiesel, and even furnishing and accessories. 

There is a lot to be lauded about when it comes to the potential Hemp Leaf Extract holds. While the future may point towards a glory filled with ecological innovation, its true power lies in the influence and support it holds for a community and culture over in the Himalayas and around the world. It is a testament to the deep-rooted bond and symbiotic synergy it has with nature and human beings.

Time and history might not have been kind to Hemp, and while history may never repeat itself, the glory can be revived. As the world slowly unlearns the prejudice and relearns the hidden potential, not just a few communities, but the entire world could soon experience the power of the miracle plant.


Written by Shamooda Amrelia, Doorbeen Creatives


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