Granny Green’s Etymology of Cannabis Sativa

A plant by any other name is just a plant!  So what about this plant called Cannabis Sativa. Or marijuana.  Or hemp. Which is it?

Ask anyone and you might get one of the hundreds of possible answers.  It depends where you are in the world at the time the question is posed and to whom it is being posed.

From a family of small flowering plants, Cannabaceae or Cannabis Sativa L., as it is called in scientific circles, this plant has been known for eons by many different names:   grass, weed, ganja, hemp and pot, just to name a few of the more popular of today.  But where did these names come from?  What are the origins?

The name cannabis, most agree, is said to be of Greek origin via Latin, but some attribute Scythian or Thracian origin.  However, there are those that say its origin is found much earlier in Semitic languages like Hebrew, where it appears a variety of times in the Old Testament Bible. For example, from the King James version of the Bible in Exodus 30:23, God commands Moses to make “holy anointing oil” as follows;

  • 23 Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
  • 24 And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:
  • 25 And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.

Many have said that the “sweet calamus” translation is incorrect and should be kaneh bosm  or qeneh bosem.  The words, “qeneh bosem” are translated in traditional Hebrew as the “reed of balm.”  The root ” qeneh ” means “reed”, while “bosem” means “balm” or “aromatic resin.”

Its clear that to the ancient Hebrews,  qeneh bosem was quite common for more than just Holy Anointing Oil.  It is referenced many more instances in regards to clothing, rope, weaving and building materials.

Whatever the roots for the name are it’s fair to say that marijuana has been around for as long as man.  It has been utilized in a plethora of ways and it’s only NOW that marijuana has the negative connotations.  Who or what turned this God-given plant into an evil?  An even bigger question is WHY?  I am afraid we all know the answer

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