Cannabis fan leaves: what they are and how to use them
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Do you throw your fan leaves onto the compost pile during harvest time? Those days are over! It's time to put your leaves to use and make some teas, salads, and topicals.
Do you think buds are the only valuable part of the weed plant? Think again. Cannabis is a bountiful crop and many of its structures can be harvested and utilised. Of course, the resin-oozing flowers are of top priority. But the leaves also have a real and practical use for every grower.
It’s easy to assume that the leaves are only useful while the cannabis plant is growing. These organic solar panels convert light into energy, a process that sends plants soaring upwards during the vegetative phase. Often overlooked, cannabis leaves deserve far more credit than they receive. Outside of plant physiology, they offer a substantial source of nutrition. They deserve more than being slung onto the compost pile. Their true destiny lies in nourishing salads, energy-rich smoothies, healing balms, and soothing teas.
CANNABIS LEAVES: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Now, there are two types of cannabis leaves. Upon inspection of a flowering specimen, you’ll notice tiny leaves protruding from the buds. These little guys—called “sugar leaves”—help to hold flowers together and the trichomes found on them contain a good amount of cannabinoids. The other type of leaves, the ones we’re discussing here, can be easily identified by their size. These are called fan leaves. They are broad, fan-like structures that emerge from the branches. They are required for photosynthesis (energy conversion) and respiration (taking in carbon dioxide and putting out oxygen).
Fan leaves also serve as a lens into the health of cannabis plants. Experienced growers can tell a lot about a specimen by the state of these structures. Different colours indicate specific nutritional deficiencies, whereas varying bites and sites of tissue damage signify the presence of certain pests. Different forms of wilting and deterioration also point towards conditions such as root rot and heat stress.
FAN LEAVES ON INDICA, SATIVA, AND RUDERALIS STRAINS
Indica plants are known for their short stature and shrubby appearance. They are bush-like in nature and display heavy lateral growth. Indica fan leaves usually feature seven fingers at the end of a short leafstalk, all of which are thick and broad with large teeth on the serrated edges.
Sativa plants grow much taller and tend to stretch during the flowering phase. Specimens can achieve heights of over 3m, mirroring the appearance of small trees. Usually, sativa fan leaves also feature seven fingers, with those being thinner and longer than their indica counterparts. The serrated teeth are smaller and the leafstalk is longer.
Cannabis ruderalis is an autoflowering subspecies that originates from Russia. Ruderalis plants are much smaller than both indica and sativa varieties, growing to 30–60cm in height. They are rarely cultivated in their pure form but are crossed with sativa and indica strains to infuse them with autoflowering genetics. Ruderalis strains have the most unique fan leaves out of these three subspecies. They feature only five fingers. The top three are long and wide, whereas the bottom two are small and narrow. These leaves are attached to branches by a tiny leafstalk.
DO FAN LEAVES CONTAIN CANNABINOIDS?
Some growers only value parts of the cannabis plant based on cannabinoid content. Hence, the flowers are the most prized structure. Fan leaves do indeed contain cannabinoids, but only in trace amounts. The average fan leaf contains around 0.3% THC and 0.7% CBD. Many growers may scoff at these levels, but we’re not suggesting to roll a 2m joint for a half-baked high. Fan leaves are a decent source of dietary cannabinoids and can be incorporated into many culinary creations.
DEFOLIATION: WHEN FAN LEAVES GET THE CHOP
Fan leaves are vital structures, but too many can be a bad thing. Growers will need to periodically cut away fan leaves, a process that is known as defoliation. This is performed to manage plant growth, increase yield, and prevent the canopy from blocking out too much light.
Defoliation is typically conducted in the flowering phase. Initially, around 20% of the fan leaves are removed from the bottom of a plant. They receive less light whilst demanding energy and nutrients that the plant could put to better use.
After a time, plants will have grown back plenty of new leaves. These are helpful in providing young buds with all of the energy they need. Eventually, it becomes time to thin these out once again to let more light pour into the interior of the plant.
Although defoliating appears as a brutal act to the untrained eye, it’s beneficial in boosting yield. Plus, it offers a source of cannabinoids and phytonutrients before harvest has even arrived.
WHY DO FAN LEAVES TURN YELLOW?
There are several reasons why fan leaves develop a yellow complexion. Some good, some not so good. If your leaves begin turning yellow during the vegetative and early flowering phase, it’s most likely a sign of a nutritional deficiency. It could also mean your plants aren’t receiving enough light, are being over or underwatered, or the pH of the soil is out of balance.
However, most growers intentionally allow their foliage to turn yellow towards the end of the flowering phase. This process is known as flushing and involves restricting feeding. Flushing is conducted pre-harvest to force plants to rely on their internal store of nutrients. Leaves turn yellow as these stores run out, but that’s the point. Harvesting buds overly rich in nutrients results in a harsh smoke and unpleasant taste.
HOW TO USE CANNABIS FAN LEAVES
So, are fan leaves really worth saving? The answer is: absolutely! Fan leaves provide powerful phytonutrients and can be used to make your own skin products, teas, and more. Learn how to use them below.
USE YOUR FAN LEAVES IN SALADS AND SMOOTHIES
There’s a big difference between raw and cooked fan leaves. In raw leaves, the trace amounts of cannabinoids exist as cannabinoid acids; this means THCA, and CBDA. It’s only when heat is applied, through a process known as decarboxylation, that these cannabinoids are converted into their conventional, active forms.
THCA and CBDA exhibit impressive health benefits nonetheless. CBDA boasts anti-inflammatory effects, whereas THCA is effective for pain and potentially protecting the brain against degenerative diseases. These traits make raw cannabis a superfood—and one capable of putting other salad leaves to shame. Simply enrich your dishes with cannabinoids by sprinkling cannabis leaves into salads and fruit smoothies.
USE THEM IN VEGETABLE ROASTS
THCA starts to decarboxylate into THC at around 115°C. You can convert the cannabinoid acids in your fan leaves by using them in a dish such as a vegetable roast. They offer a superfood punch alongside potatoes, carrots, and parsnips.
MAKE A RELAXING TEA
Fan leaves can be used to make a soothing tea. Steeping dried leaves into hot water will extract tasty terpenes and offer a refreshing drink. The cannabinoids aren't water-soluble, but you can extract them too by adding a source of fat such as butter or coconut oil. If you’re after THC and CBD, be sure to decarboxylate your leaves in the oven beforehand.
CRAFT BALMS AND LOTIONS
Cannabis balms, creams, and lotions do wonders for the skin. CBD and THC activate cannabinoid receptors in the skin and help to combat inflammation and regulate cell proliferation. These receptors have even been referred to as a potential pathway in the treatment of skin disorders.
Cannabis leaves can be infused into a plethora of topicals. It’s up to you to get creative and add as many skin-nourishing plants, oils, and nutrients as possible. Discover a lotion recipe here, simply replace cannabis flowers with fan leaves.