There are three undisputed plants that we can identify as being within the genus of Cannabis. We often strictly associate marijuana (Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica) with cannabis, but we must also include hemp. As a whole, all three plants can be grouped within the genus of flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family. Even with that information, how cannabis is consumed may determine a different classification.
Is cannabis a vegetable? In some ways, yes, it is a vegetable. Since cannabis technically is a herbaceous plant, the edible product distinguished from its fruits and seeds can be referred to as a vegetable. Therefore, depending on the method of consumption, the cannabis leaves could be considered a vegetable.
It may seem strange to consider cannabis a vegetable, but as cannabis is a widely persecuted plant, we may only be used to seeing it in one particular way. As a whole, if we call cannabis strictly a vegetable, we would be making a rather naive statement. It is important to look at all aspects of the plant’s usability and the context in which it is being utilized.
Cannabis as a Vegetable
When we think of a vegetable, we likely think of things like spinach, carrots, and broccoli, all of which are from different parts of their plants. Spinach is the leaf of a plant. Carrots are the root of a plant and broccoli is the flower of a plant. When put into that context, cannabis is a herbaceous plant whose leaves can be used as vegetables. Most vegetables can be consumed either raw or cooked, and cannabis is no different in the fact that it loses some nutritional value when cooked.
One of the most important distinctions to make when consuming the cannabis leaves as a vegetable is that more often than not, you will be consuming hemp leaves, not marijuana leaves. This automatically alleviates one concern that often comes up when discussing eating cannabis leaves as a vegetable: if eating the raw leaves can get you high.
Since you would be consuming the plant in a raw form that has not been through decarboxylation, the THC will not be activated, and hemp generally does not contain THC anyway. However, the raw leaves may contain some CBDA, but not enough to have an adverse effect.
The most common way the cannabis leaves are eaten is when juicing. This allows for essential nutrients to be extracted from a larger quantity of leaves. You will, however, be missing out on the fiber content of the leaves if you choose to juice them, so some people choose to blend them into a smoothie instead. Some consumers do not fancy the flavor of cannabis leaves and choose to use them in only small quantities.
In fact, raw cannabis leaves contain the only known source of essential cannabinoid acids, along with a perfect balance of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6. Beyond that, the raw leaves contain a fair amount of minerals including magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. Keep in mind that these beneficial nutrients will be most prevalent when consuming raw leaves, not cooked leaves.
If you decide to test your taste buds and try some cannabis leaves in your next smoothie, you can count that as part of your vegetable intake for the day. Still, calling the entire cannabis plant a vegetable would not necessarily be correct.
Is Cannabis a Fruit?
If we are going to discuss cannabis as a vegetable, it only makes sense to consider if it could also be a fruit, right? Well, the female cannabis plants do, in fact produce fruit clusters. Some hemp fruits have even sometimes been cured in an attempt to heighten certain strains THC content; still, the use of all cannabis fruit is not common practice.
The fruit that is produced by the female flowering cannabis plant is called an achene. This is also the same classification as strawberries as they are an aggregate fruit with an aggregate of achenes on the outside. Many other species of flowering plants also produce achene or dry fruit, which is why they are often mistaken for seed as they are a dry, hardened fruit that contains a seed. Other examples of achene fruits include buckwheat, sunflower seeds, and quinoa.
Since many achene fruits are consumed by humans, why not the cannabis version? Well, what we commonly known as hemp hearts is actually the dry indehiscent fruit of that cannabis plant. So, whole hemp hearts are not a seed, but a tiny fruit or nut containing a single seed. The dry exterior hugs the seeds so tightly that it resembles a seed coat.
So, like classifying a part of the cannabis plant as a vegetable, under certain contexts, we can classify parts of a cannabis plant as a fruit as well.
Is Cannabis a Flower?
All cannabis plants, both male and female, produce a flower. While cannabis is a flowering plant, it would be incorrect to call it a flower when it simply produces flowers. The distinction between male and female flowers is an important one, as it is the key to the reproductive success of cannabis.
The cannabis flower is going to be what we think of when we think of a marijuana bud, and that’s because the bud of the plant is the flower. The female flowers are usually the ones that produce THC and cannabinoids in higher concentrations. If left unfertilized by the male flowers, the female flowers will continue to produce the resin that contains active cannabinoids until the point of harvest.
So once again, while cannabis plants produce flowers, and we use the flowers for both recreational and medicinal purposes, the plant cannot be strictly classified as a flower.
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Is Cannabis a Herb?
As a herbaceous plant, it is easy to assume that cannabis would be a herb, and classifying cannabis as a herb is likely the most accurate description we could assign. Herbs can more generally be defined as plants that have savory or aromatic properties most often used for culinary, medicinal, and in some cases, for spiritual purposes.
Despite the recent interest in using cannabis leaves in smoothies, juices, and other forms of cooking, cannabis is most notably a medicinal herb. Herbs that are commonly associated with cooking have strong, potent flavors due to concentrated amounts of terpenes in their leaves. Only certain strains of cannabis contain high amounts of terpenes giving the leaves a stronger flavor, but overall, this distinction allows it to fit the category of herb more closely.
While the use of cannabis medicinally dates back to First Century CE in China and Africa, marijuana became a target during drug wars and is often shown in a negative light throughout most of the early 20th century. Now, it is on the rise again as more research has proven the medicinal properties making the use of marijuana and hemp more mainstream and accessible.
Final Cannabis Classification
The uses for cannabis plants are seemingly endless, and there’s a multitude of ways for us to safely consume both marijuana and hemp. With its many uses, many consumers have been hard-pressed to determine whether it is a vegetable, fruit, or flower.
Separating the many parts of the plant, the leaves can be considered a vegetable, cannabis does produce a fruit of which we only eat the hemp variety, and the flowers are what we most often associated with marijuana. So, depending on the context, it could fit in any of the above categories.
The safest classification of cannabis is likely to say it is an herb. It has been used for spiritual and medicinal herb applications for centuries and continues to be used most often as an herb today.
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