Identifying Flaws in Flower
Tips and tricks for choosing the best bud
We’ve all had that moment. After purchasing your favorite cannabis strain, you finally open the jar and quickly discover something is wrong. Whether you detect an off-putting odor or the cannabis presents an unhealthy color, your senses know that your OG Kush just isn’t right. While stringent testing standards in California have helped with quality control, it’s important to know how to identify flaws in cannabis flower to ensure you are ingesting clean products.
Much like wine, the enjoyment of consuming cannabis is influenced by the flower’s unique aromas, flavors, and features. Cannabis’ distinct characteristics are derived from many sources including terroir, the strain itself, outdoor cultivation practices, curing, and proper storage. Expert cannabis farmers use careful techniques throughout each vintage to ensure the strains we love best express themselves, but errors can occur.
When identifying flaws in wine, your sense of sight and smell are your two best tools in considering if faults are present. The same techniques can be applied to cannabis.
Identifying Flaws Using Your Sense of Sight
Before purchasing flower, you should always inspect the product visually if possible. Mold, bugs, and material other than cannabis can find their way onto the buds, creating major issues.
Like grape farmers, cannabis farmers battle botrytis. In the wine world, botrytis is often called “Noble Rot”, shriveling and dehydrating wine grape clusters while still on the vine. In cannabis, botrytis is referred to as “Bud Rot”, rotting the cannabis from the inside out. Before ingesting flower, be sure to always break open the bud to inspect the inside for botrytis mold.
Another common mold that affects both grapevines and cannabis is powdery mildew. As the name suggests, this mold has an appearance of white or grayish-white powder that first infects the leaves and eventually the rest of the plant. For the grapevine, powdery mildew can result in reduced vine growth, reduced yield, and poor fruit quality. For cannabis, powdery mildew inhibits photosynthesis, which causes the leaves to shrivel before the plant dies from lack of energy. The dried flower bud can also be covered in it. A common mistake is misidentifying powdery mildew as trichomes. Make sure to examine your cannabis carefully. Mold has the tendency to clump together whereas trichomes should be spread across the flower evenly.
Both botrytis and powdery mildew are the most common molds that impact cannabis and can occur indoors and outdoors; however, by using smart farming practices, these molds can be prevented.
Other problems to look for include insect infestations, spider mites, and webs. Sometimes these microscopic flaws are too small to detect with the naked eye. If you have a microscope on hand, be sure to use it to inspect your bud.
In addition to mold and insects, your sense of sight can also help you determine if the flower has poor structure and an unhealthy color. If the cannabis appears to be an unattractive shade of yellow, orange or brown, it is not suitable for consumption. Closely inspect the bud structure as well. If it appears to be misshapen and lacks trichomes, you’ve most likely encountered poorly grown cannabis.
Cannabis plant covered with powdery mildew
(image sourced from medicinalgenomics.com)
Identifying Flaws Using Your Sense of Smell
Never forget your nose knows best. Our appreciation for cannabis is partly due to its distinctive aromas, which come from a vast array of terpenes, the organic compounds that are created in the same gland as some of our favorite cannabinoids.
Humans have the incredible ability to detect a broad spectrum of different aromas that appear in both wine and cannabis. Our dynamic sense of smell can detect up to an estimated 10,000 different odors. As a wine geek myself, a typical wine taster can be trained to identify around 1,000 specific aromas, ranging in different intensities and concentrations. While wine contains an estimated 200 odorous compounds, cannabis contains over 200 different terpenes, each with their own unique aromas and flavors.
Learning to identify faulty smells in cannabis is a critical element to choosing the best bud. Use your nose to find flaws. A good standard practice is to smell the flower several times briefly to evaluate the aromas that are present before consuming. If you open a jar of cannabis and cannot detect any aromas, your product is most likely old and the terpenes are no longer present. Little to no aromas can also occur if the cannabis has not been cured or stored correctly.
Improper flushing at the end of the cannabis’ flowering cycle can also create unpleasant smells. If you perceive a distinct salty aroma, the residual nutrients were most likely not completely “flushed” away before harvest. If your cannabis smells like chemicals, by all means, do not ingest. This is a telltale sign that pesticides are present.
If you are purchasing cannabis, do your best to evaluate the product by using your natural gifts. Sight and smell are powerful tools that you can use to enhance your appreciation for flower and where your favorite strains come from. Get to know your grower, become familiar with their cultivating techniques, and choose a trusted farm that uses clean farming practices. In California, we are blessed to be able to support the farms we love. Do your part and protect our small growers.
Peace, Love & Cannabis,
Jamie Evans The Herb Somm
*Sources for this article include The Trichome Institute, Leafly, and Medicial Genomics.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jamie Evans is the founder of The Herb Somm. She is an educator, host, and writer specializing in cannabis, food, recipes, wine, and the canna-culinary world. In addition to her work in the cannabis industry, Jamie has over ten years of wine industry experience. Having represented a wide array of organizations and wineries, she is best known for producing high-end events and developing top-notch public relations, marketing, and hospitality programs. She was also recently named as one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers in 2018.