Ever wonder what to call all those tiny, sticky crystals that cover cannabis flower? They’re called kief, also known as dry sift or pollen.
Kief refers to the resin glands which contain the terpenes and cannabinoids that make cannabis so unique. While marijuana sans kief still contains cannabinoids, the resin glands that develop on flower buds pack the biggest punch.
If you are a new cannabis consumer, you may have heard the term kief and may even know what it is. But you may not know the many benefits of the trichome-rich powder you’ll find at the bottom of your grinder.
Here is a primer for the canna-curious out there who are interested in giving your session some added punch.
What is Kief?
The word keif comes from the Arabic word kayf, meaning pleasure or intoxication. Basically, it is the resinous trichomes that collects after cannabis buds are sifted either through a grinder or sieve. Kief is a powder loaded with THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis. Traditionally, kief is the basis of hashish. The fine powder is often pressed into cakes of hash and can then be smoked or vaporized. If you tried hashish in your younger days, you’ve had kief.
Kief and trichomes: Built-in protection for cannabis plants
While kief specifically refers to the bulbous, crystal formation on the tip of a gland, the substance itself is just one part of what is called a trichome, or a “hair.”
Many different plants and algae have external trichomes for specific evolutionary purposes. For example, some carnivorous plants rely on sticky trichomes to trap their prey. Other plants, like cannabis, use them as a deterrent to herbivores.
Trichomes on the marijuana plant keep away hungry herbivores by producing an intense psychoactive experience, theoretically disorienting the animal and preventing it from eating the rest of the plant. The resin’s strong, distinct odor also attracts pollinating insects and predators, which might keep herbivore populations at bay.
How do you use Kief?
There are a myriad of ways to use kief. It really depends on how you usually consume marijuana and how much effort you want to use. For beginners, here are the most common uses:
- Add to a joint: If you are rolling a joint, sprinkle some kief on top of the leaf before rolling. Remember, you don’t need a lot. Think of it as psychoactive seasoning. Just a little layer will make your joint just that much more potent.
- Add to a bowl: You can also sprinkle it on top of the bowl if you are using a pipe or bong. It also works in a vaporizer. Add some to the ground bud before vaping.
- Cook with it: Since there is less plant matter in kief, many cannabis chefs find it better to use in infused recipes. Since it more potent that bud, chefs need less of it for the desired effect. Whether you are infusing butter or oil, using kief will give your meal a kick. Often when I grill a fatty piece of salmon, I sprinkle some kief directly on the flesh side of the fish for a mild high.
- Press it: Want to make homemade hash? Using pressure and heat, you can press kief into hashish. This is a little more advanced than sprinkling it, but it’s not that difficult. All you need is kief, parchment paper and a hair iron (yes, a hair iron). Place the kief inside folded parchment paper. Apply pressure and heat with the iron. The kief will compress into a more solid form. Break off small pieces and smoke it or add to tea.
How to separate kief from the cannabis plant
If you like the experience of concentrates but don’t want to break the bank buying expensive wax or extraction equipment, sifting kief might be a great alternative. Due to the high concentration of terpenes and cannabinoids in resin glands, separating kief crystals from plant matter is a great way to consume cannabis while reducing the amount of charred material you take into your body.
Extracting kief is simple. Using a three-chamber herb grinder will help you finely grind your cannabis while letting kief crystals fall through a screen and collect into a small compartment. While two chamber grinders are nice, they often let potent kief go to waste since crystals fall off of the dried herb and just stick to the inside of the grinder.
For extracting larger quantities of kief, using simple silk screening materials will allow you to separate kief from plant matter with the ease of sifting flower.
Many people create makeshift sifters using layered kief screens similar to the ones pictured above. Because kief tends to measure between 75 and 125 microns, it can be difficult to separate all of the resin from the plant materials. To make sure you’re collecting the cleanest kief without unwanted plant matter, stack three to four layers of fine mesh screen one on top of another.
What are the advantages?
One of the benefits of kief over other methods of making hash, including butane, propane, ethanol, and even water, is it requires almost no equipment and has no safety concerns. For consumers who don’t like the idea of chemical solvents, kief stands alone as a supremely natural method of concentrating cannabis, dating back several thousand years to hash-making locales like Morocco and Afghanistan. Even water hash can get moldy and could constitute a health risk if poorly-made… but kief is basically idiot-proof, in that you’ll always get a safe product that is stronger and more pure than straight-up marijuana.
If you want to go one step farther, you can also press your refined kief using light heat and get something similar to a shatter, which can be easier to work with than loose, dusty kief.
What’s the best way to consume kief?
As previously stated, most people just end up sprinkling a little bit (or a lot) of kief on top of the weed in their pipes or joints; though this is a great method that adds a punch of potency and/or flavor to normal flowers, it doesn’t allow you to experience the kief on its own. Our recommended method for smoking kief is to use a screen on top of a glass pipe. You can purchase durable specialty titanium screens for smoking hash at well-stocked head shops, but you can even use a standard stainless steel pipe screen with no issues.
Gently heating the kief using indirect flame (held an inch or two above the kief) is the best way to release the essential oils and prevent burning it — good kief will begin to bubble and melt like you see with high-grade water hash, leaving behind very little residue and giving a full-flavored hit. On the flip side, poorly refined kief can taste harsh and woody due to the presence of remnant plant matter, so if you care about flavor, it’s important to try and get your kief as clean as possible before smoking. If you have access to any kind of microscope, look for flecks of green and trichome stalks in your kief — this will indicate that your kief isn’t totally pure and may need more refining.