Cannabis 101  Cannabis education and information on ways to consume, how to grow or harvest, and more.

What Is Kief and How Can You Use It?

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.

Kief and Trichomes: Built-In Protection for Cannabis Plants

Kief is the bulbous tip of the trichome on cannabis flower
The white hairs covering this cannabis flower are trichomes, or resin glands.

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.

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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 to Separate Kief From the Cannabis Plant

A grinder without a kief catcher
Without a three-chamber herb grinder to sift and collect kief, the kief is wasted because it just sticks to the grinder itself.

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.

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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.

Makeshift kief crystal sifters
Framed Speedball screen printing screens.

Many people create makeshift sifters using layered 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.

For the best results, home extractors use consecutive sizes of screen and stack them in order from largest to smallest. When buying screens, the number of wires or threads per inch, or the LPI (lines per inch) number is an important thing to remember. The larger the screen, the smaller the LPI number. When it comes to sifting kief, mesh between 80 and 270 LPI tends to work best.

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When buying extracted kief at a dispensary or retail store, keep in mind that the purer the kief, the lighter the color will be. Kief that still looks fairly green means that there is still quite a bit of plant matter mixed in, whereas kief that has been cleaned well tends to be more of an off-white color.

What to Do With Kief

This compressed hash brick started from kief.
A compressed hash brick. This hash has a dark color because it has been heavily pressurized.

Now that you know what kief is and how to collect it, what should you do with it? There are many ways to make good use of your stockpile of unrefined cannabis concentrate. Here are a few suggestions that can amplify potency and refine consistency.

Sprinkle It Onto Your Packed Bowl of Cannabis

Also known as “crowning a bowl,” this is the first and most obvious use for kief. Overall potency can increase dramatically with a generous dusting of kief on top of your bowl. Corner your hits to get the most out of a kief-crowned bowl, corner your hits, which entails burning a quadrant of the bowl at a time so that you can enjoy multiple hits.

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Sprinkle Kief Into a Joint or Roll a Twax Joint

Freshly ground cannabis is just sticky enough to make rolling a joint fairly easy. Pepper your ground cannabis with a healthy pinch of kief and mix well. The extra trichomes should more or less stick to the ground leaves, adding potency to the interior of your joint.

For those of you who want a more advanced experience, dampen the outside of your joint with a lick or your preferred wax and then roll the top 1/3 of the joint in kief. This kief-coated joint is often call a “twaxed” joint.

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Make Hash

Hash is one of the oldest forms of refined cannabis. One of the first steps of making hash is extracting kief, as hash is basically just kief that has been heated and pressurized to form a soft, green ball. Applying heat and pressure to kief changes its composition by rupturing the resin glands. Once the kief ruptured, the overall taste and effects of the product are slightly different. Pressurizing kief also darkens its color; the more pressure you apply, the darker the hash becomes.

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Make Moonrocks

Moonrocks are top-quality nugs covered in oil and rolled in kief. These glorious glitter cannabis specimens are very high potency and can be considered a quick DIY concentrate. Moonrocks are relatively easy to make if you have the materials. Gently heat your oil of choice and liberally coat your buds. Sprinkle kief over still-warm buds, or dredge buds in a kief bath using tongs. Let harden, then enjoy them by breaking them up by hand and sprinkling them into your bowl (avoid using a grinder if possible, as a grinder will break them up too finely and defeat the purpose of creating your lovely moonrock).

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Press Rosin

Rosin is a rising star in the world of cannabis concentrates for its solventless extraction methods and preservation of cannabinoids. This process is usually done with flower, but higher yields and potency can be achieved by pressing kief. The at-home method involves a hair straightener and a vice, while professional methods incorporate high-pressure presses.

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Add Potency to Cannabutter

Cannabutter has so many great applications, and kief is an easy way to boost potency that doesn’t add any extra steps to the cannabutter creating process. Just remember, no matter if you decarboxylate your cannabis in the oven or in your crockpot, make sure your kief is intermixed with your flower for best results.

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Try These Kief-Heavy Strains

Leafly White Widow hybrid cannabis strain tile 

A cross between a Brazilian sativa landrace and a resin-heavy South Indian indica,  White Widow has blessed every Dutch coffee shop menu since its birth in the 1990s. Its buds are white with crystal resin, warning you of the potent effects to come. A powerful burst of euphoria and energy breaks through immediately, stimulating both conversation and creativity.

Leafly Hash Plant indica cannabis strain tile 

Hash Plant’s tight, resin-drenched flower clusters develop a brittle surface when dried and give off a deep, rich Afghani aroma that’s undercut with a hint of hashish. When consumed, her dominant flavor is the spicy-sharp bite of smouldering resin glands. The instant vaporization of those layers of sparkling trichomes accelerates Hash Plant’s rapid, blissful and breathtakingly powerful body-stone.

Leafly Chemdawg hybrid cannabis strain tile

Between its mysterious origin, ambiguous genetics, and the plethora of successful crosses the strain has produced, Chemdawg has practically secured itself a permanent place in the cannabis hall of fame. The original source of powerhouse strains like Sour Diesel and OG Kush, Chemdawg is known for its distinct, diesel-like aroma. Pungent and sharp, you’ll be able to smell this hybrid from a mile away.

photo credits via photopin cc: header: wonderlandforever; trichomes: prensa420