Ever wonder what to call all those tiny, sticky crystals that cover cannabis flower?
Well, we’ve got an answer for you: kief.
Simply said, kief (also known as dry sift or pollen) 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.
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 to Extract Kief
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 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.
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 well cleaned tends to be more of an off-white color.
How Does Kief Relate to Hash?
Extracting kief is one of the first steps of making hash. To simply summarize, 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.
Kief may not be the most exciting cannabis product out there, but it still remains one of the most popular and easiest to access. For more information on kief and kief extraction, check out Ed Rosenthal’s Beyond Buds. In the meantime, be sure to pick up a three-chamber herb grinder if you’d like to get the most bang for your buck.