The fan leaf is the most iconic symbol of the cannabis plant species. Its outline is recognizable almost anywhere in the world, and people used the symbol for decades as a sign that they smoke psychoactive cannabis. The irony is that smoking the leaves won’t get you high, that is, unless you smoke a ridiculous amount.
The real value is in hemp leaves as a nutritional leafy green.
Surprised? Many people are, but that’s quickly changing thanks to a new culinary leaf trend.
Rachel Ray magazine reported on the trend in 2017, noting that “New York City chefs are tossing hemp leaves in salads and meat dishes for a refreshing flavor.” NYC restaurants cited in the magazine included Estela, ABC Kitchen, Norman and in salad mixes at select Whole Foods locations. Other restaurants, chefs and home cooks are following suit.
Now hemp plants contain two types of leaves: the larger fan leaves and smaller sugar leaves. Most people stick with the larger fan leaves, using them in salads, pressing them into juices or soaking them in hot water to make hemp tea. Popular comparisons include spinach and kale, which is notable because Popeye creator Elzie Segar said “spinach” in his comic strip was actually slang for cannabis. The smaller sugar leaves, which appear near the flowering buds on the plant, contain hair-like trichomes that can make the leaf blades appear covered in sugar.
While not as nutritious as the seeds, hemp leaves are high in folate, zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and contain five times more protein than lettuce. Other ingredients include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins C and K, chlorophyll, fiber and micronutrients (polyphenols) packed with antioxidants.
Like the flowers, hemp leaves contain cannabinoids and terpenes. The fan leaves only contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in their acidic states. Heat is required to give acidic THC its psychoactive properities — a process known as decarboxylation — but hemp won’t get people high in any state. The sugar leaves typically have more cannabinoids, but it’s still minimal.
Dried hemp leaves contain CBD, but the heat used to dry the leaves can have adverse effects on its vitamin and mineral content. The raw leaves, which contain CBD in its acidic state, is preferred by most for its taste and higher nutritional value.