When you think of hemp, a few things likely come to mind: super-soft clothing, sturdy rope, eco-friendly furnishings and building materials, and oils and consumable products. But we’re willing to bet that you’re not picturing breaking off some leaves from the plant and eating them raw.
The thing is, you can. And it’s good for you.
For those who already use hemp products, such as CBD tinctures, gummies, softgels, lotions, and the like, you may never have even considered consuming raw hemp. But if you can handle some slight bitterness (that you may or may not already be tasting in these other products), there are numerous benefits that you can enjoy when you eat your hemp raw.
Before we dig in on the goods, let’s quickly break down what exactly raw hemp is.
Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa L. plant. The strain is known for being low in THC (typically less than 0.3%), which means it is non-psychoactive and will not get you high. Because of the low level of THC, hemp is not classified as a Schedule 1 substance and is legal as an agricultural product under the 2018 Farm Bill.
It’s worth noting here that raw cannabis, the THC-rich strain of the plant, also is non-psychoactive since the THC is not activated. To create the psychoactive effects that marijuana users enjoy, cannabis must be decarboxylated, a fancy way of saying “heated up.”
This is why smoking marijuana is the most popular way to enjoy its effects, as the heat created by lighting it causes a chemical reaction that activates the THC.
You might wonder about edibles. Don’t forget—edibles are cooked, which creates the same reaction. With edibles, you aren’t consuming raw hemp or cannabis.
The only catch here is that decarboxylation can occur over time due to sunlight exposure or long-term storage. The process of drying hemp can also activate THC and other cannabinoids, but how much depends largely on the type of heat and the duration of time.
Raw hemp, therefore, refers to the plant itself: unprocessed hemp in its purest, natural form freshly picked from the plant. Although it is not viewed as one, hemp is technically a vegetable, and its raw leaves are perfectly safe to consume.
They pack numerous health benefits that processed hemp products cannot match. Let’s take a look.
Consider hemp the newest member of the raw greens movement. Hemp shares many qualities with other leafy green vegetables. In its raw form, it might be one of the most nutritionally complete foods on the planet.
This takes into consideration the leaves as well as hemp seeds.
Hemp leaves and seeds are loaded with powerful nutritional benefits like:
While it’s no secret that raw plants contain more nutrients than when they are cooked, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should eliminate CBD products from your routine. Some nutrients are destroyed by heat and better absorbed through raw plants, while others are more bioavailable through cooking them.
It’s easy to read the above list and understand that raw hemp is indeed good for you, but a deeper dive can help you understand why.
As we mentioned above, a big part of the reason raw hemp is so healthy is the simple fact that it is raw. Consuming hemp raw allows molecules within the plant, like terpenes and cannabinoid acids, to stay in their natural state.
These compounds are volatile and sensitive to high temperatures, which is why they disappear when they are decarboxylated or smoked. When heated, THCA converts to its psychoactive counterpart, THC, and CBDa converts to CBD.
Surely you’re familiar with CBD, but the “a” at the end refers to “acid.” CBDa is, therefore, CBD in its acidic state—it is the precursor to CBD. Raw hemp leaves have an abundance of CBDa, which contains numerous beneficial components, including anti-inflammatory properties and even the potential to treat nausea and vomiting.
Raw hemp leaves are also packed with terpenes. These chemicals give the plant its aroma and taste. Those terpenes found in hemp may include:
In addition to producing their own unique benefits, terpenes also enhance the overall benefits of raw hemp. They do this by working in tandem with other cannabinoids and compounds in the plant to produce what’s known as the entourage effect, which means the benefits of the whole are more significant than its individual parts. Consuming raw hemp means you get the full slate of health benefits.
If you remember elementary school science, you know that chlorophyll is what makes hemp green. Chlorophyll is typically removed from CBD products, but it resides in abundance in raw hemp leaves. Chlorophyll itself is packed with benefits for things like blood-building, anti-aging, and anti-acne.
Spoiler alert: raw hemp is bitter. If you enjoy a bitter green like arugula, mustard greens, or kale, then you can likely add raw hemp leaves to a salad without much fuss.
However, those who don’t enjoy bitter greens will likely be better off using dressing to temper the bitterness. Another option is to toss some raw hemp leaves into your favorite smoothie or juice recipe. Adding raw hemp to smoothies and juices gives you all of the benefits without the bitter taste, as you can easily mask it with other vegetables, fruits, or protein powder.
Of course, you can also pick leaves off the plant and pop them right into your mouth.
If you value healthy foods, yes.
While raw hemp leaves may be hard to come by, they pack a powerful nutritional punch that their processed or heated counterparts cannot match.
Full of so many of the nutrients you see associated with “superfoods,” raw hemp leaves and seeds could be a welcome addition to your diet.