The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” dates back to at least the mid-19th century. (1)
It still holds true, though, and it’s worth remembering when you harvest your weed crop. (It’s also valid if you buy shake or trim from a dealer or dispensary.)
Naturally, buds are the treasure of a cannabis plant. That’s where most of the plant’s trichomes grow, so they contain most of weed’s cannabinoids and terpenes. In other words, if you want to get baked, you want to smoke (or vape) the flower.
Does that make the plant’s leaves and stems trash? Not necessarily. They can become a treasure, too — if you know what to do with them.
And making cannabutter is a terrific way to use weed leaves.
Can Weed Leaves Get You High?
Some of them can, but make no mistake. They can’t compete with flowers in terms of potency, or even in terms of flavor.
Before we go any further, a clarification is in order. There are two types of leaves on a cannabis plant, the fan leaves, and the sugar leaves.
You’re probably more familiar with fan leaves because they’re the ones on the iconic weed icon used to represent marijuana worldwide. That’s somewhat misleading, though.
Fan leaves are the large ones that you immediately recognize when you look at a weed plant — but they contain very little THC or trichomes. You might be able to get high if you smoke them, but you’d need a ton of them. There’s a better chance that you’d feel sick well before you feel stoned.
Sugar leaves are — pardon the expression — the sweeter ones. They’re the small leaves that grow right around the buds, they contain more psychoactive THC than fan leaves, and many sugar leaves are covered with a decent amount of trichomes. In short, that’s where we want to focus our attention.
If you smoke sugar leaves, there’s a smaller chance that you’ll get totally buzzed. The experience won’t be as satisfying as smoking flowers, there will be less flavor, and the smoke will be harsher. That’s the reason that pre-rolls are second-class citizens in the weed world; they’re typically made with sugar leaves.
There are much better uses for those leaves.
Some people use them to make salad dressings, add them to their tea, or juice them (together with other ingredients.) Others use sugar leaves in the lengthy process of making weed extracts and concentrate like tinctures and hash.
The most popular use for the weed plant’s sugar leaves? Making edibles.
Why Sugar Leaves are Ideal for Making Cannabutter
The small leaves that surround a weed plant’s buds were dubbed “sugar leaves” because many have a white coating of trichomes at harvest time. That means they also contain the cannabinoids and terpenes that give marijuana its psychoactive and medicinal power.
There’s less THC in sugar leaves than there is in flowers. There’s more than you might expect, though; some estimate that 5%-7% of the leaves’ content is cannabinoids. (By comparison, the average is 2%-3% cannabinoids in fan leaves.)
So even though buds are far superior for smoking, there’s a lot of goodness in those sugar leaves. And it makes no sense to let it go to waste.
Making cannabutter (or canna-oil) with leaves has its pros and cons, which we should discuss before getting into the details.
- You need a good amount of weed to make cannabutter, so it’s much less expensive to use leaves than your precious flower.
- You don’t need the strongest cannabis to make edibles, because edibles hit harder than smoking does. (That’s because THC is transformed into the more potent metabolite 11-hydroxy-THC after it’s digested.)
- Less-powerful cannabutter may be ideal for medicinal use.
- Cannabutter made with leaves will probably get you less high.
- There’s a lot of chlorophyll in the leaves, so the butter may taste more like a plant than weed. It’s best to use cannabutter for edibles when recipes call for other ingredients with strong flavors. (Those flavors can overpower the plant taste).
Most people believe the pros outweigh the cons. We do too. So let’s make some cannabutter.
How to Make Cannabutter with Weed Leaves
We have to confess that we took a shortcut in the last section when we referred to the amount of THC in sugar leaves. It’s not THC; it’s a precursor to THC known as THCA. To enjoy the psychoactive properties in weed, you have to “activate” THCA and transform it into THC. That’s done with heat.
When you smoke or vape bud, the activation happens automatically. If you’re going to use the cannabis plant to make edibles, you have to activate the THC manually with a process called decarboxylation (decarbing for short). Don’t worry; it’s easy.
Decarbing the Sugar Leaves
- Make sure the leaves are completely dry. If they’re not, put them into a paper bag and shake them daily until they are.
- Cover a baking sheet with a crumpled piece of tin foil.
- Spread the leaves on the foil evenly.
- Cover them with another piece of tin foil.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes at 225°. Cool.
Making Cannabutter with Sugar Leaves
- Cut the leaves into small pieces. The smaller, the better.
- Put water into the bottom of a double boiler and heat it.
- Add one cup of butter, one cup of water, and once the butter has melted, about one cup of the leaves. The amount of weed you use can be adjusted depending on how strong you want your cannabutter to be.
- Simmer for 2-3 hours on low heat, stirring every 30 minutes. (Be sure that the butter doesn’t burn.)
- Strain the cooked mixture through cheesecloth into a container, and let it cool.
- Refrigerate for an hour and remove the water at the bottom of the container.
Just don’t let the leaves burn during decarbing (check them regularly), and don’t let the butter burn during cooking, and your cannabutter can be used for cooking, baking, or simply spread onto an English muffin or some toast.
It may take a couple of tries to determine exactly how much of the sugar leaves to use, but when you’re dealing with weed, trial and error is half the fun!
How to Make Cannabutter with Leaves FAQ
Q: Can you use popcorn buds, fan leaves, or stems to make cannabutter?
A: Popcorn buds are perfect for cannabutter. There’s very little THC in the fan leaves and stems, though, so you wouldn’t want to use them by themselves. There’s no harm in mixing them in with the sugar leaves; you’ll just end up with less potent cannabutter.
Q: Is there any way to avoid the plant flavor when you make cannabutter?
A: Yes, but it’s more time-consuming and exacting. If you extract the trichomes from sugar leaves to make bubble hash or dry ice hash and then use the hash to make butter, you’ll have a better-tasting cannabutter.
Q: I don’t have a double boiler, what else can I use to make cannabutter?
A: You can simply make cannabutter in a pot, but you’ll have to pay a lot more attention throughout the process. A double boiler makes it less likely that direct heat will burn the butter. You can also use a crockpot, but the slow-cooking process will take anywhere from 4-8 hours.