Updated: 6 days ago
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What are hemp and cannabis microgreens? Are they healthy? How easily can they be obtained by consumers? With so much buzz about how hemp microgreens may play a part in a healthy lifestyle, let's explore this trending topic.
Technically, the only difference between hemp and cannabis is the level of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9 THC. To be defined as hemp, a plant must feature less than 0.3 percent (one-third of one percent) of delta-9 THC. Hemp that features more than this level of this controversial molecule is considered "hot hemp" and legally categorized as marijuana (where it is subject to a different set of laws and regulations).
Thus, the names "hemp microgreen" and "cannabis microgreen" carry basically the same meaning. The term "marijuana microgreen" is typically not employed because it implies that such microgreens would possess greater than 0.3 percent THC (see the November 2021 study below to learn more about the trace amounts of cannabinoids like THC produced by hemp microgreens).
"A very small, young, and tender edible leaf (as of hemp, lettuce, mint, mustard, or radish)."
Merriam-Webster defines microgreen as "a very small, young, and tender edible leaf (as of mustard, radish, mint, or lettuce)." In the case of hemp/cannabis/marijuana, there's no real difference between "hemp microgreens" and "cannabis microgreens" because the female versions of the plants have not matured to the where they produce flowers rich in glandular trichomes, the specialized nearly microscopic mushroom-shaped protrusions that manufacture nearly all of the terpenes and cannabinoids in the plant.
Are Hemp Microgreens a Superfood?
Also known as "hemp sprouts," some wellness professionals and consumers consider hemp microgreens to be a "superfood." Merriam-Webster defines superfood as "a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person's health." Superfoods are also described as being "nutritionally dense."
Let's consider the fatty acids part of the equation. Also known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), these include omega-3 and omega-6. EFAs have been shown to be essential for good health and are involved in a wide variety of important bodily functions, including brain activity. Other sources of highly nutritious EFAs include hemp seed oil and fish oil.
The use of microgreens in healthy food "originated in San Francisco, a culinary hot spot. Since then, it has become a culinary ingredient in restaurants and grocery markets worldwide."
EFAs are critical to health. Food sources that serve as rich sources of EFAs are so important to people because of one simple fact: Essential fatty acids are not produced by the human body. They must be obtained from outside sources, including foods like hemp seed oil and microgreens.
According to Kushca, a California-based blog, the use of microgreens in healthy food "originated in San Francisco, a culinary hot spot. Since then, it has become a culinary ingredient in restaurants and grocery markets worldwide."
Microgreens Not Limited to Hemp
It should be stressed that hemp is not the only source of microgreens. This supposed superfood can be obtained from many botanical species, including arugula, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and pak choi.
Microgreens are considered special because they are rich in nutrients and compounds that are present in much smaller volumes in mature versions of the same plant species.
Latest Hemp Microgreens Research
But this is Higher Learning LV, where all of our training and education is based in peer-reviewed research. What do the latest studies and scientific investigations reveal about hemp microgreens? Are they truly the superfood for which they're being touted by celebrity influencers and expensive marketing campaigns? Should consumers be sourcing their EFAs and antioxidants from this increasingly popular food source?
"Microgreens are considered special because they are rich in nutrients and compounds that are present in much small volumes in mature versions of the same plant species."
A December 2022 study entitled "Macro and Trace Element Mineral Composition of Six Hemp Varieties Grown as Microgreens" that was published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis was the first peer-reviewed journal-published study of its kind to report on the mineral profile of six hemp varieties grown as microgreens.
The study reported that microgreens are "an increasingly popular type of nutritionally dense green leafy vegetables" and that they are often consumed raw. "They can contribute to a healthier diet [and are] a rich source of essential nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, and bioactive metabolites," noted the research.
The study observed that the hemp microgreen samples it analyzed were a good source of a number of nutrients and minerals, including calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc. The scientists also noted that hemp cultivation plays a positive role in soil bioremediation because it does not deposit toxic heavy metals.
The study's authors concluded that significant variation exists between different hemp cultivars (strains) and that the precise genetics of a particular cultivar produce varying nutrient/mineral profiles—meaning that the efficacy resulting from the consumption of hemp microgreens will vary significantly between different varieties.
Hemp microgreens "can provide a rich and specific contribution of mineral elements to the human diet."
The report summarized its research by stating that hemp microgreens "can provide a rich and specific contribution of mineral elements to the human diet" and that they make available an avenue "for the exploitation of this industrial crop in the lucrative microgreen sector."
A November 2021 Master's Thesis entitled "Hemp Microgreen Mineral Content, Cannabinoids, Total Phenolics, and Antioxidants" that was published by Louisiana State University grew hemp microgreens for seven to 12 days under a variety of environmental conditions (with and without supplemental lighting and fertilizer).
The thesis noted that the cultivation of hemp by humans dates back 12,000 years, with "evidence of hulled and ground hempseed being used as pressed oil for food" in Japan and China. It reported that the botanical Cannabaceae family, from which hemp is derived, "consists of only one genus, Cannabis" and that the number of species is "a debated topic, with some researchers claiming that Cannabis contains multiple species of plants and others arguing that Cannabis sativa is a highly polymorphic, single species."
Cannabis: Highly Polymorphic or Three Species?
The thesis explained that, "if Cannabis were to be divided, it would consist of three main species, namely:
Cannabis sativa: Characterized by a taller growth pattern and a high THC:cannabidiol (CBD) ratio.
Cannabis indica: Characterized by a shorter, bushier growth pattern and a balanced THC:CBD or high CBD:THC ratio.
Cannabis ruderalis: Characterized by a small growth pattern with low amounts of THC and CBD and ability to withstand rugged terrains such as poor soil conditions and extreme cold."
The thesis observed a range of micronutrients and macronutrients present in the hemp microgreen samples it analyzed. "Principal macronutrient found in hemp microgreens was nitrogen (N), followed by potassium (K), phosphorus (P), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and sulfur (S)," noted the report. Micronutrients found included "iron (Fe), followed by manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), boron (B), and copper (Cu)."
"Hemp microgreens were similar to other commonly grown microgreen species in mineral [profile] except for phosphorus and magnesium, where they could potentially be an excellent source," noted the thesis. It also reported that hemp microgreens "produced below average volumes of zinc."
Lighting Increased Cannabinoids
The thesis report found that the use of supplemental lighting increased the levels of a number of popular cannabinoids in the hemp microgreens, including CBD, cannabigerol (CBG), and the acidic precursors to these major cannabinoids, including cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
"Supplemental lighting increased the levels of a number of popular cannabinoids in the hemp microgreens, including CBD, CBG, CBGA, CBDA, and THCA."
The report also noted that the volumes of CBD, CBDA, and THCA "increased with time." It observed that, compared to those obtained from other botanical species, hemp microgreens were found to "provide slightly higher amounts of total phenolics and antioxidants."
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