When plants reach the initial threshold of harvest maturity at approximately 1 year of age, the farmer’s role transitions from that of nurturer and protector to harvester and processor. Farmers can glean leaves when plants are younger and smaller also, because some of the flavonoids and other desirable compounds begin to develop efficacy from the time plants are about 4 months old, but for full defoliation and harvesting, plants must be strong enough to withstand the assault.
We generally give plants their first complete defoliation around 9-12 months of age, give or take. They can be large or small (size is strongly correlated to how big their container/hole is and how much light and nutrition they are given). And size has nothing whatsoever to do with potency. We generally notice a marked increase in potency between the first and second complete defoliations, as defoliation triggers alkaloid production since the plants secrete them as a defense mechanism.
When harvest time comes, what does the farmer do? Whether the farmer plans to make tea, powder or extract, the first step is to rinse the plant material. Safe food handling measures are observed. But what happens next? When it comes to the curing/drying/processing of plant material, there is a widespread air of mystery. If you search Google, you’ll see there’s really no information out there on this.
To complicate things, a lot of powder salesmen, not to mention 90% of the internet, will try to tell you that green comes from green vein leaves, red from red vein leaves… and so on…. that these are separate strains of plant. This is a misnomer and a widespread myth so ingrained in American kratom culture, unlearning it can pose a challenge.
The truth is that various methods of processing are applied to kratom leaves after harvest to yield different colors, alkaloid profiles and energetic effects. Each production house has its own set of methods. In other words, powder “strains” are manmade and result from the curing process, not from the existence of numerous varieties of kratom trees.
An appropriate comparison can be made to the harvesting and processing of tea leaves. Green, white, black and puereh tea are not different strains of tea; they all comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. However, different drying processes are applied to the leaves after harvest to yield not only different colors, but the unique tastes and energetic effects associated with each color of tea. Green tea is not a different strain of tea from black tea or white tea. There is only one tea plant. What makes the finished products unique is what humans do to it.
And so it is for kratom.
For example: white tea leaves are harvested at a younger age than green tea leaves. However since white tea is less processed, it retains a higher amount of antioxidants compared to green. Black tea leaves are exposed to different levels of heat in the curing process. And puereh tea undergoes a fermented cure. All this transforms a single plant into many varieties of finished product.
The same concept can be applied to kratom. It’s all from the same plant, mitragyna speciosa. Kratom is kratom. It’s what you do to it that yields the color difference and the difference in effects. Finished powders can vary drastically in everything from color, texture, taste and feeling. These variables are results of how the product is handled and manipulated by man.
Some foundational principles for the geek-minded:
There are a few basic concepts worth covering, because they serve as the foundation for both the art and science of processing. If you’re not a fan of the big picture, that’s ok… you can skip ahead to the recipes.
The first piece of information you need is that there are many active alkaloids in kratom, as well as flavonoids and others desirable compounds. These all play a role in the outcome of the finished product, although much more research needs to be done to qualify and quantify the roles of the numerous constituents. The ingredients present in the highest concentration (that have also been studied the most) are mitragynine and 7hydroxymitragynine. Most people who love the plant already know this. The first is almost exclusively dominant, while the latter may exist in trace amounts or not even be present in the living plant tissue.
(Although we discuss mitragynine and 7hydroxymitragynine here a lot, bear in mind that numerous other constituents also play a role, and may contribute in a profound but not-as-yet quantified manner to the effect of the plant material).
The second thing you need to know is that it is possible to catalyze chemical changes in the leaves after harvest to affect this ratio of mitragynine vs 7hydroxymitragynine (as well as, presumably, the numerous other alkaloids, flavonoids, and others desirable compounds), and this is what is known as curing or processing.
The third piece of information you need is that light, heat and humidity are factors proven by scientists to catalyze this chemical conversion by oxidizing the alkaloids.
And finally, the amount of oxidation is what determines not only the color of the finished powder but the unique energetic effects associated with it.
In other words, how you dry your leaves determines whether you get a relaxing red, energizing white or in-between green.
Sun drying in humid Indonesian weather or other more controlled methods of intentional exposure to heat and humidity produces darker powder by triggering oxidation and/or the secretion of a visibly red color from the leaf material. Indoor drying (in low light, low humidity, low heat) produces greener/lighter powder because the leaves are not heavily oxidized and therefore do not change color much. Generally, the more oxidized dark-colored powder will have a slower onset and have more notable sedative effects, while lighter less-oxidized powders will hit faster and be more energetic.