Everyone who falls in love with cannabis eventually comes around to learning about trichomes. Trichomes are small outgrowths that look like fine hairs or scales on many plants, algae, and lichen, and they serve several biological functions. In cannabis, trichomes are sometimes called “kief” or frosting, and they are the sticky, aromatic resin glands that stay on your fingers after you handle cannabis flowers.
"Trichome” comes from the Greek word for "hair" (trikhōma) and to the naked eye, they are shiny, crystalline hairs that coat the surface of mature cannabis flowers. With a hand-held microscope, you can usually see that each trichome has a distinctive, mushroom-like shape. This blanket of trichomes serves several purposes, including protection from ultraviolet rays, wind, humidity, pests, and herbivores, but in cannabis, their importance lies in the mix of desirable compounds they produce.
These glands are the last part of the cannabis flowers to develop, and they have their own growth cycle that begins once the plant is mature. They appear on the surface of flowers as clear or slightly amber in color, then turn cloudy and opaque when the chemical compound levels are at their highest. This change in color serves as a signal to farmers as the best time to harvest the plants.
Trichomes are what we extract from cannabis flowers when making infusions and concentrates because it is within these hair-like glands (particularly the mushroom “cap” at the top) that the highest amounts of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are produced and stored – not the green plant tissue as scientists used to believe. This better understanding of trichomes on cannabis flowers has been key to developing smokeless consumption methods and purer, more potent concentrates. You can also collect “kief” with a three-chambered grinder, which separates some of the dry, powdery trichomes from dried flowers.
With your new-found knowledge about trichomes, you should get in the habit of examining how they look on each batch of cannabis you grow or buy. However, we can never assume that just because a plant is covered in a thick blanket of trichomes that it will deliver one effect or another because each strain produces its own unique blend of chemical compounds.