The majority of cannabis connoisseurs tend to focus on the flowers produced by mature female cannabis and hemp plants. There’s a good reason for that: these are the parts of the plants that produce the majority of their cannabinoids, such as Delta-9 THC and CBD.
So if you’re looking to get the most out of cannabis, you’re mainly going to be interested in the flowers. But once you’ve harvested the flowers and their buds, there is still going to be plenty of plant leftover. Does that mean it’s useless?
Far from it! While it might not be the best option if you’re looking to get high, the various other parts of the cannabis plant have a wide range of uses. But to understand that you need to understand biomass.
What is Biomass?
Generally speaking, biomass refers to the excess plant matter that’s left behind after the flowers are cultivated and harvested from the cannabis or hemp plant. This includes the stalks, stems, leaves, seeds, and trim. That said, some industry professionals use the term to describe everything harvested from the plant, including flowers. While cannabis flowers are typically high in cannabinoids, the rest of the plant is not, meaning that most cultivators don’t bother collecting it. Despite this, some manufacturers emphasize biomass over other parts of the plant.
How Do You Harvest Biomass?
Biomass is usually divided into two types: the oilseed variety and the fiber variety. The oilseed variety includes shorter plants that are rich in seeds, while the fiber variety includes taller plants that are rich in stalks. Both will require harvesters to cut the plant a few inches from the ground using a machete or shears, taking care to preserve as much of the plant material as possible. From there, it depends on what type of plant you are working with:
- Oilseed hemp requires you to thoroughly dry out the plant before processing. The dried seeds can then be treated using an oil press or another type of machine.
- Fiber-rich hemp will need to be retted, a fiber separation practice that dissolves the cellular tissue and allows one to easily separate the fiber from the stem.
What is Biomass Used For?
The hemp plant is heavily used in the creation of textiles and other materials. These are made from the two main parts of the stalk, called the bast and the hurd. The biodegradable fibers from the bast can be used to make rope, carpeting, fabrics, and other assorted textiles, while the hurd is often used to make paper, packaging materials, insulation, and animal bedding.
Additionally, hemp biomass can also be harnessed to make different types of fuel. The two most common types of fuel you can extract from biomass are hemp biodiesel, which comes from pressed hemp seed oil, and hemp ethanol or methanol, which comes from the fermented stalk. Though people have pitched the idea of using hemp for fuel purposes before, it has recently become a leading contender in the race to create sustainable alternatives to traditional oil and gas.
Biomass can also be used for foods and medicines, with hemp seed oil having become a popular remedy or supplement. The seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, making a possible dietary supplement in some cases, and some health experts claim they can address a wide range of health conditions, from inflammation to bacterial infections. Hemp seed oil is also sometimes used in beauty products and as an additive for certain foods.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hemp and cannabis biomass. People have found hundreds of potential uses, from ink and nail polish to sneakers and concrete. At an industrial level, hemp could be a major economic game-changer, while at a smaller scale, it could serve a number of novel uses. So don’t make the mistake of thinking cannabis is only good for its flowers: the little plant has a lot more going on!