Fundamentals of Kratom Curing
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
BASICS OF CURING: FUNDAMENTALS OF PROCESSING
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.
A few more basics
So let's talk for a minute about leaves in their natural state.
Leaves in their fresh, uncured state already possess a natural raw balance of alkaloids, flavonoids and desirable compounds. Farmers can simply quick-dry them in warm humid conditions to yield green kratom, converting some of the mitragynine into a higher ratio of 7hydroxymitragynine through minimal oxidation. Or put them in a cool, dark place for a couple days to yield a white. Whites are energetic because very little of the mitragynine is oxidized, and they don't contain high levels of the oxidized alkaloids that give sedative effects.
In contrast, farmers can cure the leaves deeper to catalyze more oxidation, and get a red. The difference between a green and a red is that the red has a deeper cure, with more oxidation, and a noticeable alkaloid bleed may also take place during the deeper cure, appearing like red sweat on the leaves, which then dries and becomes a critical component of the powder.
Basic Curing Variables
There are many, many ways to cure leaves, and every producer has his or her own method that is more or less a trade secret, but the fact is there are only so many variables to consider.
Variable 1 LIGHT ..... Does the farmer dry in the sunlight or in the shade? In the darkness or low light? Under lamps or a combination of any of the above? If so, what kind of lamps and for how long?
Variable 2 HEAT ..... Does the farmer dry in an air conditioned room or under a heat lamp? What temperature does the farmer use? How long does s/he subject the leaves to this heat?
Variable 3 HUMIDITY ..... What kind of humidity does the farmer subject the leaves to and for how long? How does the farmer apply this humidity?
Variable 4 LEAVES SELECTED ..... Does the farmer take the big top leaves or all the leaves? The horned leaves or the baby leaves? The wilted yellow leaves or the strong green ones? Colored ones? Or a combination?
Here are a few basic recipes home growers can use to process their kratom leaves:
***1. Easy White Cure
To yield a simple white cure, the farmer dries the leaves in cool, dark, dry place as mentioned above. This is an easy method. They are placed in the dark in a dry cool room with no light whatsoever and the farmer waits a couple days. There should be no light, no heat, low humidity, catalyzing minimal oxidation and leaving the raw leaves' alkaloid profile intact.
***2. Easy Green Cure
For a green cure, farmers can simply do a quick dry in warm, sometimes-humid conditions. One day in Indonesian heat does the trick for some farmers. In America, we've experimented by beginning the drying process in the shade or in low light, low heat, moderate humidity. Then finishing in light and heat. The variable you can play with to modify the deepness of the cure is humidity level (higher humidity catalyzes more changes in alkaloid profiles, affecting the level of euphoria and relaxation through the introduction of oxidation).
For a green cure, you can put leaves in brown bag (like lunch sack bag) under T5 lights for about 48hrs. Or you can do a quick dry (1 to 2 days) pressed between two pieces of cardboard to help wick away moisture.
Potential process variables for a green cure:
Leaves can be strung on a string, spread out on a clean screen or drying rack in the shade or in an air conditioned room; alternatively, farmers can place them in paper bags that are mostly closed but still a bit of light penetrates. You can press them between cardboard or paper towels. You can set them on a tray and just let them get crispy. You'll be amazed at how many different ways work just as well as other methods. There really are a lot of right ways to do this.
***3. Easy Red Cure
Red cures are the hardest. They require higher levels of oxidation which can be accomplished using a variety of different techniques. The sun can do this easily, as can heat and humidity.... so some farmers spread leaves on big tarps outside or on screens under lamps, or elsewhere in direct sunlight in a warm, humid environment to oxidize until dark and curled. For a simple red cure some of our clients put their leaves into clear bags, sealed, and set in the sun all day. They burp the bags twice a day, and then at night move them under a 10.0w UV light for a total of three days.
Alternative Tips for a Fermented Red
We've seen some fancy red cures. Including exposing clean harvested leaves to a short duration of intense heat and humidity until alkaloid bleed is observed and a red sweat begins to secrete from the plant material. Some farmers spray leaves with alcohol and place them into closed plastic bags and do not open them for three days. Others wait 5-10, shuffling daily them after the 3rd day to discourage mold growth. This begins a natural fermentation process.
Once fermented, some farmers continue to dry in warm humidity but out of direct sunlight, or they further oxidize by spreading out and finishing the drying process in high light and high heat.
Finding the balance is both an art and a science.
Remember any of the variables listed above can be adjusted to create anything from subtle to obvious changes in the outcome of the finished plant material. Researchers may be excited to investigate additional methods as well.
Note that when sealing leaves in bags, you must be careful not encourage mold or pathogens.
Do you have curing methods you would like to share? Let us know! We can feature your ideas!
For more information on curing... read the CURING section in our blog on Common Kratom Myths.