Cannabis roots are ancient medicine and may soon have a place in modern medicine.
Editor’s Note: Cannabis roots may contain compounds which interact with prescription medications. As a result, only dose cannabis roots with the instructions and supervision of a qualified doctor or naturopath. (This article was updated July 18, 2023)
Cannabis roots have a reputation for being able to help the symptoms of stiff joints, minor infections, and skin inflammation.
Several pre-clinical studies indicate that cannabis root have several pharmacological effects including, protection of the liver, reduction of inflammation, and anti-cancer benefits.
There are trace amounts of cannabinoids within the roots, but this is not what people are after when preparing cannabis roots for consumption. The cannabis roots themselves have their own medicinal potential.
Medicinal Compounds in Cannabis Roots
These important terpenes: friedelin, pentacyclic, triterpene ketones, and epifriedelanol have significant potential for health benefits. Friedlein is an antioxidant that protects the liver; Epifriedelanol has anti-tumor benefits; the other two have been shown to kill cancer cells, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain.
These have been used for millennia, having appeared in text from Classical Greece’s Pliny the Elder and in ancient Chinese medicinal manuscripts.
History of Cannabis Roots as Medicine
For centuries, Chinese medicine incorporated every part of the cannabis plant in traditional remedies. While the leaves, stalk and seeds all had their reported therapeutic purposes (from loosening up the bowels to curing postpartum depression), the ancient medicine men of the east used the roots of Cannabis sativa during labor and delivery and as a way to help painful blockage of the bladder.
For these practices, the Chinese had two ways of preparing the root. The first, and more straight-forward method, was to pummel fresh roots with a mortar and pestle to extract juices that could then be taken orally. The second way was to boil the root so that the essential elements could seep out into a tea-like broth through a process called decoction. It’s the same method that the Greeks would later popularize.
Proper Cleaning of the Cannabis Roots
The best method for decoction in today’s world a bit of elbow grease. First, it’s best to use fresh roots that are still full of nutrients — this means roots from plants that have been grown in clean soil. Cannabis is a powerful soil cleaner, which is great for crops, but terrible for folks who want to ingest roots free of heavy metals.
To properly decoct your roots, gently pull them from the ground, taking care to break as few strands as possible in the process. Once the roots are free, separate them from the stalk and leaves with a sharp knife. Then the cleaning begins. Lukewarm water is all you need to clean the root. In fact, soap may cause damage. Take your time on this part, cannabis roots are notorious difficult to clean. Some modern practitioners recommend using a soft-bristled toothbrush to help separate the dirt from the roots. It’s an arduous process, but it’s worthwhile to get a clean and safe product.
Preparing the Root for Consumption
Once the roots are clean, dry them off and store them in a dark, cool place for 48 hours to fully dry them out. Once dry, you have two choices: You can choose to boil the roots in water or grind them into a powder. Both methods work, but mashing the roots into a powder allows you to use them in other ways (more on that later).
The standard unit for any decoction is 1 ounce of dried herb to two cups of boiling water. If you find your final product is too weak or strong, you can adjust the amounts on the next try. (If you can’t wait two days for the roots to dry out, double the amount used.) Once you’ve decided on the amount to use, add your roots to the appropriate amount water and put it on the stove over medium heat. Let the concoction simmer until about one-quarter of the water has evaporated.
Once the water evaporates, strain the mixture and serve. You can save your decoction for up to 72 hours in the fridge.
Creating Balms with Cannabis Root
Cannabis roots for balms also have a long history of use. To make your own, you’ll follow the steps above to extract, clean, and dry the roots of your cannabis plant. Once you have dry roots, you’ll grind them into a fine powder.
Once you have a powder, you can mix this with any kind of oil or fat. Then place it in a slow cooker for 12-18 hours. Use the powder from 1 to 2 root balls, 4cups of fat (like coconut oil), and 2 cups of water. you can also add beeswax to harden the balm until it is ready for use. This just makes it easier to transport and store.
Once that’s done, you’ll have a root salve that can treat skin disorders like acne and blisters. You can also rub it on your temples for headaches or your chest to soothe congestion. It even works on achey joints.
Cannabis Root Tea
Another modern recipe calls for placing powdered cannabis root into a slow cooker for 12 hours, with the option of adding other herbs like anise and cinnamon to the mix. The resulting concoction can be strained and used like regular, but with the medicinal benefits of cannabis roots.
Make Sure Your Root Tea is not Toxic
Alkaloid (pyrrolidine and piperidine) are compounds within the root that are toxic in high levels. These can irritate the lining of your stomach and even be damaging to your liver. For this reason, we do not recommend long term use of cannabis root medicine.
Every part of the cannabis plant can used for nutritional or medicinal benefit. When you take down your plant, consider using all of the parts, even the cannabis roots.