When you are a child, the distinction between vegetables and fruit seems simple; Vegetables are savory, and fruit is sweet. Then you grow up and realize that tomatoes are a fruit, and your whole perception of edible plants gets turned upside-down.
You learn that the line that divides fruit and vegetables is somewhat blurry, with many plants that are technically classified as fruits having no place in your dessert whatsoever. In reality, the difference between a fruit and a vegetable depends a lot on who you are talking to, a gardener or a chef.
One plant whose fruit/vegetable status you may not have considered before is marijuana. However, this plant is now making its way into the mainstream, and it may not be long before we see it popping up in a variety of food and beverages. So is cannabis a vegetable or a fruit? Let’s find out.
What is the Difference Between a Vegetable and a Fruit?
Generally speaking, a fruit is defined as the part of a plant which contains the seeds. This is why tomatoes are technically a fruit rather than a vegetable, along with peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and squashes.
Vegetables are defined as any other part of the plant that is used for food. This could be the leaves, the roots, the stems, or even the flowers. Some common examples of leafy vegetables are spinach and lettuce, whereas popular root vegetables include carrots and sweet potatoes. Stem vegetables are more unusual and include plants such as asparagus. Flowers are another lesser-used part, but did you know that a head of broccoli is actually a dense cluster of unopened flower buds?
To make things even more perplexing, there are the berries, which include blackcurrants and gooseberries, but not strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries. Then you have bananas, which are sometimes classed as a fruit and sometimes as an herb, and corn which is technically a type of grain.
If you find this confusing, you’re not alone. The fact is that the difference between a fruit and a vegetable is open to quite a lot of interpretation!
So where does cannabis fit into all this? Cannabis has seeds, so it must be a fruit, right?
Well, no, not exactly.
To understand why not, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of a cannabis plant.
The Anatomy of Cannabis
To understand whether marijuana is a vegetable or a fruit, it is helpful to know a little bit about plant anatomy, or phytotomy, to give it its proper name.
The cannabis plant has four basic structures, the roots, the stem, the leaves, and of course, the all-important flowers.
The roots are responsible for taking up nutrients and water from the soil as well as providing a physical anchor to stop the plant from being blown or washed away.
The stem provides support, but more importantly, it transports water and nutrients up from the roots to the rest of the plant.
The leaves contain the green pigment known as chlorophyll which helps the plant to produce energy from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis. Plants also respire, much as we do, and the leaves allow for this exchange of gases via tiny holes called stomata.
Finally, the flowers are the reproductive organs of a plant. In the case of cannabis, male plants produce small sacs of pollen, whereas female plants produce large clusters of flowers known as colas. These colas are made up of tightly packed buds and sugar leaves. These buds are covered with shiny, white trichomes, and it is these which are packed full of all the good stuff; THC, CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes.
Cannabis buds are also dotted with tiny hair-like structures known as pistils. These start off an almost translucent white color but turn red or orange as the plant matures. The function of the pistils on female cannabis plants is to receive the pollen produced by male plants and create a seed. Unfortunately, once a marijuana plant has been fertilized in this way, it becomes far less potent, which is why you need to weed out any male plants from your cannabis garden as soon as you spot them.
However, in nature, the whole point of cannabis flowers is to create seeds, allowing the plant to reproduce and ensure that its genetic line is continued. So why is marijuana not classed as a fruit?
If you have ever found a seed in your stash, you will know how tricky they can be to spot. They sit there, nestled snugly in your bud without any thick, fleshy covering to forewarn you of their presence. This is a problem because as you may know, accidentally smoking a seed is not a pleasant experience!
So although you could say that marijuana seeds are the fruit of the plant, they are certainly not a fruit in the same sense as an apple or a peach.
So if cannabis isn’t a fruit, it must be a vegetable, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Is Cannabis a Vegetable?
A vegetable is defined as any edible part of a plant other than the fruit. So, in theory, cannabis could be used as a vegetable. If you decided to chop up a bunch of marijuana leaves and make them into a salad, this would undoubtedly be the case, but would you really want to?
Weed has a pretty distinctive taste, and it might not suit everybody’s palate. However, there are several reasons why using cannabis as a vegetable is a good idea. Its leaves are high in fiber, which is essential for a healthy digestive system. It also provides essential amino acids and minerals including magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. And although the flowers provide the bulk of the cannabinoids and terpenes, they can be found in lower concentrations in the leaves too.
Does Eating Raw Cannabis Get You High?
Eating raw marijuana is unlikely to get you high. Weed needs to be heated in a process called decarboxylation to activate its THC, so although raw cannabis leaves do contain some cannabinoids such as CBDA, you should still be safe to throw some in a breakfast smoothie without worrying about writing off your day.
One word of warning though; in recent years there has been an increasing number of cannabis allergies reported. In susceptible people, this condition can cause a range of symptoms from mild nasal irritation to potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. This condition is confusingly called ‘cannabis-fruit-vegetable-syndrome’ and is one reason why you should approach using cannabis as a vegetable with caution, at least until you know how it affects you personally.
Is Cannabis a Vegetable or an Herb?
Although marijuana can be used as a vegetable, it is much more accurate to call it an herb. The word herb usually refers to the way a plant is used, and this can be as a flavoring in food, a medicine, or for ritual purposes.
While cannabis may not fit into the first category as neatly as basil or oregano, it does have something in common with these culinary herbs. Most herbs have a strong flavor due to high concentrations of terpenes in their leaves. Terpenes are aromatic oils which are also found in marijuana plants. For example, linalool, a terpene which is present in lavender and rosemary is also prevalent in certain strains of weed.
Marijuana also fulfills the other requirements for classification as an herb. It has been utilized as a medicine for thousands of years, with its earliest uses being traceable back to ancient China. Despite falling out of favor during the 20th century, we are once again beginning to recognize the various medicinal uses of weed, and a wealth of research into its benefits is now emerging.
Cannabis has also been used in religious rituals throughout history. It was popular with ancient societies such as the Scythians, and in the modern world, it is a crucial part of the Rastafarian culture.
Another reason why marijuana fits the description of an herb better than that of a vegetable is that it is typically smoked, rather than eaten. After all, when was the last time you loaded some broccoli into a bowl and took a hit?
Is Cannabis a Vegetable or Fruit? Final Thoughts
Whether cannabis is a vegetable, a fruit, both, or neither, depends a lot on context and who you are asking. You could class its seeds as a fruit, albeit not in the traditional sense of the word. You could also use marijuana leaves as a vegetable, but due to their pungent taste, they may be more useful as a garnish than a main meal.
It is much simpler to refer to this versatile plant as an herb since it has medicinal properties and has also been used in rituals throughout history. At the end of the day, it is probably not all that important to know whether cannabis is a fruit or a vegetable. What is important is that we continue to develop a better understanding of the plant, and how it can potentially be used to improve our lives.