Cannabis Landrace Strains: What is it, and which ones can you try?

Soft Secrets
22 Oct 2020

Before there were commercial strains for modern consumption, there were original strains growing in the wilderness. Cultivating cannabis has seen an enormous transformation over the last 50 years. If you are old enough to have smoked cannabis in the 1960s and 1970s, then you've likely smoked pure cannabis or original "landrace" strains. This cannabis came from more vigorous plants that always gave heavy yields. 

The original Sativa is known to have had a tall stem, narrow leaves, and wispy flowers, a native to the Indian subcontinent. The original Indica, an authentic source of hash, has been known to have dense flowers, broad leaves, and short stems, native to the arid mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some cannabis landrace strains hold legendary status. And while it might be hard to come across them or see them flowering, it's not mission impossible. Although rare, some strains are still out there. 

Why are landrace strains so unique?

Landraces represent pure cannabis in its most ancient forms, organically grown in the wilderness, evolving and growing over many centuries, if not millennia. Cannabis landrace strains contain more cannabinoids and terpenes, and their seeds and plants are known to generate bigger harvests.  Landrace cannabis strains are found all over the world. While most landraces are Sativas or hemp varieties with minimal THC, Indica landraces are endemic to South Asia.

On the other hand, ruderalis landrace strains are typical for Central Asia and North Africa. As each landrace strain is genuine to a particular geographic region, it's worth noting that a landrace is perfectly adapted to their original local environment or what the cannabis vocabulary describes as "terroir." All modern cannabis strains have been developed from landraces, and that's why they are so treasured. Landraces are the foundation for breeding. Breeders used them to create new strains, including probably the favorite one you are enjoying today. 

What happened to landrace strains?

During the 1970s, people went on to knowingly breed different landrace strains together. The result was new strains that were eventually made to carry the most covet traits from each landrace strain. Beyond that, the process bred out undesired characteristics that affected the plant's strength and/or potency. However, as interactions between different cannabis landrace strains took place, this meant breeders actually produced hybrids. These hybrids led to creating any and all commercial strains you can purchase in a dispensary today.

Commercial strains circulating today's market were derived from crossbreeding different landrace strains.

When cannabis companies began breeding commercial strains in the late 1970s, they did use landrace strains as the basis for breeding. Take an all-time favorite strain such as Skunk No. 1, one of the first real hybrids of the modern production of cannabis; it's the result of three different landrace strains: Afghani, Acapulco Gold, and Colombian. Knowing this, you may realize that when you see that a strain is labeled as Indica, Sativa, or hybrid, these terms are simply there to give a general idea of the effects the strain is going to have on the user.

In the sea of genetically bred strains, which could range from Indica dominants, Sativa dominants, or hybrids, it's hard to find pure or landrace cannabis strains. Hence, you are more likely to end up smoking breeds such as Skunk No. 1, a heavy yielder in both outdoor and indoor settings, or just any of its many descendants like Lemon Skunk, Skunk-berry, or Island Sweet Skunk.

Landraces and heirlooms

If landrace is the weed that grows in nature without human intervention, such as the indica landrace strains of Asia, heirloom weed is grown from seeds that were picked from these strains and grown elsewhere. Away from the original terroir of the landrace. In the 1960s and 1970s, when stoners explored Asia on a route that eventually picked the name the 'Hippie Trail,' they collected seeds from the marijuana they saw growing in the wild.

As they brought back seeds home and planted it away from its original locations, they were no longer really growing a landrace. Heirlooms, however, succeeded in states such as California and Hawaii due to their adequate climate, on par with locations such as the Middle East, India, or Thailand.

What is terroir?

India, Pakistan, and South Africa are some of the countries where landrace marijuana strains originate from and whose strains have become extremely popular worldwide. Over time, the cultivating practices and environments specific to the country's location passed on authentic traits to each strain, such as their composition, chemistry, resilience, or yield.

Cannabis landrace strains remained isolated in their original environments for centuries, and they are perfectly adapted to those conditions, i.e., terroirs. So, while it's easy to take a seed from a landrace strain from India and plant it in Hawaii, it's harder to replicate the exact Asian terroir into the Pacific island.

The genetic lineage of each hybrid available today can be traced to original landrace strains.

Are there any landrace strains still in circulation?

Whether you ask if the landrace strains from the 1960s are grown large-scale today, the short answer is no. There are only a few landrace strains that could be purchased today. Alternatively, you can look for strains that are closely related to original landrace strains. For instance, owing to its cooler climate, Northern California became the optimal environment to grow original strains from the Hindu Kush mountain range spanning the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Subsequently, Kush strains, praised for their tranquilizing, sedating effects, are probably the next best thing you can get to a landrace strain that comes from this part of the world. Any strain that contains 'kush' in its name owes its genetic lineage to the Hindu Kush landrace, beginning with OG Kush.

Are landraces hard to find, and what is their potency?

Although they are grown outside their original terroir, heirlooms of landraces can still be purchased. They are cultivated in smaller amounts than other commercial strains, but they carry more or less the same genetics as landraces as they are direct descendants. One of the factors that determine the strength and potency of the landrace strains is actually the terroir.

When a landrace is grown into the original terroir where it adapted throughout hundreds of years, it's less potent than a landrace brought to a new terroir. Assume that heirlooms are bred for a higher potency than true landraces. Increasing the potency of any cannabis is often one of the most common human interventions when growing. While it's unlikely to find landraces in your local dispensary, there are more chances for them to stock some heirlooms. But you never know.

Legalizing international trade of cannabis may improve access to pure forms of cannabis.

What are some of the most famous cannabis landrace strains?

Keep your eyes open. Below are some of the most iconic cannabis landrace strains, their effects, smell and taste.

Afghani: A heavy indica that carries the name of the geographic region she comes from, Afghani is praised for its ultimate calming effect. Its dense buds are a well-known source for hash.  Cultivating: The Afghani strain is adapted in arid environments, therefore trying to grow it in wet, humid climates might be a waste of time as the buds may easily catch mold. Unless the lucky grower has efficient equipment to manage arid environments. 

Effect: Calm  Smell and taste: Sweet and earthy Side effect: Possible dry mouth Acapulco Gold/Mexican Sativa: A native landrace of North America which carries two names. The second name, Mexican Sativa, is its more modern name. This strain is cherished as it has been used to create Skunk #1, but also several other varieties, including different types of Haze.  Effect: Energizing, uplifting, clear-headed buzz, happiness-inducing Smell and taste: Sandalwood aroma  Side effects: More than half of users have reported dry mouth, a third have reported onset of slight paranoia, and a fifth - headache Hindu Kush Originating in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, this landrace strain is why stoners often use 'kush' and 'indica' as synonyms. Without this pure indica, we wouldn't have had other beloved 'kush' strains like OG Kush and Bubba Kush!

An original release from Sensi Seeds, Hindu Kush, is rare to find flowering around today. The strain remains legendary, however. Effect: Calm, offers relief from pain, nausea and chronic stress  Smell and taste: Earthy wooden, slightly sweet Side effect: Possible dry mouth Thai Stick A pure landrace from Thailand, introduced in the U.S. back in the 1970s and 1980s. It carries the name Thai Stick as its buds are dried tied onto long sticks.

By some accounts, opiates were applied during drying, hence the possible explanation why users of the day still gladly remember taking this strain. The Thai landrace has given rise to strains such as the classic Haze, Juicy Fruit, and Voodoo. Cultivating: Might be a hassle to grow it outside tropical climates. It's possible to grow it or the varieties it has given in properly equipped grow rooms or, even better, greenhouses that could mimic tropical environments. Effect: Energizing, happiness-inducing Smell and taste: Fruity, citrus-like but very distinct Side effect: Cottonmouth  Durban Poison A landrace that carries the name of the port city in South Africa where it originates.

It's a pure sativa heavily coated with trichomes. Surprisingly, pure forms of Durban Poison has recently shown at Cup competitions, and she has left no man dull.  Cultivating: The strain's oversized resin glands make it perfect for extracting concentrates Effect: Uplifting, energetic, creative, increases productivity Smell and taste: Sweet, earthy, spicy  Side effects: Possible dry mouth and dry eyes Lamb's Bread A cannabis landrace strain from Jamaica said to be Bob Marley's favorite.

This landrace is also known as Lamb's Breath. It's a very special sativa, with many people having found comfort using it as an antidepressant.  Effect: Creative, uplifting, contemplative, offers clarity Smell and taste: Has a strong odor, funky, grassy, herbal-like Side effect: Increased chances for dry mouth  If your hands ever touch cannabis landrace strains mentioned on this list, don't think twice and try it. Although some of them are rare to see flowering, you never know where life will take you and what growers you shall meet. 

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