We’ve talked about terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBG, but there’s another cannabis constituent that deserves ample airtime. Flavonoids, a phytonutrient friend to plants and animals alike, play a role in the scent and appearance of your flower. Of the thousands that have already been classified and categorized by scientists, one subgroup, called cannaflavins, is specific to the cannabis family. These are the culprits behind that variegated purple color you find in some flower strains.

But what are flavonoids exactly, and why are they beneficial in cannabis and other plants? Read on to learn what they are and where to find them. (Hint: you’d have to go out of your way to avoid them, and there’s no reason why you would.) The sky’s the limit on where to source these nutritional, medicinal powerhouses, as it is on how to combine them to pack a health-boosting punch.

What are Flavonoids?

Flavonoids are phytonutrients with anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, and anti-oxidative properties. They are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beverages (such as red wine). Flavonoids are distributed through all parts of a plant, from the flower to the roots, bark, and stems. 

In flowers, flavonoids are responsible for the color and scent (along with terpenes). Both characteristics can attract bees (and humans!), contributing to pollination and germination. While all fruits and vegetables contain some amount of these nutritive wunderkinder, generally speaking, the more colorful your produce is, the higher its flavonoid profile.

In addition to serving reproductive functions in plants, flavonoids are heavily researched and sought after by medical scientists for the roles they play in protecting and fortifying health in humans and other animals. 

Flavonoids chart
Flavonoids in CBD Oil with Structural Formulas horizontal business infographic illustration about cannabis as herbal alternative medicine and chemical therapy, healthcare and medical science vector.

How do Flavonoids work?

There are about 6,000 classified flavonoids to date, with various types and subgroups. Each helps the body function by regulating or moderating cellular activity and protecting against illness.

One of the best-known flavonoids is quercetrin, which mitigates inflammation-related conditions such as eczema and allergic reactions such as hay fever.

Reservatrol, an antioxidant found in wine, plums, and berries, may help protect against cancer and heart disease. 

Why do we need Flavonoids?

If you’re eating a balanced diet (i.e. one with a hefty amount of produce) you’re getting flavonoids into your system daily. That’s a good thing, because they boast a laundry list of advantages, including but not limited to: cardiovascular support, diabetes management, and prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Research has also shown that they can help stop cancer cells from multiplying. Data on these and other effects has been building since the aughts and continues to grow. Though widely researched, flavonoids can be a little tricky in the lab. Their heterogeneity and the lack of information regarding bioavailability make them difficult to study.

The Entourage Effect

One of the reasons you’ve heard us advocate for whole-plant medicine over isolates is that the overall effect of an herb—cannabis, hemp, or other—is contingent on the interactions between all its different components. That synergy between phytochemicals is known as the “entourage effect,” and it enhances the efficacy of your medicine (or recreational drug, depending on why you use it and where you live). 

The entourage effect is most often used to describe the relationship between cannabinoids and/or terpenes (most famously, how CBD and THC work together). It extends to other compounds, like flavonoids, though less is known about their role here than about their contributions to overall health.

The Entourage Effect with Structural Formulas horizontal business infographic illustration about cannabis as herbal alternative medicine and chemical therapy, healthcare and medical science vector.

Where can you find Flavonoids?

Concentrated in the skin of fruits and veggies, you can find flavonoids in grapes, berries, onions, kale, citrus, red cabbage, red pepper, apples, and cacao, to name a few key sources.

Celery, parsley, and mint are also high in flavonoids. Add these to your next salad, sandwich, or smoothie for an extra nutritive boost against oxidation and inflammation.

You can also find flavonoids in many of the herbs commonly used to make tisanes. German and Roman chamomile, for example, are considered high in flavonoids and contain 36 varieties. (Note that chamomile belongs to the Asteraceae family, and can cause mild allergic reactions in some people. If you are already allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums, you may be prone to a chamomile allergy as well.)

Chamomile is indigenous to Europe, where it’s been used as a folk medicine since antiquity. Medicinal chamomile is often used for the treatment of inflammation, menstrual discomfort, tightness and tension (chamomile is a relaxant), colic, eczema, and irritation of the eyes and ears. In The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism, herbalist and author Matthew Wood jokes that due to its propensity to relieve petulance, whining, and peevishness, chamomile is suited not merely to newborns but to “babies of any age” (p.165). So, next time you feel your crank-o-meter rising, reach for these delightful blooms to brighten your mood.

Celia Gold

Celia Gold is a New York-based writer and herbalist-in-training with special interest in aromatherapy and flavor matrices. She has written about herbalism broadly and niches in the cannabis industry for The Alchemist's Kitchen, Green Entrepreneur, PRØHBTD, Autostraddle, and others.

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