We’ve talked about terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBG, but there’s another, often overlooked, plant constituent in cannabis and hemp that deserves ample airtime. Flavonoids, a phytonutrient darling 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 agents 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 possible ways of combining them to pack an added, 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 and vegetables as well as grains and beverages (such as red wine). Flavonoids can be found in all parts of a plant, from the flower to the roots, bark, and stems.
In flowers, flavonoids are responsible for the color and aroma (along with terpenes). Scent can attract bees (and humans!), contributing to pollination and assisting in germination. While all fruits and vegetables contain some amount of these nutritive wunderkinds, 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.
How do Flavonoids work?
There are about 6,000 classified flavonoids to date, with various types and subgroups. Each helps the body function through regulating or moderating cellular activity, on the one hand, while preventing the onset of disease, on the other.
One of the best-known flavonoids is quercetrin. This flavonoid can mitigate 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.
Flavonoids perform a laundry list of advantageous functions, including but not limited to: supporting cardiovascular health, neurodegenerative disease prevention, diabetes management, and cancer prevention.
Why do we need Flavonoids?
If you’re eating a balanced diet (ie one with a hefty amount of produce) you’re getting flavonoids into your system daily. That’s a good thing because they are known to aid in heart health and play a preventative role in many diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.
Research has also shown that they can stop cancer cells from multiplying.
Data on these and other effects have been building since the nineties and continue to grow.
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 and correlative to the interplay of 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 interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes and/or other cannabinoids (most famously, the ways in which CBD and THC work together). It extends to relationships with other compounds, like flavonoids, as well, though less is known about their role here than about their contributions to overall health, which have been and continue to be studied extensively.
Flavonoids can be a little tricky in the lab. Their heterogeneity and the lack of information regarding bioavailability make them difficult to study. Research is ongoing, but there is as yet no reason to be wary of over-consumption.
Where can you find Flavonoids?
Find flavonoids in abundance in a variety of herbs commonly used to make tisanes.
German and Roman chamomile, for example, are considered high in flavonoids and contain 36 varieties. The plant is indigenous to Europe, where it’s been used as folk medicine since antiquity. Medicinal chamomile is often employed for the treatment of inflammation, menstrual discomfort, tightness and tension (chamomile is a relaxant), colic, eczema, and other irritating disturbances, including 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.” So next time you feel your cranky meter rising, reach for these delightful buds to brighten your mood.
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 chamomile allergy as well.
Concentrated in the skin of fruits and veggies, you can also find flavonoids in grapes, all kinds of berries, onions, kale, citrus, red cabbage, red pepper, apples, and cacao, to name just a few sources.
Flavonoids are also found in celery, parsley, and mint. Add these to your next salad, sandwich, or smoothie for an extra nutritive boost against oxidation and inflammation.