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Anthocyanins and the Therapeutic Potential of Purple Weed

Written by Alexandra Hicks

We all love purple pot strains. They look beautiful, smell amazing, and often have some of the best flavors you could imagine. But have you ever wondered what actually makes your buds produce those rich, deep violet tones? Common knowledge is that growing in colder temps is an attribute; and while this is true, the real answer is a bit more complex than that.  

Aside from cold temperatures – which I’ll discuss in more detail later as – the biological reason cannabis ends up being purple is because of a class of pigmented flavonoids known as Anthocyanins. These compounds are responsible for the fruity/berry flavor profiles and those beautiful purple, blue, and magenta tones we see in a lot of top-shelf flower strains.

Some well-known and very popular purple strains are Grand Daddy Purps (GDP), Purple Haze, Mendocino Purps, Purple Kush, C4-Matic, and Dark Karma. Most purple strains are indicas or indica-dominant hybrids. Purple Haze is of the few exceptions to that rule; haze strains, like lemon haze and silver haze, are usually straight sativas.

Purple weed is amazing, but when it comes to high-quality flower in general, we love it all! To learn more about strains and products, and for exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and so much more, make sure to subscribe to The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter… your top source for all things weed-related!

What are Anthocyanins?

The word “anthocyanin” is derived from two Greek words – Anthos meaning Flower and Kyanos meaning blue. Although we typically refer to cannabis with anthocyanins as “purple”, they can actually present in a variety of colors from deep reds to purples and even blue tones. For the sake of uniformity in the article, we will refer to this entire range of colors as “violet”.

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigment molecules belonging to a larger class of compounds known as Flavonoids. So far, there are over 400 types of anthocyanins that have been identified. They are not found in all plants, but in the ones in which they are present, they occur throughout the entire plant. This includes the leaves stems, roots, flowers, and fruits.

Anthocyanins come from anthocyanidins when excess sugar is produced by the plant, which becomes trapped as nutrient transport slows down. Although this only happens when temperatures drop slightly, sunlight is still a necessity to achieving the vibrant color that anthocyanins are famous for. Freezing temps will destroy the pigment, but when temps are hot or too warm, plants will have excess chlorophyll, giving them those vibrant, green summertime tones. So, in other words, the conditions need to be just right for anthocyanins to flourish. Think fall colors – when it’s hot the trees are green but if it’s too cold, the leaves fall off completely. For the beautiful colors, you need to find that sweet zone.

Anthocyanins are known to be beneficial for human health but they also have a specific purpose within the plant, which is to protect photosynthetic tissues from different types of light stressors. It blocks certain intensities and spectrums that could harm the plants, basically acting as natural sunblock.

It’s also believed that anthocyanin attracts pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, while simultaneously deterring unwanted insects from laying eggs on the leaves. Pollinators are known to associate vibrant colors with healthy flowers, while other, unwanted insects will notice the dark pigments and think the plant is dying.

Making Pot Purple

Ah, yes… “purple pot”. People LOVE “purple pot”, me included. While the immediately noticeable effects aren’t much different than what you would feel from other strains of the same caliber, they do have some amazing flavor profiles.  

Just like any other plant in nature, violet cannabis is created by cultivating certain strains in the correct environment. You can’t just take any strain, grow it in the cold, and have “purple buds”. You need certain strains, those containing anthocyanins with the predisposition to turn violet, and they need to be exposed to just the right level of cool temps at the correct point in the flowering stage. Cool enough that the purple and blue tones are enhanced without being so cold that the plant dies.

The pigment can also travel through plant, into the trichome stalks and even into the trichome head itself. Because of the potency of these pigments, cannabis only needs to product a minimal amount of Anthocyanins to get a noticeable, deep violet color.

What are the Health Benefits?

Since we humans have a symbiotic relationship with the world around us, even the background compounds like flavonoids can have major benefits for our health. When it comes to “purple foods” containing Anthocyanins, many are already categorized as “superfoods” with a slew of different therapeutic uses.

Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that inhibit the production of cell-damaging free radicals. In addition, these compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-tumoral benefits. According to a 2017 study, “Anthocyanins are the value-added colorants that can be used for preventing several diseases, including CVDs, cancers, diabetes, some metabolic diseases, and microbial infection.”

Substances rich in anthocyanins have been used for centuries to treat many different conditions relating to the blood vessels, including high blood pressure and diabetic retinopathy. Because of their anti-viral and antibacterial properties, they’re also used to treat flus, colds, and urinary tract infections. Anthocyanins have also been linked to increased longevitycardiovascular healthcancer prevention and dementia.

One especially interesting use for anthocyanins, is to improve vision. “Visual acuity can be markedly improved through administration of anthocyanin pigments to animal and human subjects, and the role of these pigments in enhancing night vision or overall vision has been particularly well documented,” stated a 2004 study.  

Other Plants Containing Anthocyanins

Although cannabis strains with Anthocyanins have quite a loyal following, it’s only one of many plants containing this pigmented flavonoid. Anthocyanins are a type of dietary flavonoid also found in berries, red onions, black soybeans, kidney beans, pomegranates, grapes (and wine), tomatoes, acai, bilberry, chokeberry, elderberry, tart cherries, black rice, and many other plants with the violet pigment.

Anthocyanins are found in the highest concentrations in flowers and fruits, in the call vacuole. They are also found in leaves, stems, and roots, however. In those plant parts, Anthocyanins will mostly be in the outer layers which is why you may see violet tones over the entire plant.

There are numerous different types of Anthocyanins, and the ones that are most frequently found in nature are the glycosides of cyanidindelphinidinmalvidinpelargonidinpeonidin, and petunidin. During photosynthesis, 2% of all hydrocarbons are converted into flavonoids and their derivatives. Not all plants have flavonoids that will develop into Anthocyanins. In cacti, for example, the hydrocarbons turn into betalains. Anthocyanins and betalains have never been found in the same plant.

Final Thoughts

To quickly sum it all up, purple buds are ah-maz-ing! Strains that are rich in Anthocyanins have great flavor profiles, usually earthy with hints of berry, they have numerous different health benefits, and the icing on the cake is that they look good and always impress.

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1 Comment

  • Excellent article. I had made the link to cold temperatures but from this I was able to make the connection between stored sugars and anthocyanin production. I gather leaving more leaves on the plant as a source of stored sugars, as well as precisely timed environmental and irrigation related shifts helps to optimize anthocyanin production and achieve the elusive full color finish. I believe during the end of my bulking crop steering phase sometime between days 35-40 when plant growth rate is just starting to slow down but also when my core EC is at its highest point and my plants have been seeing high frequency feeding for some weeks, before the classic but before the 42 defoliation that is popular in the industry, to be the best time to further slow the plants with lower frequency watering, and lower temperatures. It is my belief that the plants then convert the stored sugars into pigment as you stated because they do not have other use for them. Precise environmental control is critical, as well as synchronized timing in cultivation method. “Timing is everything” has for a long time been one of my axioms of the successful gardener and this affirms that for me.

About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.