By Rick Pfrommer, Director of Education Harborside Health Center
Original landrace and other heirloom strains are often lost in today’s hyperkinetic world of breeding. Landrace refers to strains that are indigenous to an area, such as Red Congolese or Afghani Indica. Heirlooms are strains that were collected worldwide during the 1970s and propagated in Hawaii and Northern California.
The constant desire for new strains led breeders to continually cross and re-cross existing strains looking for the next big thing. There is however a small but growing contingent (pun intended) of cultivators that are going back to the future and propagating old landrace and heirloom strains. Varieties range from pure African sativas to Afghani indicas collected by world travelers on the infamous Hippie trail, also referred to as the Hashish trail.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s cannabis aficionados of all stripes traveled the world smoking the finest ganja and hashish available. From Nepalese Temple Balls to the famed Mazar I Sharif Afghani Black, the Hashish trail was filled with exotic delights. The list rolls on through Lebanese Red to Moroccan Kif with stops in Bangkok for Chocolate Thai and Columbia and Mexico for their infamous golden strains. Many of these intrepid souls also collected seeds during their travels. These landrace strains became the basis for the nascent cultivation culture that was springing forth in both Hawaii and Northern California.
Talk with anyone old enough to remember these legendary strains and you will come away with tales of cannabis of truly epic strength. Equatorial sativas from Africa to Vietnam flourished in Hawaii’s paradise of cannabis cultivation. Indicas from Afghanistan were more at home in Northern California’s cooler climate. I was fortunate enough to live on the Big Island of Hawaii from 1993-1997 and I can still state definitively that the best cannabis I have EVER smoked was grown in volcanic soil on the slopes of the largest active volcano in the world, Mauna Loa. By the time I got there, almost everything grown in Hawaii was some combination of genetics and no longer a landrace. A few of the old timers still had access to the classic 70s strains though, making for a wonderfully unique and diverse smoking experience.
The scene in California at this time was slightly different. Northern California, as beautiful as it is, is no Hawaii. The Emerald Triangle rests approximately on the same parallel as Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush. While Southern Californians could grow Colombian and Mexican sativas, their northern brethren found the short stocky indica plants much better adapted for their climate. The shorter flowering time allowed harvest to occur before the fall rains came with their mold-inducing downpours. These short stocky plants produced the infamous skunkweed that became Northern California’s calling card. Again, anyone old enough to remember this cannabis will never forget the pungent, almost rancid skunk like aroma. Yes people, it really did smell like a skunk! I remember going to parties in the early 1980s with this herb double bagged and still being outed minutes after walking in. “Yo man, I know you are holding, share the love.” Stevie D has memories of this era, saying that to this day he has not seen cannabis like what he saw from Northern California in the late 70s and early 80s.
So what does all this nostalgia mean for modern patients and cannabis aficionados? Well, several breeders have also recognized the value in these old school strains. Ace Seeds, CannaBioGenn, Reeferman Seeds and Tom Hill as well as the one and only Neville are all selling a wide variety of landrace and heirloom seeds.
Growers who are looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive environment are turning to these varieties. For patients many of these strains offer effective relief in a different fashion than some of the more modern varietals. It’s not that they are necessarily better, just different, and perhaps more effective for their specific condition(s). They are definitely worth checking out.