From Tree to Kratom Tea: How is Kratom Produced?
How is kratom produced? Is it made in a high-tech greenhouse or a lab? Actually, not much has changed over the centuries when it comes to kratom farming practices. You’ll be happy to know that kratom is naturally and organically cultivated and produced from the leaves of kratom trees which are picked, washed, ground up and dried.
In the Beginning
For millennia, the local people of Southeast Asia have been cultivating the kratom tree (mitragyna speciosa) to benefit from its medicinal and recreational properties. The earliest known reports of kratom consumption in Malaysia is 1836. Kratom belongs to the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee and gardenia plants. These towering evergreen trees with their large glossy leaves are quite impressive and can reach up to 80 feet or more.
Kratom trees grow naturally throughout the jungles of Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia but are also planted by kratom farmers for cultivation on private land. These trees require a tropical climate and are very sensitive to frost and drought.
Indonesia as the Main Exporter of Kratom Leaves and Kratom Tea
Driven primarily by kratom tea’s increasing popularity and demand in the West, Indonesia has risen to become the main producer and exporter of kratom, as its laws have been relatively more relaxed than the neighboring kratom-growing countries. Indonesia’s tropical climate also creates the perfect conditions for producing a top product, and the farmers there have a long history of perfecting their kratom farming techniques.
In fact, it’s estimated that around 95% of the world’s kratom tea comes from Indonesia with kratom exports generating approximately $13 million U.S. dollars annually.
Farmers in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, where kratom also grows naturally, weren’t so lucky during the onset of the kratom boom, as their governments more strictly banned the cultivating and exporting of kratom.
Southeast Asia Kratom Laws
Kratom laws in Indonesia may seem a bit confusing: Although local sales and distribution are illegal, the Indonesian government currently allows the growing and harvesting of kratom for export. However, in June 2019, Indonesia’s Minister of Health proposed a potential kratom ban that could become effective in 2024. According to the government, this would allow farmers 5 years to transition their livelihood away from kratom and toward other crops.
As virtually all of the world’s kratom is produced and exported from Indonesia, a ban would cause quite a shock to the kratom tea community, including Indonesian farmers, American kratom business owners and consumers. But there is hope that if worse comes to worst and the Indonesian ban is passed, Thailand may be able to fill in some of the demand, as the tide may be changing there regarding kratom legislation.
Although the Thai government considered legalizing kratom in 2004, 2009, 2013 and 2020 to no avail, it did begin allowing kratom to be used for medicinal purposes in 2018. Then in 2019, the government announced that kratom would be removed from their narcotics list, where it has been since 1979. Kratom cultivation has been illegal in Thailand since 1943.
In Malaysia, the use of kratom leaves is still prohibited under Section 30 of the Poisons Act 1952.
Kratom Tea Leaf Cultivation
Whether you decide you want white, red, or green kratom powder, it all goes back to the farmers’ cultivating and processing methods — not the type of tree. In fact, there is only one kratom tree species: mitragyna speciosa. The various vein colors result from the growing process — including how much sunlight is available and how mature the leaves are at harvest as well as the drying process.
Although the tree stays leafy year-round, once the individual leaves reach a certain level of maturity, they either fall off or are picked off by the farmer. As the leaves mature, different levels of alkaloids build up. Harvesting kratom leaves, to eventually become kratom tea, is therefore a time-sensitive practice, as it directly impacts the concentration of the plant’s alkaloids (the botanical compounds responsible for the plant’s effects). Genetics may also play a role in alkaloid content.
It is also reported that the leaves cycle through the various vein colors — from red to green to yellow to brown. These time-dependent farming practices allow kratom farmers to produce several different veins at the same time, even though all of the trees are essentially the same species.
Different Veins Equal Different Effects
The vein color is an indicator of the overall effects of the kratom tea, but even two batches of the same vein can differ in color. This is because it is organically processed and never artificially colored.
- White vein kratom, often relatively pale or yellowish in color, is derived from young leaves and is typically linked to more stimulating and energizing effects.
- Green vein kratom, which tends to come in a more vibrant green color, is derived from middle-aged leaves and is associated with a more balanced, euphoric effect.
- Red vein kratom, a darker reddish-brown color, is made from the most mature leaves and is typically linked to more relaxing effects.
Once the leaves have been picked and collected, they are rinsed with water to remove any dirt or other contaminants. Next, the leaves are dried, or cured, on large racks which can further change the alkaloid content, depending on the amount of time they spend in the sun. Finally, the leaves are ground up with industrial grinders, resulting in fine powder ready to be sold to buyers.
Americans make up the large majority of kratom consumers worldwide. According to the American Kratom Association, “nearly 5 million Americans consume kratom as a part of their health and well-being regimen and have done so for decades.” Some data suggests there could be up to 15 million kratom consumers in the U.S. Surveys reveal that kratom users are educated, middle-income, employed, and have health insurance, according to the AKA.
According to a survey completed by Southeast Asian kratom tea exporters, the average monthly volume of kratom exported to the U.S. averages 1,950 metric tons of kratom products per month.
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