In the past few years there’s been quite a bit of a buzz surrounding the kratom bush, mitragyna speciosa. Kratom is a plant that grows in Southeastern Asia that is a member of the Rubiacea family, from which the coffee plant hails. Kratom has been used traditionally for hundreds of years as a minor stimulant like coffee to help power through a tedious work week or for pain management and other mild to moderate conditions as well as a mood lifter.
There are many varieties of kratom but unlike coffee, each one has a unique alkaloidal makeup that is responsible for slight variations in it’s actions and benefits. Many kratom vendors tout several styles of kratom with hyped names that don’t even describe the two most important varietal differences. When it comes right down to it, there are two primary things that will affect alkaloidal difference in kratom and since it’s the alkaloids in the plant that are responsible for the effects then different strains will have slightly different experience. You can basically demarcate kratom by separating it into [here’s where we’ll link to “what’s the deal with kratom vein colors story”] leaf and vein color (red, green, white, yellow, brown, black) and the geographical origin of the plant.
Kratom researcher E.J. Shellard was one of the first scientists to explore kratom and it’s many alkaloids and their activities. By the 70‘s his research already suggested that kratom may have varietal differences that are based on it’s region of growth and the vein colors. These differences in alkaloids are responsible for difference in potency, effect, duration and whether the strain is more energizing, sedating or analgesic (paint-relieving).
In addition to vein color and region, of course harvesting methods, drying methods and the health and genetics of the plant itself have a great deal to do with potency and effects but the basic vein and regional variation. In other words, the long answer is, potency and alkaloidal profile are dependent on a wide variety of variables that could cause two leaves from the same bush to have radically different alkaloidal make-up when tested due to how and when they were harvested, the health of the branch and leaf they were plucked from, the drying methods used and how fresh the leaf powder is when tested as well as storage conditions in the duration. Since vein color and regional differences (due to myriad factors including, but certainly not limited to, nutrient content and other variations in the soil, humidity and rain, amount of light and genetic differences based on years in varied conditions).
As far as regional diferences go, kratom, like kava is known to have vastly different alkaloidal makeup depending on climate and soil differences that affect the genotype of the plant. Kratom originating from Malaysia (often known referred to in shorthand by vendors as Malay), Thailand (Thai), Indonesian (Indo), Sumatra, Borneo, Bali, Riau, Kalimantan, Cambodian, and Vietnamese are commonly found, for instance.
It’s been said, and rightly so, that for the connoisseur understanding the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt differences in strain types amongst kratom or kava strains is not unlike being a connoisseur of fine wines.
Since in Thailand kratom is illegal and importation is restricted in Malaysia, much of the commercial kratom available today from vendors online comes originally from Indonesia, harvested from primary and secondary forests of the deep jungles of Southeast Asia. Some of the most potent kratom comes from Indonesian trees in Sumatra, Borneo and Kalimantan. Exceptional kratom grows in Papua but due to it’s remote location, wildcrafting from this area is difficult and hasn’t become popular commercially yet.
In general, Sumatran strains are white veined leaves and when powdered are a light green color, so long as the kratom ground was freshly powdered. Borneo kratom is generally a darker green, primarily due to it’s red veins which also account for the powerful sedating and painkilling power of the Borneo leaves or, for instance, Bali leaves are some of the most sedating and pain-killing of all strains and hit hard and fast but don’t last as long as some other strains. Borneo and Sumatra in addition to being in the natural greenhouse of the jungles with peak humidity are also very near the equator which means maximum sun which allows for more potent kratom leaves. Malaysian leaf is generally mild in taste, resembling coffee’s flavor somewhat and tends to promote an upbeat mood. Malay is also one of the longer lasting strains. In addition to regional differences the major deciding factor in regards to alkaloidal make up has to do with vein colors. For more on that topic check out our article “What’s the deal with vein colors.”