Danny Danko travels in search of the mysterious truth behind the murky history of the legendary cannabis variety known as the Kush. Bonus: Danny’s Top 10 Kush Strains.
Origins of the Kush
The disputed region known as the Hindu Kush shares its boundaries with Pakistan and Afghanistan just north of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. The area has long been known for its ongoing conflicts as well as its history of cannabis and hashish production. Part of the legendary Himalayas mountain range, the fertile valleys and hillsides of the Hindu Kush have, for centuries, produced the world’s finest hash. Years of natural and human selection for the most resinous, indica-dominant plants have resulted in short, stocky bushes covered with huge, shiny trichomes.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, intrepid travelers on the “Hippie Trail” (including members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love) returned to the US, Canada and Europe with primo seeds and began growing Afghani, Skunk and Kush strains in earnest. Sadly, in 1973, bowing to pressure from the United States, the newly self-appointed president of Afghanistan, who took power in a bloodless coup against the long-serving and hashish-friendly Afghan king, declared the production and sale of hashish illegal. He was overthrown by Afghan Communists in 1978, and the country was invaded by the Soviets in 1979, sparking another 30 years of warfare and bloodshed that continue to this day.
The Afghani hashish of the pre-war era remains legendary among older heads, and the strains that it spawned changed the cannabis growing scene completely. The indica-dominant genetics shortened typical flowering times, allowing plants to be grown all the way up to Alaska. In the process, the concept of “homegrown” changed from a term of derision to a point of pride.
Many Kush varieties have won prizes for their breeders at our annual pot-tasting festival in Amsterdam each November. From the original Skunks of the 1980s to the Kushage, Vanilla and Kaia Kush of the current era, the strain’s potency and flavor are undeniable. While Haze varieties dominate the sativa category in the seed-bank contest, Kushes traditionally prevail among the indicas. Kush strains have also provided the genetic basis for many perennial winners that don’t have the word “Kush” in their names, such as White Widow, Sensi Star and AK-47.
Breeders know that one of the best ways to wow discerning judges is to use genetics laden with Afghani heritage. Long prized for its medicinal properties, this is the bud known for its “couch-lock” – a perfect strain for an evening nightcap, but also one capable of changing all your plans when puffed at mid-day. The intense citrus flavor, skunky odor and extremely long-lasting stone aren’t soon forgotten.
The Kush and the HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup have a long and storied history – one that’s guaranteed to continue for many years to come. Future Cups are sure to be won by plants bearing these illustrious genetics, and much of the best hashish in Holland continues to be made from these strains as well. Plus the centuries-long Afghan tradition of separating the trichomes from Kush plants to press into bricks of tasty hash has persisted into the 21st century worldwide.
Nowhere are Kush strains more prevalent than in Southern California. Many medical-marijuana dispensaries specialize in carrying as many varieties of Kush as they can get their hands on, and there are literally hundreds to chose from (OG, Larry, Tahoe, Russian Master and Lemon come to mind). These days, there are also sativa-dominant Kushes, Purple Kushes and “pretender” Kush strains with the name, but not the flavor or power of the true OG.
True Kush strains have also spread far and wide throughout Northern California and beyond. The OG is actually rumored to have come to Cali through the Lake Tahoe area from a Chemdog clone from the East Coast. True or not, the legends surrounding this famed variety continue to circulate, and the mysteries won’t all be solved anytime soon.
Thanks to these many changes, however, the word “Kush” seems to have lost some of its meaning – but those who know can immediately discern that particular lemon-fuel odor and telltale tiny nuggets as the real deal. Strains with “Kush” in their name boast such a reputation for potency that, just last year, Republican Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced a bill to increase penalties for the distribution of “Kush.”
(Excerpted from the forthcoming book, The HIGH TIMES Field Guide to Marijuana Strains.)
Sensi Seed Bank
Pure indicas tend to knock people out, but Sensi’s famous Hindu Kush has a more desirable zesty quality to it, as well as a rich, hashy smoke that tickles the nose and enlightens the senses. This odiferous strain has a super-short flowering time, coupled with the ablity to start filling out right away for big, fast yields. Great for beginners and experts alike, Hindu Kush is known for its pungent notes of sweetness followed by hints of sandalwood, which distinguish it from the Kush we know and love in the USA.
Ken from Sensi Seeds calls their Hindu Kush “a classic, definitive indica sometimes referred to as ‘Afghanica,’with the characteristic wide, dark green leaves and strong branching that make it an excellent building block for serious and hobbyist breeders.” Indeed, cannabis botanists worldwide use a Sensi Seeds Hindu Kush male in their programs for stability. It also makes terrific hash with an old-school scent and flavor.
Lineage: Indian landrace from the Hindu Kush mountains
Flowering time: 6 to 7 weeks
Contact: Sensi Seed Bank, sensiseeds.com
T.H.Seeds have earned a stellar reputation for bringing the best of California’s genetics to Amsterdam and beyond. This proud tradition continues with their latest offering, the Burmese Kush (lovingly referred to as “Buku”). One of the most resinous strains available at coffeeshops in Holland, Buku is the result of crossing an authentic Burmese Kush with the clone-only OG Kush so well known in the Los Angeles area. As one might expect, the results are super “kushy,” with the telltale dark green leaves and unique piney flavor inherent in the Kush family of strains.
Anyone who smokes the real-deal Kush in Cali knows its tart diesel flavor and incredibly euphoric high. Combine those with a short flowering time and easy-to-trim profile, and you’ll understand why we’re cuckoo for Buku. Adam from T.H.Seeds suggests savoring the instantaneous effects of this strain in a nice clean bong filled with ice-cold water.
Vanilla Kush proves the adage that not all indica-dominant strains are created equal. It’s hard to nail down the intoxicating scent these buds exhibit upon grinding, which is both complex and varied: Vanilla and sandalwood compete with citrus and lavender as they dance upon the palate. The smoke is full-bodied and sensuous, with the strong medicinal properties associated with heavy-duty Kushes. The higher-than-usual CBD content will especially soothe certain symptoms, such as severe headaches or muscle spasms.
When cultivated, Vanilla Kush boasts dark red hairs surrounding tight, frosty clusters. Even the fan leaves are crystal-coated almost out to the tips, and the buds fill out quite nicely. It’s a strain that’s also available these days in feminized form. Medicinal patients report immediate relief from smoking or vaporizing the Vanilla Kush – another sure-fire prizewinner from Barney’s Farm.
East Coast residents familiar with the strain known as “Headband” will be quite excited to know that the “breeding bros” of DNA Genetics have released a superb version of this famous Diesel and Kush cross. Their Headband won third place at the 2009 HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup for the Green Place Coffeeshop under the name “Headband Kush,” earning it the first of what will undoubtedly be many more awards.
Don tells me that they reversed the OG Kush to pollinate the Sour Diesel, and he assures growers that they’ll find a great mother plant out of a pack of 10 beans. Luckily, cloning this strain is easy too, with roots popping out within eight to 10 days of cutting. Headband possesses the familiar diesel-fuel smell and sour lemon taste and starts producing resin glands early and often, exemplifying the best qualities of its elite parentage.
This strain has gained an almost mythical status as the foundation of West Coast genetics. Hippie folklore marks the arrival of superior Afghan seeds from the Hindu Kush region into the hands of California’s growers as the beginning of a marked transformation in the quality of homegrown marijuana. This sea change in domestic cannabis cultivation reveals itself even today in the predominance of Kush traits found among many of the world’s most popular pot varieties. Kush offspring include a number of HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup winners and HT Strains of the Year, including the MK-Ultra and Sour Diesel. Plus, OG Kush offshoots such as the Bubba Kush and Purple Kush show wonderful promise as future prizewinners.
The DNA Genetics boys started Reserva Privada as a seed bank for some of their favorite strains being bred out by their buddies in Cali, and they now have feminized OG Kush seeds available for growers. The yields aren’t huge, but these dense little nuggets pack a legendary punch.
Another sensimilla stalwart from the T.H.Seeds collection, the Kushage has an epic high – one that hits almost instantly and has both staying power and that familiar Kush headiness. Even beginners will find her easy to grow and work with, resisting many of the common pests and pitfalls that plague first-time farmers. Kushage plants will stretch a bit but fill out nicely, with spicy, piney branches topped with lime-green colas surrounded by dark, waxy leaves.
Adam of T.H.Seeds describes his Kushage for me thusly: “The sandalwood flavor of our S.A.G.E. and the crystal-clear high add an extra boost to the almost addictive buzz of the OG Kush, making this a great plant for the Kush-crazy West Coast of the USA and the Haze lovers of Holland … truly the best of both worlds!” And he’s made it available in feminized form for the first time as well.
Apothecary breeder Bret, who created the Kaia Kush, named this strain after his daughter and promptly snagged an elusive HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup with it in 2007. Earthy and spicy – and very reminiscent of the Chemdog line of genes – this sativa-dominant hybrid has all the lemony-fuel taste and tartness of its predecessors, but with a relatively short flowering time for a strain of such note.
The Kaia Kush is a heavy yielder, packing on weight late into flowering. The abundant and pungent odor can be overpowering, so be sure to use charcoal filtration and whatever else you can find to control the rampant smells. This is the type of weed that can narc you out if you’re not careful, so apartment growers especially should take heed. Judging from the reception for this one at many medical dispensaries in California, I’m expecting big things from Apothecary in the future.
California has gone “purple crazy,” with hundreds of different varieties available in various shades from violet to deep blue. Combining the sweet flavor of the Purps with the lemony power of OG Kush, Purple Kush is a strain that exemplifies the best of both worlds. Strong bag appeal plus increased potency make the PK a perfect hybrid for growers interested in a product that sells itself.
Its short, squat stature and heavy harvests don’t hurt either. This clone-only, almost pure indica strain has its origins in the Pacific Northwest, but has become increasingly popular and available elsewhere as the rest of the country (and the world) quickly catches up to the aesthetically and spiritually pleasing qualities of these grape-flavored, violet-colored nuggets. Medical patients in particular will appreciate the Purple Kush’s deep body stone, which is helpful in treating chronic pain and depression.
From eastern Cali comes one of the strongest cannabis varieties of all time, the Tahoe OG Kush – often imitated but never perfected as well as it has been by breeder Swerve from the Cali Connection, a breeding outfit that has earned much respect for its Kush-heavy stable of strains in seed form. Swerve pollinated the original and legendary Tahoe clone with his San Fernando Valley OG F3 male, and the result adds fuel to the fire for sure.
The Tahoe OG grown from Swerve’s seeds produces thick nuggets completely covered in glistening, glandular trichomes, but without the typical hermaphroditic tendencies of many closet-breeding pollen-chuckers’ watered-down versions. Medical patients will appreciate the calming properties of the Tahoe OG Kush, which relieves insomnia as well as bodily pains and stress.
Lineage: San Fernando Valley OG Kush F3 x Tahoe Kush clone
The Cali Connection
The famed Larry OG cut made the rounds in Southern Cali for years and is an all-time favorite of Kush lovers everywhere. The archetypal “lemon-fuel/Pine-Sol funk” (as breeder Swerve perfectly describes it) is the tip-off that you’re dealing with a real-deal OG cross.
Grown from seed, Larry does some pretty serious stretching after flowering is induced, but makes up for it with good yields of super-potent and odiferous pot. Typically producing almond- or teardrop-shaped calyxes with bright orange hairs, this strain grows super-frosty, with crystals out to the ends of the fan leaves (which turn dark purple as the plants near maturity). The thin, stretched-out branches may need to be staked for support, and mites love the Larry OG Kush as well – so stay vigilant and keep checking the undersides of leaves for damage to catch them early if they happen to attack.
Lineage: San Fernando Valley OG Kush [F3] x Larry Kush clone
Flowering time: 9 to 10 weeks
Contact: The Cali Connection, thecaliconnection.com