Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bhang Beverages of South Asia – A Cannabis Gift from Lord Shiva

Bhang lassi, a south Asian treat, is a drinkable preparation of cannabis. The term ‘Bhang’ can refer to a number of different cannabis goodies ranging from hash-like concoctions, edible candy-like balls to beverages. According to Martin Booth’s ‘Cannabis – a History’, bhang refers to the lowest grade of cannabis sold in India, cannabis leaves with a few flowers mixed in. The other grades of marijuana are ‘ganga’ – female marijuana flowers, and ‘charas’ – hash. ‘Bhang’ grade marijuana has traditionally been used to prepare edible and medical cannabis formulations, though many bhang lassi producers today use ‘ganga’ grade marijuana in their preparations.  We’ll focus on the beverage preparations popular in many parts of India, bhang thandai and bhang lassi.

Government Authorized Bhang Shop from Stoner Living as featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations
Government Authorized Bhang Shop - from Wikipedia
In Hindu culture, recorded use of cannabis goes back to 1000 BC.  Despite years of prohibition, cannabis remains important in Indian culture, where it plays a role in the institution of ayruvedic medicine. The Indian government licenses bhang vendors and medical preparations of cannabis can be obtained in ayruvedic apothecaries. Consumption of Bhang is associated with the worship of lord Shiva and the celebration of Holi – the spring festival of color. Holi is particularly popular and celebrated with gusto (and lots of bhang) in northern India. One of the main traditions of holi is the use of colored powders on others; festive bonfires are also involved. Lord Shiva is said to have discovered the transcendental properties of bhang, earning him the epithet ‘Lord of Bhang’. The ancient Indian text the Arthaveda describes bhang as a beneficial herb that reduces anxiety. Bhang is used by some holy men to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states.

The classic north Indian bhang beverage preparation, bhang thandai, is made with milk, nuts (usually almonds, sometimes cashews) and spices including lots of black pepper and cardamom. It is sold in marketplaces and by street vendors. There are government sanctioned and licensed bhang shops. Some The city of Varanasi is famous for its bhang preparations, and street vendors prepare and sell it at the ghats (stair terrace areas leading down to the river).

Bhang preparation - grinding cannabis
Bhang preparation - grinding the cannabis. From Khabar Express Website.
Different preparation methods are used to create bhang beverages. Because the active ingredients in marijuana are fat soluble, it is necessary to have fat in some form as a key part of the recipe. Many recipes involve boiling the cannabis in a bit of water, straining out the plant matter and then grinding the plant material into a paste along with some of the fat containing material (whole milk or nuts). A mortar and pestle are used to grind cannabis buds and leaves into a thick paste. Milk, ghee (clarified butter) and ground nuts are added to the cannabis mixture. Spices are incorporated and the beverage is served chilled. 

Bhang lassi is a ‘special’ lassi made with bhang in lassi, a yogurt based beverage. Lassi comes in many flavors, and can either be a savory, lightly salted beverage or can be a sweetened concoction incorporating fruits. Mango lassi is a popular flavor available at Indian restaurants in the US and Europe. 

As with other edible preparations of cannabis, it takes at least an hour for the effects of bhang to manifest. Although not readily available at medical marijuana dispensaries, cannabis aficionados can enjoy a cup of bhang when visiting India. A scene from Anthony Bourdain’s NoReservations shows him visiting a government sanctioned bhang shop in Rajastan where he is offered bhang lassi in three strengths: strong, super sexy strong, and 'full power 24 hour no toilet no shower' strong… whatever that means. Although bhang can be are nutritious and wholesome, consumers should be wary of unscrupulous bhang dealers who are rumored to use other drugs, such as veterinary tranquilizers, to enhance the effects of their wares. Bhang can be prepared at home, and a recipe follows:

From Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India (SCFI).

Flavoured bhang drink
  Ingredients
2 cups water
1 ounce marijuana (fresh leaves and flowers of a female plant preferred)
4 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds
1/8 teaspoon garam masala (a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and cardamon)
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon rosewater
1 cup sugar

Method
Bring the water to a rapid boil and pour into a clean teapot. Remove any seeds or twigs from the marijuana, add it to the teapot and cover. Let this brew for about 7 minutes.
Now strain the water and marijuana through a piece of muslin cloth, collect the water and save.

Take the leaves and flowers and squeeze between your hands to extract any liquid that remains. Add this to the water. 

Place the leaves and flowers in a mortar and add 2 teaspoons warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the milk and leaves together. Gather up the marijuana and squeeze out as much milk as you can. Repeat this process until you have used about 1/2 cup of milk (about 4 to 5 times). Collect all the milk that has been extracted and place in a bowl. By this time the marijuana will have turned into a pulpy mass.

Add the chopped almonds and some more warm milk. Grind this in the mortar until a fine paste is formed. Squeeze this paste and collect the extract as before. Repeat a few more times until all that is left are some fibers and nut meal. Discard the residue.

Combine all the liquids that have been collected, including the water the marijuana was brewed in. Add to this the garam masala, dried ginger and rosewater. Add the sugar and remaining milk.

Chill, serve, and enjoy. 


Please send us your bhang recipe or stories about drinking cannabis for a chance to win a Stoner Living gift bag!
-------------- (c) 2013 Stoner Living Blog

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  4. Sounds pretty decent, but I think I'll just stick with eating and smoking it ;)

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  5. This is something I'd love to try, everyone thinks that the new wave of bongs such as the percolator bong is the way to go, but I say don't forget the old methods too!

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