NOTE: This piece was originally published at Heady Vermont.
My friend, the herbalist Stephanie Boucher, wrote a great Canna-Kitchen Witchery column with a beautifully evocative description of an early Bronze Age Indian man making a cannabis-based drink called bhang:
India, 1000 B.C. A man sits, pounding the leaves and flowering tops of cannabis sativa in a mortar and pestle, combining it with fresh milk. Once thoroughly combined, it will be flavored with aromatic spices, called bhang, and handed out to passersby celebrating the spring festival of Holi.
Charmed, and definitely curious, I thought I might try my hand at a little bhang brewing. A quick search with our colleague Professor Google turned up a simple recipe – along with some interesting history – over at Leafly.
Apparently, in parts of India, bhang is used as a treatment for everything from fever, dysentery, and sunstroke, to improving digestion, clearing phlegm, and, oddly enough, eliminating speech impediments. Also, in a moment of all’s fair in love and war, they reported that soldiers “would drink bhang to steel their nerves, and newlyweds would consume bhang to increase their libido.”
In the mystical realms, Shiva, the Hindu god of transformation, drank bhang to “focus inward and harness his divine powers.”
Fortunately, the ingredients are pretty simple:
- 2 cups water
- Up to 1/2 ounce (28 grams) of fresh cannabis leaves and flowers
- 3 cups warm milk
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground fennel
- 1/2 tsp ground anise
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp rosewater
- 1/2 cup honey or sugar
- Rose petals, mint leaves, chopped almonds or pistachios to garnish
As a longtime yogi and fan of Indian cuisine, I already had all the spices in my larder. Garam masala, by the way, is a combination of warming spices including peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, bay leaf, cumin, and coriander. It’s famously part of the recipe for Tikka Masala, but you could use it for chai, muffins, or even oatmeal – which can be a little cooling and heavy for some digestions.
Anyway, the only ingredients to procure were milk and cannabis. Though I don’t normally drink cow’s milk, I thought that for this first time out, I should probably not mess with a recipe I haven’t tried and go switching over to coconut or almond milk. Plus, we’re in Vermont, so an authentic Vermont-milk bhang deserves to see the light of day at least once.
I should also point out that from an Ayurvedic perspective (Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine), many folks who can’t digest cold milk well do just fine when it’s warm, and seasoned with those very same spices. So, the idea that bhang could improve digestion and clear phlegm is right in line with ancient Indian medicinal practices – even before you get to including our lovely green friend.
Speaking of cannabis, while the recipe calls for both fresh leaves and flower, it’s a little early in the season, and my Outdoor Ladies haven’t started budding yet. However, they are producing leaves like it’s going out of style, and I knew from some early butter-making experiences that foliage alone would be more than enough.
And so the process began… The full recipe is here if you’d like to try it yourself.
First, I got some boiling water going and steeped the leaves in a bowl for seven minutes. I don’t know why seven. Nine would be a more mystical choice, but I think seven is probably how long folks can wait without getting impatient.
Then, I strained the leaves through some cheesecloth, and set the water aside. The leaves were hot from the water, but not dangerously so.
The next part of the recipe called for grinding the leaves and warm milk “slowly but firmly” in a mortar and pestle, which I do not have. I do, however, have the modern equivalent – a bullet blender!
So, not slowly and firmly, but quickly and noisily I ground, using about half a cup of milk. This mixture, too, went through the cheesecloth, at which point I composted the leaves.
Next into the blender went pretty much everything else: garam masala, ginger, fennel, anise, cardamom, rose water, mint leaves, almonds, and pistachios (9 nuts each for Spiritual Purposes), plus some more warm milk. I ground, I squeezed, I composted the dross and saved the milk.
Finally, I combined all the milk with the leaf water and the sugar, and used a stick blender to get it a little foamy. No reason for that, other than I thought it would taste nice. It came out a lovely light green. Not a color you normally want to see in milk, but acceptable given the circumstances.
I had 3 small sips, which were extremely yummy, before sticking the whole thing in the fridge to cool.
So, you mix all those spices with milk and sugar, and of course it’s going to be delicious. The big question is effect and dosage. The little sips I had were lovely, but I didn’t feel much of anything other than a sudden good mood. But that could have been the sugar…
The next morning around 7:30, as I was prepping the bhang to bring to work and try it out on the Resident Cannabis Professionals, my husband Mark came into the kitchen with a headache. So, I said, “try some bhang!” and gave him a half cup.
As it happened, Mark and I had a lunch date around 1, and when he showed up, he said, “Well, my headache is gone, but I am just coming down from that stuff! I was high AF!” Mark is 6’ tall, but a lightweight when it comes to the ganj. Ok. Good data point.
Then I gave about a cup to my co-worker Kevin, who's had a serious back injury since high school, and smokes all day, every day, to deal with the pain. He is anything but a lightweight. He liked the taste, downed the cup, and about an hour later, came to my desk with a big smile on his face. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I feel it. It’s niiiiiice.” But it didn’t seem to prevent him from getting any work done.
And finally, I brought the last of the bhang to our table at the Winooski farmers market and gave out free samples. Small free samples. A big swallow’s worth. Not enough for more than mood enhancement at best. But everyone who tried it liked it (Again – spicy, sugary milk. What’s not to like?).
What really struck me was that everyone picked out a different flavor. I heard “Wow! I can taste the rose water!” and “Oooh, cardamom!” and “I love the mint!” Nobody, however, said, “Yum! Tastes like weed!” Which is probably a good thing.
So, all in all, a good experiment, and a keeper of a recipe!
Now that I know how to make basic bhang, I’d love to try it with raw milk (which I adore), as well as alternative milks like coconut and almond – though I’m not sure the almond would be fatty enough to really draw out the THC.
Speaking of THC, I’ll try it with flowers come fall. No doubt it’ll help me harness my divine powers, or maybe even get me an astral date with Shiva!
Also, while the recipe says you can sweeten with sugar or honey, this is Vermont, so, naturally, I’ll have to do a round with maple syrup.
Again, the full recipe is here for you culinary adventurists. Next up – majoun, a kind of cannabis bon-bon that inspired Alice B. Toklas’ legendary brownies.
Photos by Tom Maisey on Wikimedia Commons, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, and the author