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What Is Bhang? A History Lesson and a Recipe

March 21, 2017
If one were to look for proof of how long cannabis has existed and influenced culture, one of the oldest cannabis traditions dates as far back as 2000 B.C. and is still in use today. “Bhang,” as it is colloquially referred to, is an edible cannabis drink that is often used during traditional Hindu festivals such as Holi, Janmashtami, and Shrivratri.

The History of Bhang

Tea plantation in India

Cannabis is known in the modern world for its many medicinal and therapeutic uses, so it’s not surprising that ancient cultures found many spiritual, medicinal, and therapeutic uses for the versatile plant. Bhang has become an integral part of Indian culture, having been in use for four thousand years.

In parts of rural India, bhang is believed to cure fever, dysentery, and sunstroke, as well as aiding in digestion, clearing phlegm, and even curing speech impediments. In Ayurvedic and Tibbi rituals, cannabis was given orally to treat diseases like malaria and rheumatism. Warriors would drink bhang to steel their nerves, and newlyweds would consume bhang to increase their libido.

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Cannabis has a long-held reputation in India for its religious and spiritual implications, particularly in Hinduism. The Hindu god of transformation, Shiva, is believed to have used bhang to focus inward and harness his divine powers, and cannabis was deemed one of the five most sacred plants on Earth in the sacred Hindu text Atharvaveda. In certain Vedic rituals, cannabis stems were burned in the ritual fire (yagna) to overcome enemies and evil forces, as Vedas refer to cannabis as a “source of happiness,” a “joy giver,” and a “liberator.”

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The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission

"Group of Bairagis preparing and smoking ganja, Khandesh." (Image Courtesy of Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1894)

“Group of Bairagis preparing and smoking ganja, Khandesh.” (Image Courtesy of Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1894)

When the British arrived in colonial India, the use of cannabis was so widespread that they commissioned a large-scale study known as the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894. British and Indian medical experts conducted 1,193 standardized interviews across 30 cities to determine the social and moral impact of the use of cannabis. Seven volumes of data and conclusions were produced by the study, with an overwhelming consensus that prohibition would be unjustifiable and that moderate cannabis was harmless, both socially and physically. “To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as cannabis would cause widespread suffering and annoyance,” the report concluded.

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Since then, sales of bhang are government-authorized with the issuance of a permit for vendors. Particularly popular in northern India, bhang in solid form, bhang lassis, and thandai or sardai beverages are sold, usually during festivals.

Bhang Recipe

woman holding a glass of green smoothie

If you’d like to try bhang yourself, here is a common bhang recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • Up to 1/2 ounce 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

Directions:

  • Heat water to a rapid boil, then remove from heat and add the cannabis plant material. Steep for about seven minutes.
  • Strain cannabis leaves and flower from water using a muslin cloth. Squeeze the plant matter until all liquid has been removed. Collect the water and set it aside.
  • Put the leaves and flowers into a mortar and pestle with 2 teaspoons of warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the leaves and milk together, then squeeze the flowers to extract the milk. Continue this process until you have used about ½ cup of milk. Save the extracted milk.
  • Add chopped almonds, pistachios, rose petals, mint leaves or any other garnishes to your mortar and pestle, along with more warm milk. Grind until a fine paste is formed. Collect the extract and discard any additional nut fibers or residue.
  • Combine all the liquids together, and add garam masala, ginger, fennel, anise, cardamom, and rosewater. Add honey (or sugar) and the remaining warm milk.
  • Mix well, chill, serve, and enjoy.
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There are many variations on bhang drinks:

To make a bhang lassi, add ½ teaspoon of grenadine and a tablespoon of coconut milk. Some recipes may also call for yogurt, curds, and/or whey for a true Indian lassi.

Thandai is another popular variation on the traditional bhang beverage. Thandai uses the pre-made bhang mixture, but also adds almonds, cashews, melon seeds, dates, and black peppercorn to be ground in the mortar and pestle or hand mixer. Once the thandai paste is prepared, add to warm milk and the bhang mixture and let everything simmer for 4-5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a tall glass and let it chill. Serve the beverage with chia seeds and rose petals on top as a garnish.

Have you ever made bhang? Let us know your favorite variations and recipes!

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • Alan479 Martin

    I sent this article to a friend in Ohio under the title “A Healthful Drink You Can Make At Home”

    • Michael Montana

      But did you send the friend a free sample?

  • lovingc

    Seems too complicated in the recipe. I would go broke getting all the spices. The process of making bhang seems a bit much, I would just as soon to have a cup of spice tea with milk and cannabis oil.

    • Saggit Arius

      All you need is a carrier with a lot of fat in it. That’s why milk is used, but it would be better to get a full fat goat milk or something. Cannabinoids need to attach to fats to be useful in this sort of thing. In India you get milk right out of a cow when you buy this stuff, and it can be as simple as heated milk with the plant in it. But you have to have the fats and the heat or it’s a useless waste of plant. That is however, all you need. Just a high fat milk, some heat, and the plant. There you go.

  • Simpy Johnston

    How many servings to this recipe as up to 1/2 a oz seems a lot strong and expensive for 1…Thanks..

    • Saggit Arius

      That’s because it’s generally a wasteful drink when you live in a country where cannabis isn’t the easiest or cheapest thing to get and all your milk is pasteurized. The cannabinoids in cannabis are much more fat soluble than water soluble. Making a sort of tea with it means you have to use a whole lot of it to get the effects you’d get from a very small amount smoked. The reason edibles work is because it usually starts with a base of cannabis butter. The good things from the plant will readily attach to the fats in real butter (but doesn’t work with the more common vegetable oil types as well). If you used a non pasteurized milk, like they use in India, then the recipe is slightly less wasteful, because of the fats in the whole, unpasteurized milk. If you want to make something like this, without wasting a ton of the plant, you’d better find someone who will sell you unpasteurized goat milk or something, because otherwise you’re going to waste a ton just trying to impart any of the psychoactive substances into such a low fat recipe. You need fats, or fire for the plant to “activate.” There’s other types of drinks like this, but all of them come from cultures where milk comes straight from the cow, full of natural fats. That’s the key to making any kind of drink like this. Boiling water and putting the plant matter in is just making it wet and warm and taste funny. In India, if you get the real stuff, there’s no water, it’s full on fatty milk from the cow, because otherwise it’s wasting the plant to do it any other way.

      To be overly technical, the THC and other cannabinoids mostly don’t anything until you remove a carboxyl group, in the case of cannabis, that would be removing the COOH group from the THC-A by releasing H2O and CO2. Only by decarboxylation will the chemicals in the plant turn into the psychoactive everyone knows and loves. The heating and the fats from the milk is what allow bhang to work, but it’s far more wasteful than simply setting fire to the plant, which forces a very quick decarboxylation and thus a superior amount of psychoactive chemical morphs.

  • Freedom Laser

    I make this and it is amazing, especially if you decarb. the greens at 240° for 7 min. before you do anything. It’s a different, very intense high. It got rid of my tinnitus that I had for 25 years! The difficulty for most people is finding the live green flowers and trim, because you don’t get the same effect from the typical dried flowers/shake.

  • shikha dalmia

    Can you please tell me how many servings this is?

  • Harsh Chandola

    It isn’t as hard as it seems, doesn’t consume much time. The effort is worth it. Visit during Holi or Shivratri, at that time it is almost legal in north India and could buy from most Pan Shops. High is different, kicks in a little late, so be patient. We had few glasses of lassi, and then the moment it kicked in, we were like holy sheeeet. In India, if you buy it, you usually either get the paste which you need to dissolve in your lassi (buttermilk -sweet or salty) or thandai or sometimes they sell the whole glass of lassi. High is pretty strong. I come from a very remote place up in northern state of Uttarakhand. Elders in my family in our village make it a little differently, but mostly this is how you prepare it.

  • Daniel Norman

    Might sound odd, but I like using a very simple bhang to make hot chocolate. Basically start with butter and cannabis in a pan for a few minutes, add whole milk and let it steep for a good 5-10, maybe a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, strain through muslin and use to make up your cocoa as normal.