What Is Bhang?
Bhang is a traditional drink that hails from northern India. It’s directly associated with the Hindu deity, Shiva, who is believed to drink bhang continuously to enhance his/her powers. Also referred to as lord of the bhang, Shiva descended from the Hindu Kush mountain range, bringing his/her drink as a gift to humankind. Technically, Bhang is the paste made from the flowers and leaves of the female marijuana plant. The paste is made by soaking the flowers and leaves in water, and then grinding them until they form said paste.
Once a paste is created, it is then rolled into balls referred to as bhang goli. To make the traditional drink—bhang thandai—the bhang goli paste balls are mixed with milk, ground nuts, and a variety of spices. Depending on the region bhang is being made, it sometimes contains yogurt. The traditional drink is typically offered during religious festivals and holidays, such as Holi. It’s also used in ayurvedic practices and is named as one of the five sacred plants in the Atharva Veda. Despite there being a prohibition on cannabis in India, bhang is the exception.
You can easily purchase bhang goli, prepped with spices and nuts from many street vendors. You can also find ready-made bhang thandai in certain religious villages.
The Bhang Effects
Drinking bhang is part of daily life in northern India and has been since the beginning of Hindu culture and practices. According to the Vedic scriptures, drinking bhang is a way to worship Shiva. The effects of bhang range from the mild to the extremely wasted, just as with regular cannabis. That’s why before you try the drink, be sure you know the potency. Once ingested and digested, the effects of cannabis can multiply tenfold. With bhang, the effects will come on slow—but they will hit hard if you’re not careful.
The Benefits of Bhang
As mentioned above, cannabis is one of the five sacred plants according to the Athara Veda. For thousands of years, cannabis and bhang have been used in Ayurvedic medicinal practices. Among the drink’s many effects, it’s most common benefits are said to include relief from the following:
- Digestive issues
- Headaches and migraines
- Pain and inflammation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms and seizures
Bhang is also considered an aphrodisiac, thought to enhance the sexual experience. That’s why it’s given to newlyweds on their wedding night. It’s also consumed before tantric sex sessions (no wonder the Kama Sutra came to fruition!).
Hindu holy men, referred to as Sadhus drink bhang in preparation for their yoga and meditation practices. It’s believed that in ancient times, bhang was given to soldiers before battle to calm their nerves and give them courage.
The difference between Bhang and Everything Else
If bhang is made from marijuana, then what’s the difference between bhang vs marijuana? What about bhang vs ganja? All of the difference between the similar substances comes down to a few different factors. Namely, the vocabulary, form of the cannabis, and it’s usage.
First and foremost, the Sanskrit words for cannabis whether it be of the hemp or marijuana varieties is ganja. Of course, it’s got hundreds of names—weed, pot, dope, sticky icky, mean green—you get the idea. The point is, bhang is made from the marijuana variety of cannabis.
Since the traditional drink involves getting you high—as to worship Shiva—you won’t find it made with the hemp variety of cannabis. Hemp is used to produce non-psychoactive cannabis so that individuals can take advantage of the cannabinoid benefits without getting high. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, back to what separates bhang from marijuana in all its forms.
You may be wondering but hash is paste-like; is bhang hash? No. it’s not hash.
Hash, or hashish, is made from the charas, or dark resin, of the marijuana plant. Traditionally, hash is made by rubbing the flowering buds of the marijuana plant in the palms for a very long time. The end result is a dark, malleable chunk of chara. Just like with regular marijuana buds, you smoke hash (but typically in a hookah.)
Bhang is the edible form of marijuana, so to speak. That’s primarily what separates it from the other forms of marijuana. That and its usage, which is traditional and ceremonious. Once again, bhang is made by grinding the leaves and flowers with water into a paste and then adding the necessary ingredients to turn it into a drink.
How to make Bhang
If you like the sound of bhang but can’t make the trip to northern India any time soon, you’ll be happy to know that you can easily make the traditional drink and worship Shiva right at home.
There are plenty of variations of bhang recipes in regards to the spices used and whether or not to use yogurt. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started:
First, you’ll need the following equipment:
- A large saucepan with a lid
- A mortar and pestle
- Cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer
Now, the ingredient list:
- 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce of fresh marijuana leaves and flowers (emphasis on the fresh!)
- 2 cups of water
- 3 cups of full-fat milk
- 1/2 cup of honey or sugar
- 2 tbsp ground almonds (or preferred nuts)
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp rosewater (optional)
- Chopped pistachios (optional as a garnish)
1. Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil in your saucepan
2. Finely chop your marijuana leaves and flowers while waiting for the water to boil
3. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add in your finely chopped marijuana leaves and flowers and immediately remove from heat
4. Cover the saucepan with its lid and leave the marijuana mixture to soak for 10 minutes
5. Strain the plant material from the water and set the liquid aside (DO NOT throw away!)
6. Place the plant material in your mortar along with your chopped nuts and other optional garnishes
7. Now place the milk in the saucepan and warm it up over a low heat
8. Once the milk is nice and warm, add a few teaspoons to the mortar with your plant material and begin grinding. Keep adding warm milk little by little until you’ve used half a cup
9. Strain the ground-up plant material from the milk, making sure you squeeze the paste well; set aside
10. Combine the water and the milk that was previously used to extract the marijuana and mix well
11. Now add the rest of your ingredients, including the leftover warm milk, and mix well
12. Chill, serve, and enjoy!
If you made bhang correctly, it should taste nutty and sweet with subtle to strong hints of grassiness. The more potent the bhang, the more cannabis-like it’ll taste. The same goes for the types of spices you use as there are variants of the drink.
Reminder: please drink responsibly!
Tips on Getting the Most Bhang For Your Buck
Whether you bought your cannabis fresh or grew it yourself, the key to extracting the most THC (and other cannabinoids, of course) from your plant materials is to use a full-fat milk. You can use either cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or even sheep’s milk if you’d like.
The reason for this is that THC and the rest of the cannabinoids found in cannabis are all fat-soluble. So to achieve the maximum extraction and the much later absorption, they need to be mixed with something that has a high-fat content.
So, if you plan to use a plant-based milk, you’ll need to adjust accordingly to up the fat content. Coconut milk works best as it has the highest fat content. You can also add coconut oil, yogurt, or ghee to help increase the potency