If you’ve grown up in the United States, you may be surprised to learn that the use of Cannabis has quite a long and illustrious history. Many United States’ anti-marijuana “activists” might have you believe that cannabis-use is a vice limited to hippies, deadbeats or liberal-arts college kids; yet some of the world’s oldest cultures have a rich history of smoking and cooking cannabis.
Cannabis in Ancient China
Many historians agree that the first cultural evidence of Cannabis comes from China, about 6,500 years ago. The Yang-Shao (the oldest known Neolithic culture in China) harvested cannabis seeds to be used as grains. The seeds were ground into meal, roasted whole or cooked into porridge. The ancient tombs of China even had sacrificial vessels filled with hemp seed for the afterlife.
Though the ancient Chinese did not incorporate cannabis directly in spiritual rituals, the effects of the plant’s resinous leaves and flowers (or buds) did not go unnoticed. The world’s oldest known pharmacopoeia, the Pên-ts’ao Ching, states that the flowering tops of hemp, if taken “in excess” or over a long term “makes one communicate with spirits and lightens one’s body.” The document then goes on to prescribe marijuana preparations for such ailments as “malaria, constipation, rheumatic pains, absent-mindedness and female-disorders.”
Chinese Extract Hemp-Seed Oil and Cannabis Oil
As new technologies developed, the ancient Chinese learned to mill, heat and wedge-press Cannabis seeds to extract the valuable hemp-seed oil, a technique still used in the western world in the twentieth century. These pressed cannabis seeds yielded almost 20 percent oil by weight.
Cannabis oil has a number of uses, though we’re most concerned with its applications in cooking. After oil extraction, the residue or “hemp cake” still contained nutritious oils and proteins, which became a healthy feed for domesticated animals. Thus, the ancient Chinese likely became the first to discover, harvest and cook with cannabis.
Cannabis in Ancient India
About 2,500 years later, the wandering Aryans (a nomadic Indo-Persian tribe) brought Cannabis to India, where it was quickly embraced for both its practical applications (hemp-fiber and nutrition, for example) and for its assistance in religious rituals (with its psychoactive effects). Ancient Indians worshipped the spirits of plants and animals, and marijuana began to play an active role in their rituals, as well as becoming an object of worship itself.
Marijuana became sacred, and its spirit, named the “bhangas spirit” was worshiped and appealed too “for freedom of distress and as a reliever of anxiety. The ancient Indians viewed the plant as a gift from the gods – hailing it as a magical herb that “lowered fevers, fostered sleep, relieved dysentery, stimulated appetite, prolonged life, quickened the mind, and improved judgement.”
Ancient Indians Create Cannabis Infused Ghee Butter and Bhang
Like the Chinese, the ancient Indians used the seeds as grain for cooking, but unlike their predecessors, the Indians also sought to harness the unique pharmacological effects of marijuana by cooking the flowers, leaves and stems into Ghee butter to be used in a myriad of recipes.
Ghee, a common ingredient in modern Indian food, is a delicious clarified butter that can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration, provided that it is stored in an airtight container. Cannabis infused ghee can be substituted wherever regular ghee is called for, as long as it will not be cooked at temperatures over 401 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point THC begins to break down and lose its potency.
In addition to Cannabis Ghee, ancient Indians also blended marijuana with other spices (including poppy seed, pepper, ginger, caraway seeds, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and milk) in a drink called “Bhang.” To this day, Bhang is commonly enjoyed in India – much the way alcohol and wines are used in the west.
Cannabis Moves Across Europe
Eventually Marijuana moved through the Middle East to countries like Babylonia, Palestine and Egypt where hemp was used in fabrics and as grains. It moved to Greece and may have been referenced in Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey. The Greeks and Romans made no notice of the plant’s intoxicant properties, but used cannabis hemp in fibers to make clothing and rugs.
Cooking With Cannabis in the US
With increased trade and travel, Cannabis seed was brought into all parts of the known world. When the first settlers came to the Americas, they brought cannabis with them. As far as the History of Cooking With Cannabis in the United States goes, the record is rocky, but certainly had its renaissance in the 60′s and 70′s with the strong Indian influence on the “hippie” generation.
Today, cooking with cannabis has come back into vogue; especially with the decriminalization of marijuana in several states and the ever-present medicinal marijuana prescriptions permeating suburbia. Cooking with cannabis is a great way to experience both the nutritional and physiological effects of the plant.