Seeing Through the Smoke: Hashy holidays
Whether your leanings tend toward Scrooge’s “Bah, humbug” or the ensemble of misfit toys’ sentiment that the Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year,” it is impossible to ignore the feeling connected with the stretch of time accompanying the calendar year’s wind-down. There is a distinct vibration associated with these days around the winter solstice that, it seems, is part and parcel with Western Civilization – the Greeks made offerings to various gods and engaged in wild revelry; the Roman festival of Saturnalia took things to another level by including suspension of many laws. Many of the modern trappings of Christmas descend from the Germanic Yule festivities. It is a time with ancient roots well-suited to reflection.
In keeping with the season, I offer you a treatise on the wonderful cannabis preparation known as hashish. Hashish – or hash – is created by collecting, through dry tumbling or agitation in a bath of ice water, the trichomes (aka kief) of the marijuana plant. The potency of most hashish is roughly twice that of raw flower buds. An apt comparison might be that of beer to wine (with oil taking the place of liquor to tease things out). The potency of individual batches is affected by the ability of the preparer to eliminate plant material.
Hashish has a long tradition throughout the Middle East, India and the Himalayan region. In India, it is known as charas, produced by rubbing live plants between the preparer’s hands; it is used in veneration of the Hindu deity Shiva. Nepalese “temple balls” are a similar product well-known to travelers and old hippies.
The hashish of legendary renown is that of the dry-sifted variety produced in the mountainous region of the western Middle East from the short, stocky indicas – the original cannabis plants. The flowers of these bushes are, to this day, tumbled and beaten using bags or screens to produce hash of varying quality (depending on the concentration of kief to plant material), which is pressed into bricks before being used or distributed. These vintages, provided they are properly dried and kept, can be stored for long periods of time.
Marco Polo romanticized them through exotic tales of assassins (the words hashish and assassin are etymologically related) plied by the intoxicant’s use under the direction of a warlord known as Hassan or “the old man of the mountains.” These killers were trained from the days of their youth through ingestion of a liquid Marco Polo believed to be hash-based; they would be transported in their state of intoxication to a beautiful garden and told that they were visiting heaven. Hassan allegedly used this ruse to direct them toward murder with the promise of a return to this paradise. The fact that this tale has holes wide enough to pass a silk caravan through does little to lessen the romance associated with the substance at its origin.
Modern “bubble hash,” so named because the best quality bubbles when smoked, is made using ice water and bags containing holes of varying micron sizes agitated by hand, through the use of a mechanized paddle, or tumbled in a washing machine. The “connoisseur grade” hash is generally that of 90 microns or less with most partakers giving preference to the 90 and 73 micron products.
The hashish high is of a mellow “heady” type and tends to last a long time. I’ve enjoyed many afternoons in the sun and many evenings by firelight basking in its glow. I hope the Christmas season brings a warm radiance to your heart, and I recommend hashish to augment this blush.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good.