This Pakistani Beverage Needs To Be In Your Medicine Cabinet
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This Pakistani Beverage Needs To Be In Your Medicine Cabinet

Everyone hates getting a cold, especially before an important event. You try dosing yourself up on every single medication you can get your hands on, binge drinking lemon & ginger tea until you think your body might be 80% tea rather than water, to little avail. There are so many herbal remedies out there, but during a trip to Pakistan, I found a product that fights cold symptoms harder than anything else I’ve tried.  

Johar Joshanda

Photo by Manki Kim
Photo by Manki Kim

8:30 AM. Lahore. The big day. As the sun streamed through the wooden slats, and I awoke next to my bride-to-be best friend, I felt a scratch in my throat; the telltale sign that in a few hours, I’d be suffering from a poorly timed cold. That I’d be stifling vigorous coughing fits and croaking (instead of talking) to fellow guests did not fit into the itinerary of my dear friend’s wedding. To stop my malaise from ruining the day, urgent action was required.

“Auntie, I’ve got a cold coming on”, I said to my best friend’s mom as she busied herself with preparations. Reaching into the kitchen cupboard, she tore open a cardboard box and thrust a mysterious, foil-lined sachet at me. “Try this”, she smiled, “it’ll help you feel better. Promise”. The packet, entirely in Urdu and decorated with the glorious pink roses Pakistan favors so much, was my first taste of Johar Joshanda, an herbal remedy I’ve sworn by ever since.

The grey granules settled at the bottom of the mug, dissolving into a gritty, pale brown liquid as I poured boiling water over them. It might sound unappetizing to those unfamiliar with the joys of Johar Joshanda (literally translated as ‘essence of boiled stuff’), but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. The steamy beverage penetrated my blocked sinuses, and I took a sip.

The Taste Test

Photo by Ekaterina Kasimova
Photo by Ekaterina Kasimova

The flavor of Joshanda is unique - it’s as if licorice, sugar, and fennel jumped into a bubbling hot tub infused with mint. It’s delicious, even when you don’t have a cold. As it made its way through my system, my sore throat stopped crying out for relief, while my general lethargy was combated by the sugary, refreshing brew. I gulped the whole thing down, partly because it was so soothing, and partly because the bride and I had to go get dolled up at the beauty parlor. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Johar Joshanda saved the day - its numbing effect on my symptoms meant I could fully savor this beautiful, special moment in my best friend’s life.

Meet the Makers

In Pakistani pharmacies, Johar Joshanda is sold alongside cold remedies. Photo by Tea Talk.
In Pakistani pharmacies, Johar Joshanda is sold alongside cold remedies. Photo by Tea Talk.

Qarshi Industries are a health food & drink company based in Lahore. Joshanda is one of their bestselling (and certainly best-known) products, selling about 150 million boxes per year in Pakistan. From housewives to rickshaw drivers, many people carry a sachet of this magic medicine in their pocket, in case they require a mid-afternoon pick-me-up in the place of a hot milky chai.

Joshanda is a mass-produced version of an ancient Yunani (literally meaning ‘Greek’, but more accurately ‘traditional’) medicine. In the old days, it would have been made by brewing fresh, aromatic herbs and straining them through muslin, but now this powder means you can whip it up in a hot second. Just like instant coffee, except Joshanda gives you a much bigger kick.

Most of the ingredients are run-of-the-mill, natural cold remedies - there’s black tea, peppermint extract, eucalyptus oil, and hyssop. Plus, sugar, because they say it makes the medicine go down. However, two ingredients stand out; ephedra and ‘khashkhash’ (poppy seed oil). The former was banned by the FDA in 2004, as the herb acts as an extreme stimulant, with potential side effects including heart palpitations and vomiting. The latter is distantly related to opium, and is restricted in many parts of the world. Though these two active ingredients can be dangerous if used in excess, when they are blended to make Joshanda, they work together in perfect harmony. Ephedra gives the drinker a burst of energy, while the poppy seed extract dulls symptoms.

How to Buy Johar Joshanda

Photo by Marek Rucinski
Photo by Marek Rucinski

Before I left Pakistan, I stopped at the pharmacy to stock up for myself and my friends back home. Though people outside of South Asia would struggle to get hold of the Pakistani original, Qarshi produces an exported version of Johar Joshanda that’s completely legal in the West.

Sold on Amazon for less than $10 per box, the US version has all the goodness of Joshanda, save for the ephedra and poppy seed extracts. In my experience though, it’s nearly as effective and easing cold symptoms, and boasts the same distinctive flavor. Want to add another time-tested remedy to the mix? You can also purchase honey-flavored Joshanda. I managed to get hold of a pack in my local Asian grocery shop, where the cashier told me it had been flying off the shelves.

Like the sympathetic auntie who rushed to my aid when I had the sniffles, I peddle Joshanda to any fellow sufferer within spitting distance. My Pakistani and non-Pakistani friends alike crave its incredible healing properties and sweet, sweet taste, but the real power of Johar Joshanda is that it actually works. Try it for yourself next time you’re sick - you’ll never look back.

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