The Diverse Indian Landraces
India is possibly the country that has used cannabis for the longest time. Ganja isn’t a Jamaican slang term for weed, it is an old Hindi word meaning marijuana.
There are strong ties between cannabis and Hinduism as well as a widespread traditional use throughout the country. For these reasons, India only managed to ban cannabis in 1985. The sacred plant became illegal in India more than 40 years after most western countries outlawed it. Furthermore, The country has such a strong cannabis culture that even prohibition hasn’t stopped Indians from cultivating and consuming the plant.
Ancient Home of Cannabis
Although the geographical origin of cannabis is still unclear, Northern India may be the place where it first appeared. We know that cannabis has been around in India for at least 8,000 years. However, it could have been growing there for much longer. Indians have been using it as a medicine and also for religious purposes since before Christ. On the fertile slopes of the Himalayan foothills and in many other states throughout India, cannabis grows wild.
Different Regions = Different Landraces
Unlike in Morocco or Lebanon where there is only one major landrace strain, India is home to many unique landraces. With such a diversity of climates, terrains and traditions, no wonder India is the birth place of a staggering number of cannabis landraces and heirloom varieties!
Indicas Aren't From India
Contrary to popular belief, most Indian landrace strains are actually 100% “sativa”. Many botanists believe Cannabis sativa to be native to India. Sativas are also known as narrow-leaf drug or NLD. On the other hand, pure Indicas (Known as broad-leaf drug or BLD) originate from a small area. This area spans parts of southern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a tiny portion of south-western China. Therefore, many cannabis experts claim that what people call Indicas should actually be called Afghanicas or BLD in order to avoid confusion.
Landrace from the sacred Parvati valley
North Indian Landraces
The plants growing in the Himalayas are renowed for their high CBD content and resinous buds. Farmers rub them to make charras, a very sticky hand-made hashish.
In northern India, the most famous landrace varieties mainly come from 2 big valleys although cannabis grows almost everywhere. The broad and majestic Kullu Valley and the sacred Parvati Valley.
Malana And Its Legend
The sacred hand-rubbed hashish of Malana, is legendary. According to the legend, the people from this small village of about 1500 inhabitants are the direct descendants of Alexander the great’s soldiers. That is why the villagers speak a rare Sino-Tebetan language that only exists in Malana.
High in this remote mountainous area of the Himachal Pradesh region, the villagers have been using both living and dry plants. With it, they make one of the very best hand-rubbed hashish. This hash, cannabis enthusiasts call “Malana Cream” is famous for its joyful effects and increadible fruity taste as well as its creamy texture.
Such a geographical and cultural isolation over the centuries led to the creation of a very unique landrace strain. The hashish cultivar of Malana has very special caracteristics and aromas.
Famous hand-rubbed hashish from Malana (Coco Genes)
Most Famous North Indian Landraces
Although Indian Himalayan strains are pure Sativa varieties, their flowering time is short. Most plants only need for 80 to 90 days of flowering to be ripe. Some prime example of north Indian landraces are:
- Tosh Valley. This tall wild variety grows in the Parvati Valley. Its unique smell comes from a very interesting combination of pinene and limonene.
- Malana, also from the Parvati Valley, is used by the villagers of Malana to produce the renowed Malana Cream charras.
- Rasol. Although it is not as famous as Malana, Rasol is home to a very high quality hash cream. The Rasol cream is arguably one one the best Indian hashish. At almost 3000 meters (9800 feet) above sea level, the area is very remote. Therefore the local landrace is still relatively pure today. The plants from Rasol display a wide array of aromas and effects. However, many are fruity and spicy.
- Kullu Valley grows near the small villages up in the Mountains east of Kullu. Villagers cultivate this strain to make charras. The herb has a very woody and spicy taste.
- Kashmiri. Many wild cannabis varieties grow in Kashmir. Some from the highlands display very Indica-like characteristics. The smell is often very sweet and fruity.
- Nanda Devi. This national park is one of the highest places on earth where cannabis grows naturally. The plants growing in these highlands are considered as Sativas. However, they flower surprisingly quickly. Most plants have a strong mango scent.
Cannabis field growing on a fertile Himalayan slope.
Extending the Growing Season
In the Himalayas, hash farmers are often poor and hand-rubbed hash is their main source of revenue. Because they have to rub the plants that are still fresh to make Charas, farmers usually do not dry and store the plants. The season is therefore very short. However, hash farmers have found a way to extend the growing season over the years by growing plants with different flowering times. In the Himalayan village of Rasol for example, villagers can harvest the first plants at the end of September while the last ones are generally ripe in Mid November. The different flowering times come with different tastes and effects. As a result, the amount of genetic diversity in these places is staggering!
Late-flowering Indian Red Sted from Rasol Village
Most Himalayan landraces display very broad leaflets at the beginning of their vegetative growth phase. Throughout their life-cycle, the plants leaflets become narrower and narrower and end up looking like typical sativa varieties.
In the Himalayas, mountain people use their plants to make charas. However, in the rest of India, the majority of farmers sell the marijuana directly without processing it into hash. In India, charas is a High-end product only the rich can afford.
South Indian Landraces
The cannabis growing in southern India however, is completely different. All south-Indian Landraces are equatorial Sativas. They need a long flowering time, usually 95 to 130 days to be ready for harvest. Although their total CBD content is low to non existent, these Sativas produce high levels of THC (12 to 20%). Their effects are often powerful, even psychedelic. Most Indian weeds are full of seeds and sun-dried. However, some skilled farmers in Punjab and Kerala produce high quality sinsemilla.
most famous South Indian varieties
Here are some of the most popular South Indian strains:
- Idukki Gold comes from the Western Ghats mountain range. Highly sought after and one of the most potent strains in India. This legendary variety is becoming increasingly rare. People who smoked that strain reported experiencing a strong cerebral effect while being very alert at the same time.
- Orrisa Gold from the Indian East Cost. This mythical strain is originally from Orissa now known as Odisha. The buds are very fluffy as the plant has adapted to a very humid environment.
- Sheelawathi. The name: Sheela Vati means Gracious Woman in the local dialect. It has become such a popular name that farmers from other parts of India now sell their cannabis under the name “Sheelawati”. On top of that, its ability to ripen faster than most south-Indian cultivars is the reason why many Indian farmers now cultivate it. The high is very cerebral and psychedelic.
Some Indian landraces are still pure whereas others are threatened by hybrid contamination. In touristy areas such as Malana, foreigners have brought foreign genetics. Consequently, the local landrace is gradually disappearing.
Despite the growing threat of hybridization, there is hope for the Indian landraces. Indeed, some locals are beginning to understand the incredible genetic potential of the Indian strains. For that reason, they have come together to help preserve this natural heritage. Groups of passionate strain hunters such as the Collectors Collectives Genes collect seeds from local farmers in various locations in order to help save the Indian Landraces.
Exeptional Breeding Material
Not all of these Indian heirlooms date back thousands of years however. Farmers, by selecting the most suitable plants for their environment, can give birth to a new landrace in less than 40 years! It is the case for a famous Kerala strain which only appeared in the 1990’s. This is the strain that people outside of India know as the Kerala Gold.
These mythical landrace varieties have given birth to many modern strains such as White Widow or Jack Herer. The remoteness of certain areas where heirloom varieties grow is the reason why some of them have such unique profiles. We can all help preserve the biodiversity of cannabis by storing, reproducing and sharing these legendary landrace seeds.
Last but not least I would like to thank my friends from Coco Genes for providing amazing pictures and information for this article.
Cannabis growing in the Himalayas (Coco Genes)