The herb used to be grown till fully mature and dripping with resin. The fully ripe plants would be cut at the stem and either hung in a shed with a thatch roof, or if there was no shed, piled on a mat next to the field with a piece of cloth over the top when the sun is at its hottest. In some areas where plants were left to continue regrowing every year and became trees, only the buds would be pulled off the branches. The bud was then left till resin fell on the ground and the ground became sticky. These perennial forests were chopped down in the 1990’s by the authorities under international pressure.
To ensure a smooth smoke, the buds after harvest are left out at night to collect the dew – they should be covered in dew at least twice for the best result. The fully matured seedless Kalanjuichi/Sensimilia (kalanjuichi – honeyfilled) buds (Mchila wa Nkhosa – the tails of sheep) are then chosen and packed in carefully selected and cut to size sections of banana bark.
The buds are arranged evenly in a line in the center of the banana bark sheet and given a light sprinkling of untreated water if they are too dry, with a shake of a wetted hand. The banana bark is then carefully squeezed and wrapped around the bud, then it’s unrolled and inspected and added to until the cobber is satisfied the amount of bud is even along the full length.
Fresh wet bark from hardwood trees is used to tie the buds rolled up in banana bark into a cob, this needs to be very tight – the tighter the better. One end of the bark is tied to a tree or the center post of the hut and full strength and body weight is used to wrap it as tight as possible. Some use a pestle to pound the buds down into the cob whilst packing in as much as possible and continuing to wrap tightly.
The size of the cobs should not be bigger than a big man’s penis or they will be packed too loose. They should also not be too small or there is not enough oil and bud for it to “cook” nicely. Medium is the best!
Once there are a few hundred cobs wrapped, they are placed in the sun for a day or 2 and turned so the binding bark begins to dry and tighten even more, the banana bark wrapping also starts to dry out. The cobs are then placed under the goat’s house on a double floor – the floors are bamboo or wood slats. The goats above piss and shit and this fills up the gaps between the cobs on the floor below.
The temperature in the goat shit rises and stays around 80°C and higher. The banana bark is not fully sealed, so it allows moisture to filter through by osmosis. The banana bark gives off ripening chemicals as it ferments and the binding bark continues to tighten.
The cobs would be removed after at least 40days, but most would leave them till the next harvest when the space is required for reloading with freshly wrapped cobs. Only fully fermented and cured weed from the harvest before last is ready for consumption and smoked.
The best cobs would turn to a sticky solid mass called “pula”. Now a name forgotten for weed and instead used for finger hash or charras. Nowadays, goats are no longer kept in sheds as there are no livestock predators anymore so the traditional way is difficult to find.
More original curing methods
Another method was to bury the cobs in the waste husk left over when brewing local maize beer. This would also ferment and it would not only give the herb a special flavour, but also a golden colour. The longer it was left, the darker the color and the harder and more resinous the final product.
Sometimes the buds would be smoke-cured for a couple of days or hours with hardwood smoke similar to the process for dark fired tobacco. This would help to prevent any unwanted fungus or bacteria from spoiling the fermentation once packed in the cob. After curing, the cobs would sometimes also be smoke-cured before storage and to ensure they were insect and rot resistant.
In dry areas where there were no banana trees, tribes sometimes use the leaves that cover the maize cob and make smaller cobs. These are inferior but do sometimes turn the bud a reddish Colour. Other methods include tightly compressing and packing the buds in the cleaned out hollow sections of certain reeds, perhaps ones containing DMT were favoured. The reeds would be plugged and be left to ferment in a suitable place where the temperature remains stable and preferably warm.
Clay pots of a specific design were also used for curing, they were packed tightly with fresh bud and sealed for months before being smashed open to reveal a solid pot shaped cured stash. The best cobs are traditionally stored after curing in the thatch of the roof of the hut and are to be enjoyed with friends. It was always so hard, one needed a knife or a hacksaw and tough fingers to crush it so it could be smoked. The colors and stickiness would vary from the famous Gold to the super potent black, the red, the purple and the green and brown. Each one was known to have certain qualities and were used for specific reasons. One made you feel happily drunk and the other was known for its knockout action. The tarry sticky black one was famous for being so strong the joint would never be finished in one sitting, even in a group of heavy smokers. The resin would soak the joint after a few pulls and lips would be black. The gold one made you so high that it made Malawi famous!