My career as an international drug carrier got its start with a bad case of the flu. I had just arrived in Pakistan, and not knowing any doctors, turned to my driver for help. He produced a small foil packet of dubious-looking brown granules and instructed me to dissolve them in hot water, and drink the brew three times a day. The effect was instant: my scratchy throat was soothed, my cough subsided and my sniffles slowed. And it tasted good: a sweet licorice concoction redolent of mint, fennel and eucalyptus.
I had just been introduced to the national common denominator. Every Pakistani I've ever met, from drivers to generals to diplomats, depends on johar joshanda, as the herbal remedy is known, to combat colds and flu. Conversations with homesick Pakistanis abroad invariably turn to it. Call it chicken soup for the Pakistani soul.
Translated, johar joshanda means "essence of boiled stuff." It comes from an ancient medicinal recipe of the Unani tradition akin to a Muslim Ayurveda. Historically, the chief ingredients licorice, Malabar nut, hyssop, tea, peppermint, fennel and eucalyptus had to be boiled for hours, but manufacturers Qarshi Industries have modernized the method, reducing the brew to a concentrate, freeze-drying it like instant coffee, then packaging it in single-serve portions selling for eight cents a pop.
These packets are now permanent components of my traveling first-aid kit. Not only does johar joshanda help when you're struck down with a virus, but it's great for combating the effects of long-haul air travel or pollution. Offering it to other afflicted travelers inevitably depletes the entire stock in a trice, and leads to endless demands for more. Bulk orders, for the record, can be placed by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, but these days my stash is jealously guarded.