The word sharbat comes from the Persian term, which refers to a drink of sugar and water. This in turn is derived from the Arabic word shariba, which means to drink. Similar words also find places in dictionaries in many European languages. In Italy, it's called sorbetto. In France and England, it is popular today as sorbet and sherbet, respectively.
Sharbat is a popular drink relished by people across various parts of Europe and Asia in a gamut of forms and variations. The main difference is that Europeans consume sherbet/ sorbet in a frozen form, while those in the Middle East and South Asia consume it in a more liquid form. Sharbat is a standard offering in homes in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
Sharbat is generally a sweet drink prepared from fruits or flower petals. It is consumed after mixing with water. Alternatively, some consume it in its concentrated syrup form.
Sharbat is usually prepared from ingredients known to be cooling, such as rose water, fresh rose petals, sandalwood, the bael fruit, hibiscus, lemon, orange, and from flavorful ingredients such as basil seeds, mango, pineapple, falsa, Indian sarsaparilla known as sariva, and chia seeds.
Sharbat was possibly introduced by the Persians and became popular in India during the Mughal period (1526–1761 CE). Sharbat is an important dosage form in the unani system of medicines.
Sharbat in Ayurveda
Bhavaprakasha Nighantu, an ayurvedic materia medica text dating back to the 15th-16th century CE mentions a preparation called sarkarodaka that is quite similar to the present day sharbat. It is prepared by adding specific proportions of sugar to water, after which powders of cardamom, clove, camphor, and pepper are added.
The ayurvedic physicians took the concept of sharbat and described its medicinal effect on human physiology, detailed in texts that sarkarodaka is known to decrease vata and pitta dosha, promote strength and improve the ability to taste. It is useful in the treatment of lightheadedness, vomiting, thirst, burning sensation, and fever.
Sharbat in Summer
Summer is characterized by heat, dehydration, and debilitation. Ayurveda understands the summer season as the time when vata dosha gets completely aggravated and deranged due to the dry-rough nature that occurs in us. The digestive power in our gut is also at its lowest. Think of the central oven open so that the heat is not concentrated; as our blood moves heat out through our open skin pores and sweat, we lose heat in the core of our digestive system.
To prevent disease complications from dry-rough conditions in our physiology, often due to summer season, Ayurveda advises:
- a diet prepared with substances having properties that cool the body inside, to tackle the heat
- a diet dominated by naturally sweet tastes, that create lubrication and thus pacify the vata dosha and the debility caused due to dry-rough heat inside the body
- foods that are light to digest, as the digestive fire is low
- plenty of natural liquid preparations to dominate the diet, to prevent dehydration.
Sharbat fulfills these needs and comes as a blessing to us in summers.
The Original Sharbat
Sharbat is probably the origin of both the Ayurvedic pānaka drinks found in the later classic texts, made of rock sugar and clean cool water as well as spices. Sharbat was proabably the inspiration as well of today's modern soft drinks, all the sweetened carbonated beverages that have dominated the drink scene in the past 40 years.
Carbonated drinks, however, are problematic for health because they can be addictive due to the refined sugar, and because the alkalinity of the sodium bicarbonate combined with the sulfuric acid, makes the stomach alkaline when a person consumes liters daily, preventing proper digestion and stomach functions. Consumption of excess artificial sugar also creates obesity and provokes the sugar balance in the body.
Returning to tradition-based natural sugar-derived drinks will not be easy, as modern cultured people will not easily break habits for healthier options. Repopularizing sharbat in your local work or neighborhood is a step toward health, truly cooling and refreshing.
Sharbat can be made from any of a family of cooling grasses such as khus or vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides), or from nannari roots or fruits (Hemidesmus indicus) known as Indian sarsaparilla and as sāriva or anantamul. Khus should not be confused with the dry fruit khas-khas, which are poppy seeds from the opium plant.
Known as Sariva in Sanskrt, the soft, tender, twining shrub is a staple in south Indian homes. Sariva (Hemidesmus indicus) is known for its refreshing coolant action, blood purifying effect & pitta pacifying properties. The herb Sariva (Hemidesmus indicus) was traditionally known for its curative properties in skin burns and lightening skin complexion.
Many hundreds of medicinal formulations of Ayurveda use Sariva for treatments of low sperm count (oligospermia), acid reflux and gastritis, lack of appetite (anorexia), havey menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), and worm infections.
But in the food world, sariva's properties address common imbalances provoked by summer. Sariva (nannari) sharbat is an ideal medicine to counter the effects of summer's dry-rough qualities brought by the heat, due to its ability to remoisten the tissues of the body. It also cools the body and also rekindles digestive fire, making it one of the tastiest ways to enjoy medicine. Sariva is commonly enjoyed as a summer health drink as sharbat.
Qualities of Sariva
सारिवा मधुरा तिक्ता सुस्निग्धा शुक्रला हिमा ।
गुर्वी ज्वरातिसार आमदोषत्रय विषापहा ॥
अग्निसाद अरुचि श्वासकासात्र प्रदरनुत् । ( कैय्यदेव निघण्टु ओषधिवर्ग)
Source: Kaiyyadeva Nighaṇṭu, Ouṣadhi-varga, sloka 995-996
sārivā madhurā tikta susnighā śukralā himā |
gurvī jwarātisara āmadoṣatraya viṣāpahā ||
agnisāda aruci śvāsakāsātra pradaranut |
Translation - Sariva is sweet (madhurā) and bitter (tikta) in taste; it provides unctuousness to the body (susnighā) and is a coolant (himā). It improves reproductive functions (śukralā) through these properties. It is said to be useful in cases of fever (jwara), diarrhea (atisara), poisoning or toxic residues, low digestive fire (agnisāda) and lack of appetite (aruci), breathing disorders (śvāsakāsātra), and cough.
sariva (nannari) roots, coarse powder - 100 grams
clean water - 1L
jaggery - 500g
lemon - 1
clean vessel of 2L capacity
Soak 100 grams of the coarse powder of sariva roots in 1L clean water overnight. Cover the vessel with a muslin cloth. The next morning, add 500g of jaggery to the vessel. Set it to boil until the contents achieve a syrup consistency. Allow it to cool to room temperature on its own. Store it in an air-tight container. When you are ready to serve, add 3-4 Tablespoons of this syrup to a glass of clean water. Enjoy the drink with a dash of lemon.