Berkeley’s First Little Herb & Spice Shop

Aaron Murdock, Lacey Carey, and Jim Murdock behind the counter at the San Pablo Avenue shop. Illustration by Margo Rivera-Weiss


When Jim Murdock opened his first Lhasa Karnak location on Earth Day 1970, it was just a little store within Shambhala Books in the heart of Berkeley’s hippie haven on Telegraph Avenue. The concept was popular enough that he soon opened his own storefront down the street.

Standing behind the counter at his spiffy new San Pablo Avenue location, which recently replaced the old Telegraph establishment, Murdock says, “There are five or six businesses shoehorned in here.” Counters and shelves here and at their Shattuck Avenue store—which moved to nice new digs up the same street about four years ago—are lined with medicinal and culinary herbs, spices, essential oils, tinctures, extracts, cosmetic products, teas and tea accessories, and plenty of books. There’s so much tucked away that you can pull out a jar of bulk herbs and find a different herb hidden behind it.

According to the Murdocks’ website, they chose the name Lhasa Karnak to evoke two cities important to the history of herbal medicine: Karnak (in Egypt) is the site of the world’s first botanical garden, and Lhasa (in Tibet) is the source of much of the East’s medicinal plant knowledge.

“We can’t tell people what to try, since we’re not a pharmacy, but they come back and tell us what’s working,” says Jim’s son Aaron, who grew up working among the herbs and spices. “You know, the pharmaceutical industry is less than 200 years old.”

Aaron says that with the recent revival in craft cocktails, the shop is seeing interest among customers making alcoholic beverages at home. There’s also an uptick in people making their own cosmetics using the kinds of pure, basic ingredients they can buy here.

Easiest Chicken Curry Recipe Ever

This is Aaron Murdock’s adaptation of a recipe by his mother-in-law, Bonnie Mukherji.

  • 8 pieces chicken (You do want thighs, right?)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Lhasa Karnak’s standard or hot curry powder

Preheat oven to 375°.

Wash chicken and pat dry. Remove the skin only if you must.

Melt butter in a Pyrex baking pan in the preheating oven. Remove pan from oven and stir in honey, mustard, salt, and curry powder. Add chicken pieces and roll in the curry mixture to coat well. Arrange, meaty side up, in one layer. Bake for approximately 1 hour.

Serve with basmati rice. Also good with roasted sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and green beans.