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

 

When Jim Murdock first opened Lhasa Karnak on Earth Day 1970, it was just a little nook located inside a bookstore in the heart of Berkeley’s hippie haven on Telegraph Avenue. The tiny shop was a good fit within the quiet of Shambhala Books, where the uplifting aromas certainly inspired readers pursuing the world of contemplative arts. However, it wasn’t long before Murdock sought larger quarters and moved across the street.

Lhasa Karnak is no longer a store within a store. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Now, there are five or six businesses shoehorned in here,” says Murdock as he stands among the medicinal and culinary herbs and spices, essential oils, tinctures, extracts, cosmetic products, teas and tea accessories, and shelves full of books at his family’s newest Lhasa Karnak shop, which is located on Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue. Two miles away on Shattuck Avenue, a second store carries similar goods, and both shops make pleasing stops while perusing these two neighborhoods, both filled with unique and independent businesses.

Jim’s son Aaron, who grew up working among the herbs and spices, says that both locations have so much tucked away that you can’t even see it all. Pull out a jar of bulk herbs and you’re likely to find a different herb hidden behind it. It’s a store where the proprietors’ expertise is needed.

“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 Aaron, adding, “You know, the pharmaceutical industry is less than 200 years old.”

Having been in this business for 40 years, the Murdocks have built up a strong list of suppliers who can guarantee that the products are not tainted with agricultural chemicals. Many products are certified organic, and ethical collecting is required for those who glean herbs from the wild. Herbalists from far and wide make up the bulk of customers, and many place their orders online, so the atmosphere is often one of quiet industry as clerks weigh out bulk items and package them for shipping. 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. Cooks who know the value of freshness in their culinary herbs and spices often stop in to replenish.

The name Lhasa Karnak evokes 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. While the shop specializes in Western medicinal herbs and culinary spices, they have a good collection of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs as well.

Lhasa Karnak
2506 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley
1942 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

 

Easiest Ever Chicken Curry (Photo by Judy Doherty)

 

Easiest Ever Chicken Curry

Aaron Murdock of Lhasa Karnak adapted this recipe from his mother-in-law, Bonnie Mukherji.
Use the shop’s standard or hot curry powder, depending on your preferences.

Serves 4

  • 8 pieces chicken (You want thighs, right?)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder

Preheat oven to 375°.

Melt butter in a ceramic or glass 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, roasted sweet potatoes, and cauliflower or green beans.