Sunday, March 7, 2010

Smoking what?

President Obama, 95% a quitter? Sorry, you're still smoking. I heard on the news he's using the gum, doesn't smoke in front of his kids. Even the most powerful man on the planet is still beholding to the tobacco companies. I feel his pain; I identify. I used to smoke cigarettes while in college.

For me, even more powerful than the addiction and withdrawal symptoms of nicotine, were the habitual behaviors I didn't even realize I nervously practiced - twiddling with ashtrays and thin twirly-white meditational objects of focus, and hand-to-mouth touches that occupied moments of down-time. Seeping into my consciousness upon quitting were behaviors I'd picked up while being a smoker would have to be changed in order to feel calm and at peace with solitude and relaxation. Substituting one plant for another helped my transition during withdrawal and behavioral changes. I could still satisfy that oral fixation thing without stuffing my face with food, gum, or chew toys.

My second husband Dave was a 3 pack a day smoker and sincerely wanted to quit. We recognized a "Quit Smoking Mixture" would be a great addition to the Legacy Herbs product list. I consulted several of my herbals, including ones on native American uses of plants. The Herbalist by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, Glenwood, IL, 1981 had extensive ideas on over 30 herbs that could be smoked, or had been smoked in the past, both in the English tradition and in our own. So we began experimenting with mixes of plants we could get easily for mildness, flavor, heat, and feel. Red sumac leaves were too harsh and hot. I learned that the color red symbolizes the spirit and its power in our lives, so if native Americans added red sumac to their smoking herbs, perhaps it was just a pinch.

We tried some of the old English combinations that included rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano. Too sweet and aromatic - not enough like tobacco for our tastes. Two local Ozark plants considered were dittany and rabbit tobacco. Dittany has an aroma akin to a oregano and thyme combination and a beautiful fall blooming plant. This would make a better soup flavoring than a smoke.

Rabbit tobacco, the plant on the right, blooms in the fall as well. It's sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), and could be chewed for hoarseness, giving one "the urge to sing," according to one herbal. It has a slight flavor of maple, but smoked, it also was too hot and harsh. The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Steven Foster and James A. Duke lists some properties for this plant that go beyond a sore throat.

My old friend mullein, pictured in the last blog, became the mainstay of our new smoking mixture. Once called "Indian tobacco" it has been smoked for asthma, both here and in the old countries. It's large leaves are easy to dry, and even resemble the leaves of tobacco. It's plentiful and easy to grow.

Coltsfoot has been used as the symbol for an apothecary (drug store to us) in England and France, also known as "coughwort" (wort means weed), and is mentioned over and over again as a respiratory remedy and main ingredient in smokes. The leaf is shaped like the hoof of a colt, thus the common name for Tussilago farfara. As a ground cover, it's beautiful and spreads in a shady, moist spot. Under actual growing conditions, the flowers may come up first, followed by the leaves.

Finally, upon the advice of The Herbalist, I added bearberry leaves (Uva ursi) because it was "used by the Potawatomi Indians to mix with their tobacco (evidently for a milder smoke.)"

Dave, my ex, discovered over the course of the first couple weeks, he smoked a lot, but began tapering off that first month after quitting cold turkey. He kept a bag handy in the next 6 months and would puff on his pipe whenever he felt like it. The beauty of these herbs in smoke form -- no addictions or cravings. He did it himself, using his own motivation, his own tools. Those who smoke inhale deeply, and he found inhaling less deeply with this mixture of coltsfoot, mullein, and bearberry, resulted in a satisfying, not too harsh, herbal tasting pause that pulled him through the worst of it. Ultimately, becoming a non-smoker, he was 100% proud of his accomplishment. I'd love for the President to be able to try this unconventional method and "kick the habit."

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