Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ben teaches us something.


(Synonym Nicotiana quadrivalvis)A large distinct annual with white tubular flowers and a distinctly old cigar-grass clippings smell. Can be smoked if you don't care about lungs, dates or life. We've included it because it is so common from L.A. to Oregon at elevations up to 4000 ft.

Ben said:
"Ernie... The local Indians and actually all Indians in this part of the country did have pipes and tobacco. Tobacco was the only plant actually cultivated by local Indians. They used Nicotiana bigeloveii which is quite strong and rather rank. The seeds were sown on a pile of oak ashes in the spring and the plants were fenced from deer (amazing that deer would eat this stuff, but they do) with a ring of brush.
The pipes were straight and some quite beautiful with abalone inlay. The tapered stem is usually ash or elder as they have a pith that is easily bored out. The bowl is carved from soapstone and fastened to the pipe with the salmon skin glue used for bows. The pipe and tobacco were carried in a deerskin bag and Indians would often stop on the trail for a smoke. Smoke was blown to the directions and to the earth and sky and a short prayer might be said. Tobacco was a very big deal for the Indians and the Yurok culture hero Pulekukwerek was said to live only on tobacco to illustrate his purity. Harrington's "Tobacco use among the Karuk" is the classic reference and I'm sure it's on anthrohub.com"

Ben, there is never a time that I would not bow to your sage wisdom and knowledge, but in my whole life I've never seen a plant like that in the wild. I know that you said that they had to be cultivated.

My cousin Penny tells a story about an Indian Lady that was shown a "tobacco tree" when she was a kid, and she always wanted to go back, but never did. I was always curious what the Cahto Indians called tobacco. I don't doubt that the Yuroks had tobacco. Do you know if the Cahto had it? I always thought that the White man brought tobacco from the east, and taught the local Indians about it. Maybe we can all learn something here. I know that I'm often wrong in the stories that I've heard.

I find some vague reference to the plant on Red Mountain, but have been unable to find anything definitive.


Anonymous said...

Ben, I have seen this plant but I never tried to smoke it. People will smoke just about anything it seems. Weeds seem to rate high on the list of smokin' stuff and was wondering if that plant is a weed.
Of interest to me is I checked my mail today, a rural route, and I saw a bunch of sunflowers growing in the ditch. First time I've ever saw the likes of that but I didn't try to smoke any of them.


Ernie Branscomb said...

Holy choke Batman!
This stuff is everywhere. Even the Inuits had it!
The north coast crap (nicotaina bigalovii)was deadly stuf.

The Indian revenge on the white man.. Tabacco.

I still can't find much on local tabacco use.

Anonymous said...

You know, come to think of it, I do remember that tobacco was important to the Yurok tribe. I helped produce a documentary that showed the good and the bad of the use of tobacco to be shown to grade school Indian kids.

Ekovox said...

That was from Ross Rowley....ooops

Anonymous said...

“Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County California by V.K. Chestnut, 1902..
(note: Mr. Chestnut was studying the Round Valley area which had Indians from many parts of the states inhabiting the area) pg. 386:
“SaKa’ (Yokia).---A very viscid and ill-smelling species of tobacco (fig. 77) which is native to California and grows quite commonly along the dry beds of streams near Ukiah. The leaves, the larger of which are from 4-6 inches long, are considerably prized for smoking and to some extent for chewing by all the Indians of the county. The Round Valley Indians gather them in large quantity during the summer when they are engaged in hop picking near Ukiah and in the Sacramento Valley. The leaves are light green, and brittle when dry. The pipe used in smoking this tobacco is that described under Fraxinus oregano.1”. ( Oregon ash)

In the Landscapes of Stewardship chapter of Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild book, there is a section on cultivating tobacco patches on page 173: “California’s native tobaccos both Nicotiana attenuate and Nicotiana quadrivalvis were widely used by tribes in ritual, as offerings, and medicinally to heal cuts and as an emetic.(54) Burning, pruning, and sowing of areas of native tobacco were common practices throughout California, and there is evidence that in some areas the care of tobacco patches approached a level resembling that of agriculture. …………….
Enhancing tobacco growth was one of the most consistently recorded reasons for indigenous burning in California……The Yurok cultivated tobacco in the following manner: “[After] selecting a proper place, pile brush over the ground and then burn it, which would leave the ground with a loose layer of wood ashes. Over this, while the ashes were yet dry and loose, they would sow the seed and protect the crop by putting around it a brush fence. From year to year they would select from the best stalks, see for the next year, and at times to hold the seed for a number of years if necessary, for if kept properly it will grow after being kept for a long time.”(60) ( Lucy Thompson- To the American Indian: Reminiscences of a Yurok Woman[1916]1991:249)

Anonymous said...

On page 207 of Heizer and Elsasser’s The Natural World of the California Indians:
“……..The Yurok smoked, in tubular wooden pipes with stone bowls, the leaves of the local wild species of tobacco (Nicotiana bigelovii). They never used the wild-growing tobacco, but used only plants which they had sowed and tended. When asked why, they answered that the wild tobacco might be ‘poisonous’ because it might have grown in a grave. Tobacco is a ruderal plant, one that volunteers readily in disturbed soil—and the soil of a grave is precisely that. Two things are involved here: the native belief in the danger of ingesting contaminated material, and the observation the Yurok made that tobacco often did volunteer in graveyard areas….”
The authors describe the tubular shape of many California pipes being indicative of a reclining practice, that its secular use was primarily for the soporific effect, and often smoked before bedtime.

Ben said...

So... Chesnut is a great book and certainly applies to the Laytonville area as well as Ukiah and Round Valley. You can find it at the Mendocino Museum book store and it's cheap.
One of the things I've heard about Indian tobacco is that certain men learned to breed substantially strong strains and it is said they could knock a smoker out. This effect was considered excellent. he has strong tobacco was a compliment. Don't know where I read that so it might be bullshistory.
Of course, the amusing thing is the similarity to a certain culture which has sprung up here and now.
I have smoked Indian tobacco more than a few times and once you get used to the odor of old gym socks, It's not bad, but it sure won't get you high.

spyrock said...

i consider myself an elder. not an old timer. but i'm passed the age where i would want to take a kayak trip down the colorado or eel river. go on a vision quest. or do a sweat lodge. and even smoke tabacco in a sacred pipe on my own.
i've surfed all the big waves i needed. i've had all the visions i needed. i've sweated more than i want to doing a lifetime of physical labor. and except for sharing a sacred pipe ceremony with friends, i wouldn't smoke at all.
i can't sit crosslegged in a teepee, i need a lawn chair that is easy to get out of. if i'm going to do heat, it would be a sauna, the kind you can leave any time you want. i much prefer a hot springs spa with a jet on my back or shoulders.
about the only thing i can do these days is sit in circle and pass the talking stick. sort of like what we do here.
this red indian thread is just one of the many hued threads that make up the rainbow that i mirror.
i appreciate the northern california indian culture and enjoy learning about them. but it is just one of many threads that interest me.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Spy, somewhere there is a saying about "a time or a season for everything". You have had many seasons, and you have gained great wisdom. I just want you to know that you have taught me much. With your knowledge and wisdom, you have encouraged me to open many doors that I would not have opened had it not been for your enthusiasm. This is your season, enjoy it.

You have earned the right to live your life any way that you want to, as long as you don't hurt anyone else, and I can't imagine you doing that.

I just wanted to say that, because sometimes I fail to remember people have feelings. I don't want you to think that I was trampling on your Sacred Pipe experience. Merely deep in thought, and curious about it.

Mr. Nice said...

I'm a bit of a plant person myself...

Anyhow, the Karuk supposedly cultivated only one plant: Nicotiana bigelovii var. exaltata.

The various uses for this are listed and referenced in Native American Ethnobotany (I linked directly to the page). Browsing through this book, you can find the most important plants for the natives.

Being a bit of an eccentric plant person, I've smoked shade-cured leaves from several types of tobacco including this one. The effect ranges from slightly relaxing (like the kind discussed here) to strong feelings of soaring and delusions of power. One ritual that I presume is what knocks the uninitiated out cold is to smoke a pipe in all six directions, taking six inhalations. For this type of NorCal tobacco, six hits would probably be no big deal. You might fall asleep later but you wouldn't pass out from it. For more potent varieties... good luck with that.

I've also read that the natives here smoked scotch broom after the Europeans spread it. The curing method was to dry it in a buried container to mellow out the toxic effect. I've tried this curing method and I still got queasy from the smoke.

Yes, I've pretty much smoked everything listed in various ethnobotany books. I prefer to term my experiments as pyrolytic assay.

Although it may be true that the natives were afraid of graveyards contaminating tobacco, this is a practical belief. Tobacco is quite sticky and wild tobacco can pick up all types of pollens/dusts which normally would not be found in such high concentrations. In a graveyard, who knows what types of debris would stick to the plant.

Ben said...

Mr Nice...The Pomo often smoked Angelic or Lomatium. Have you tried it? I have all the Scotch Broom you need. Come and get it.

Anonymous said...

Nicotiana quadrivalvis
var. bigelovii
to be clearer.

spyrock said...

thanks ernie. my dad was a mason and my daughter was a rainbow girl and both of them were into direction. but i think it skipped a generation in regards to me. i usually just like the sunsets in the west.
my grandfather nye smoked prince albert and when i visited brighton, england where he grew up i went into a pub off the main street and smelled prince albert. that was a sacred pipe moment for me.
the really weird thing about the guy in the pipe cememony is that he grew up in the same town i did, ten years my junior, his first job was the same place my first job was and the same bosses were still there on a peach ranch owned by del monte. he knew some friends of mine in highschool who i knew as surfer boys but he knew them as leaders of a group of born again christians. so it was sort of like dejavu all over again. one of the people at his wedding was this long haired dude from humbolt and i think the pipe guy lived in humbolt too. so i will have a whole list of questions for this guy the next time i see them, about the pipe and his experience in the et.

Mr. Nice said...

I thought Nicotiana bigelovii was an unambiguous synonym for Nicotiana quadrivalvis Pursh var. bigelovii...

I cut and paste Nicotiana bigelovii var. exaltata from the Native American Ethnobotany book in any case. My bad.

Anonymous said...

You are too nice to be bad, I was taking that "correction" from Native American Medicinal Plants by Daniel Moerman.
I believe that ethnobotanical terms change and the the quadrivalvus is an older term on its way out and that your unambiguous use of bigelovii is just fine and correct. In the back of K. Anderson, Tending the Wild, if you look up n.quadrivalvus she directs you to n. bigelovii. Pardon my tone of correction...as
your more modern usage is right as well.
I admire your experimental endeavors and thank you for sharing your experiences Mr. Nice.

Anonymous said...

Have you smoked Jimson weed aka datura?

Ernie Branscomb said...

We have Jimson weed all over hell here. But, if it can kill a cow, I think that I should come with a warning. I've done a lot of reading about Jimson, and I thought that I would share some of what I found out.

Jimson is highly (pun) hallucinogenic. When used, you don’t feel high. You don’t realize that you are wacked-out, you are actually hallucinating that you are perfectly normal. So, you use more thinking that it is not working. Some people have actually gone into seizures and died from it while not realizing that they were wacked.

Please, don’t take my word for it, I’ve never tried it. If you feel like you might want to try it even after being warned about the stuff, Please do! The world already has enough stupid people.

a video about jimson

I’ve always heard that oleander was deadly poison, and deer wouldn’t eat it. This summer I saw a yearling dear nibbling on my neighbors Oleander. I laughed about it at the time, thinking that it was just another one of those myths and old wives tales. About a week later I smelled something rotton. I walked across the street and found the young deer dead. I guess his momma didn’t teach him not to eat it.

Anonymous said...

When I was in my early 20's in the med sixties I collected patent medicines from the 20's, 30's etc. One was a remedy for asthma I believe. It was a tea and it was from 1920. I brewed a tea half strength from the directions. It smelled awful. I drank a couple swallows only as it was so terrible. I got in my car and drove to a neighboring town, went to a taco stand and when I tried to eat the taco it was impossible. I had no saliva....none. You can't eat without it. I spit it out got in my car and rushed home. Before I got there I was hallucinating. I remember thinking I couldn't put the brakes on because my foot went thru the floor. I have always had wonderful hard working angels and I got home somehow. I was out of work 3 days. I had taken LSD many times and for the most part enjoyed hallucinating. I was young, it was the sixties. The belladonna hallucinations are like Ernie says...really different. In a normal (?) hallucination the poster on my wall would jiggle around, glow or something one dimensional. With datura the people in the poster came into the room and we talked. I wasn't scared but I was tired when I landed. The first check I wrote at the grocery store I filled out in letters about 1/4" high.

Later reading about it they say a person only uses this drug once. Once is enough. I do agree.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the sixties...who can forget Malcolm X's Autobiography telling us he used nutmeg for a high whle in jail?

As I recall, by '73 the seed companies were on to us hippies and were de-naturing the morning glory seeds. I know my pack of 500 seeds was a huge disapointment.

suzy blah blah said...

Many Native American cultures used Datura during ceremonies to induce visions. It was and continues to be a popular herbal medicine among Native Americans who know how to use it safely.

Ben said...

Stramonium for asthma was a common drugstore remedy many years ago. Jimson weed. My friends who tried it al found it quite terrifying. Same for belladonna some of which is growing in my garden right now. It is a pretty lant.

spyrock said...

uncle delbert never used to talk about drugs much but he did point out loco weed everytime he saw it. he knew what it would do to a cow. when i was reading carlos castenada about datura, i didn't know that it was the same thing. but like susie says, the indian medicine man would know the proper dose. i still see it along the road all the time. so much for the war on drugs.

Anonymous said...

Like I said no white guy takes this drug more than once. Nobody wants to.

Anonymous said...

INDIAN TOBACCO (Awlch haw coom)
Indian tobacco grows wild ont he Klamath River bars, but the use of the wild type is now forbidden by Indian law. The leaf is aproximately four to five inches long and grows on a bush up to four feet in height.
The Indians would select a flat place--a bench on the hillside--where there was fairly good soil, clear it, and in the spring of the year cover this plot of ground to a depth of about one foot with spruce, fir and hemlock boughs. In the fall, before the rains came, the area was burned, leaving a heavy ash covering. "Awlch haw coom" seed was broadcast into the ashes. In the spring the smaller plants were pulled up and destroyed, leaving the larger, healthier plants to mature.
In the fall of the year, the leaves were gathered in large baskets and taken to a sweat house where they were put through a "sweat". A committe of five men had charge of the tobacco and would visit it occasionally to see if it was comletely cured. They would fill a pipe (holding about one-half teaspoon), and if three of the give were satisfied that it was cured, the other two would have to accept the verdict. The tobacco was then divided.
The Indians say there are two knds of this tobacco; "One he's easy" meaning that it is mild. "Oder one he's strong fer make you sleep" JF reported that he had never seen a man or woman smoke more than two pipefuls in a day. The smoke is pleasantly fragrant, but two pipefuls smoked in quick succession could cause a man to "sleep"."
pg 87-88 Indian Lore of the North California Coasst by Austen Warburten and Joseph F. Endert, 1966 available at the Clarke Museum.