Nicotiana tabacum
Nicotiana tabacum. Photo credit: Peter Jarrett.

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) is a plant that greatly fascinates me. I love plants that tend to get the better of people and change their behaviors. These moments of potentially self-destructive fascination and addiction are for me a reminder of the complex relationship we have with plants. To me it is an unconscious pull from nature to reconnect.

 

Intelligence

One of the things I love most about tobacco is what an intelligent plant it is. Species of wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) normally flower at night and are pollinated by moths. These moths, however, lay their eggs on the plant, which produce voracious caterpillars that eat and damage the plant. In response the tobacco plants change their flowering time from night to day, moreover they reduce the amount of nectar in the flowers, reduce the opening width of the flowers and secrete fewer chemicals that attract moths. This changes their pollinators from moths to hummingbirds, which do not damage the plant (reference).

I personally have grown tobacco indoors for several years, particularly because I am pulled to understand and appreciate on a deeper level, controversial ideas of truth. I wanted to meet the demonized tobacco plant first-hand. What I noted was that it was a very soft and friendly plant. It felt very receptive to my presence in ways I cannot explain in words. What was most remarkable for me was that my plant never died, even though horticultural resources claim it is an annual plant (a plant that dies every year after flowering). My plant never died and flowered continuously over and over again producing thousands and thousands of self-pollinated seeds. I like to imagine it is because of the closeness and love we felt for each other, not just mechanical chemical reactions, although no doubt both the tobacco and myself can be equally reduced to mere chemical reactions. And so it is in no way meant to be romantic or poetic when I say, that plant was a dear friend of mine.
(I moved away so had to gift my plant to a friend, for all I know it is still alive and well).

 

Sacredness

Tobacco has been a sacred plant for indigenous peoples across the Americas for a very long time. Tobacco creates a bridge between people and spirit. I have read beautiful creation stories about the origins of tobacco. I have experienced tobacco used in ceremony as a gift to creator.

I personally take in tobacco from time to time, as a way to deepen my experience of a personal ritual, and to help open myself. When we are not addicted to tobacco we can most benefit from the powerful opening effects.

Sometimes I also share tobacco with someone I care about or want to become closer with. I find that after smoking we are more open to each other’s spirit. I try to always use tobacco with mindfulness and respect regarding the power it can hold over us.

Experiencing the profound spiritual effects of tobacco need not require smoking or ingesting the plant. The plant can be made into an ointment and rubbed on the skin. The leaves can be held or worn in a pouch around the neck. Growing the plant and experiencing the living vitality of this plant is no doubt the best way to really understand and connect with this powerful plant.

 

Addiction

In no way do I mean to minimise the profound struggle some people experience through their relationship with tobacco. Nor do I wish to minimise the profound health risks associated with this addiction. Addiction is complex. Physical addiction is only a small part of behavioural and emotional addiction. Smoking does so many things for so many people. For some it provides an opportunity to take a break and step outside, get some fresh air. It is a comforting and sensual physical action. It creates a projected self-image – like being a rebel. It creates a smoker’s community.

Addictions put people in a place of attachment where a piece of their wellbeing depends on some non-essential external thing. This is never a great place to be and it denotes an area of insecurity and lack in one’s life. All powerful allies can become enemies when we do not have the strength within to see things as they really are.

It is worth noting as well that there are other powerful plant allies that can help support one choosing to end a tobacco addiction. This can happen on many levels, but it is worth mentioning Lobelia inflata. Lobelia contains potent alkaloids that bind to the nicotine acetylcholine receptors. The result of this is that when you take Lobelia and smoke a cigarette afterwards you will feel nauseated. Moreover, Lobelia helps to support the lungs through expectoration (promotes the excretion of mucous) and by reducing bronchial spasm.

 

Curing tobacco

Using tobacco is not for everyone, but knowledge is power. Curing tobacco can be a simple exercise. It is as simple as harvesting green leaves, hanging them to dry in a cool, dark place and waiting. Months and years might pass, and the fragrance of the leaves will deepen and become more profound with age. Most importantly self-reliance liberates us from dependence on companies that abuse our relationship with tobacco by adding harsh chemicals to the smoking mixture.

 

Companion planting

Finally, it is worth noting the use of tobacco in permaculture design, and thoughtful gardening. Nicotine is toxic to many insects and is actually used as an insecticide on its own. Planting tobacco near more sensitive food or ornamental plants provides protection from herbivorous insects. Letting tobacco work for you in your garden is another opportunity to observe and learn from one of the most well-known plants in the world.

 

Buy tobacco seeds

If you are interested, I am selling tobacco seeds that I hand harvested from an organic permaculature garden.

 

$4.99 CAD + $2.99 shipping



 

On Tobacco
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3 thoughts on “On Tobacco

  • February 27, 2017 at 7:11 pm
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    I foud this article to extreamly beneficial to my health
    Than you for the personal and i formative
    Carmina Trsic

    Reply
  • March 4, 2017 at 10:15 am
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    I’ve been cultivating a fledgling relationship with tobacco this past year as well, having been gifted seeds from a permaculture course in North Carolina. The variety was Nicotiana rustico which is apparently not the commercially cultivated variety, but the one used more traditionally by First Nations. I was told that proper protocol is not to smoke the tobacco the first year, but use it only for offering purposes. I was a little intimidated by the curing process (I thought it was slightly more complex than you described), so I was happy to simply dry the leaves this past fall and use them for offerings. I think I may have managed to harvest mature seeds before the plant frosted and hope to cultivate it once again this year. Anyway, thanks so much for bringing more depth to this most interesting plant, Latifa!

    Reply
    • March 8, 2017 at 9:07 am
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      Thank you Jackie for sharing your experience with tobacco. I’d be curious to experience the Nicotiana rustico species, as I’ve only worked with the cultivated species. And yes, the curing process itself is quite simple, although there are other variations. I personally just hang the leaves from a string wherever there is space in the house to be left for months on end. Re-moistening, I read with honey and alcohol, is another option if you are intending to smoke the tobacco. Although personally I have not attempted this process.

      Reply

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