Native American Smoking Blends
Smoking—an act that takes on a multitude of cultural significance—was a habit in which the vast majority of Native North Americans engaged. Done for medicinal reasons, shamanic purposes, social rites of cohesion and even for sheer pleasure, Native North Americans utilized a wide variety of smokes. Every group, and indeed each individual, might have their own smoking blends or “kinnikinnick” meaning “the mix” as the Algonquians called their smoking concoction. Early European descriptions and depictions of the consumption of kinnikinnick were highly suggestive of wildly euphoric or narcotic experiences. This has led ethnobotanists to suggest that as-yet-unknown synergies might exist between known and perhaps unknown kinnikinnick constituents, as no kinnikinnick today packs quite that punch. Nevertheless, a number of known kinnikinnick additives are psychoactive on their own and worth exploring.
Premier among these additives is Indian tobacco as Lobelia inflata was known. Also called pukeweed—resist the temptation to pronounce it “puke weed” as it should be “pu-key-weed”—it can be located widely throughout North America and, not surprisingly, was a common ingredient in kinnikinnick. The North American Crow, Pawnee, Meskwaki all used pukeweed both in their smoking blends for pleasure, as well as, using it medicinally for asthma and a wide variety of respiratory illnesses. The Blackfeet went so far as to cultivate it. The plant also gained a reputation as an important additive to Native American love potions.
Lobelia inflata is clearly psychoactive having both sedative and stimulatory effects. The plant possesses more than twenty known alkaloids, the main one being alpha-lobeline, which is a respiratory stimulant and nicotine antagonist, as well as, producing a psychoactive effect. Because of its unique chemistry, pukeweed has long found a following with those quitting tobacco as the plant eases the withdrawal symptoms associated with this difficult challenge and provides a nice head.
The North American Crow, Pawnee, Meskwaki all used Lobelia inflata in their smoking blends and medicinally.
The plant is easily cultivated, surviving for three years or so and not unattractive. Interestingly the alpha-lobeline content of cultivated plants has been found to be almost twice as high as wild plants. Smoking the plant stimulates your saliva glands and is easy to inhale causing no irritation. It also has been used as a psychoactive incense. Relatives of Lobelia inflata are found in Mexico and parts of Asia where they have also been incorporated into the shamanic pharmacopeia.
The psychoactivity of Lobelia inflata was not unknown in Western European history. Throughout the 19th century in European pharmacies “Indian cigarettes” were sold. These cigarettes contained hemp leaves often mixed with Lobelia inflata soaked in cannabis and opiate extracts. A cig was then smoked for various illnesses including difficulty sleeping, various lung and respiratory ailments and psychological disturbances.
Among the other common additives to kinnikinnick known to be psychoactive are Sassafras bark (Sassafras albidum), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), the roots of Veratrum viride, Amorpha fruticosa and Bog Bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)—all plants found widely throughout North America. While the pharmacology of these plants is not well known Arctostaphylos uva-ursi contains 5-12% arbutin and 2.5% methylarbutin, both of which are psychoactive compounds. Bog Bilberry is also very well known to Scandinavians who call it “inebriating berries.” Bog Bilberries were used to make a psychoactive sacramental wine that was part of the rites of the early Icelandic Christian church. Given that the pharmacology and chemistry of all these kinnikinnick additives is just beginning to be examined, future synergisms seem certain to be discovered.
All the kinnikinnick additives are legal to possess but, as the wise shaman knows, these materials, as well as, all backyard entheogens are best enjoyed in one’s private world.
For additional entheogen resources: www.iceers.org
Muraco Kyashna-tochá is a cultural anthropologist with over 50 years of experience exploring the nether regions of her mind with entheogens. She is an award-winning educator and a recognized medical cannabis advocate with extensive experience working on medical cannabis legislation in Washington State.
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