Posted by: terrapraeta | September 25, 2009

Indian Tobacco, Again

We all came out to montreux
On the lake geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didnt have much time
Frank zappa and the mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water

So I decided to be impatient and not wait until winter when I could harvest the red willow.

Last weekend, I went to the smoke shop, bought a tin of tobacco (American Spirit so I could be certain of no additives), a box of filter tubes and a cigarette machine. Then I got out my dried mullien and kinnickinnick and got to work.


I’ve been real happy with the results; the taste is a bit like a clove cigarette without the oil residue and without the dire health effects. Initially, I was smoking my regular cigarettes half the time – figuring the decrease in nicotine was something that I should gradually adapt – but I have found myself preferring the blend almost from the beginning, and smoking less of them to boot. I can feel the changes in my lungs as the mullien takes effect and I am waiting to see how it feels after a couple of weeks without straight tobacco.

Now, the only problem is this. I have plenty of mullien and it is easy to acquire (or will be for a couple more weeks until a hard frost kills the last of this seasons plants), but I find I have less kinnickinnick that I first thought so I need more, pronto. When I went hiking the other day, this was one of my goals – to collect more mullien (which I did) and to find some kinnickinnick in walking distance. On that I failed. Previously, I have only seen it growing at higher altitudes (above 9000 feet) and that would be across my backyard and beyond just to get to mountains that had that potential.

When I got home, I looked it up, hoping for some guidance on where to look and what to expect. Turns out, kinnickinnick could be growing in any of the places I looked, however, it prefers ponderosa pine forests. My backyard is predominantly pinon pine with a wide variety of spruce, sagebrush, rabbit brush and brambles. Oops.

So I have a couple backups in place, now – our old tipi-lord lives up in the hills on the other side of the valley, and I suspect that there is kinnickinnick (and ponderosa) in the public land behind him. He may very well be able to walk straight to a patch of it if he’s asked. My neighbor also wants to take me and the puppy up to a campground/hiking spot above one of the nearby passes… if we get an opportunity to go up there, I’m probably looking at a fifty-fifty chance that I will find all I need. Baring those two possibilities, well, I gotta get my car fixed soon and once I am mobile again, I know a number of places with easy access where it grows. And unlike the mullien, I will still be able to harvest it after the hard frost. The leaves are extremely hardy, so they will not whither and disappear with the cold weather.

So now a little practical info: following are three pics of mullien, a first year plant, a second year plant and a third year relic. Finding the dried remains will help locate areas where mullien grows, if you are looking in the off season. The second year plant – this is what you want to harvest, being sure not to take too many leaves off of each plant early of mid-season (this week, I virtually stripped the plants I found as they are days away from dying in any case and there were not many plants still alive to harvest). If you find first year plants: leave them alone! Mullien is a biennial plant. This means that the first year after a seed germinates, all you get is a tiny little plant that then dies back in the fall. The following year, the plant reanimates, growing tall, flowering and eventually going to seed. So if you mess with first year plants, you may prevent them from surviving in to their second, procreative season. Don’t do it.



This is the one you want...

This is the one you want...

You're on the right track...

You're on the right track...

And here, by the way, is what my mountain man friend told me was “red willow” used in Indian Tobacco. I’m still looking for a technical identification, it may be a sandbar willow, but I need to look into it more. However, I realized that the point is that this is the plant they used in this locality. There may be a number of different species used throughout the region, perhaps including the red-ossier dogwood, just as there are a number of plants called “kinnickinnick” (most commonly refering to bear berry, uva ursi, which is the plant I am after) throughout the western states, all used by different tribes in their tobacco blend.


In truth, there is no one right way to blend tobacco 🙂



  1. Really good, from my first hand experience. I’d like the recipe…


  2. Easy, Jim: 1 part tobacco. 1 part mullien. 1 part knickinnick. That’s what you tried. This winter, I will add 1 part red-ossier dogwood inner bark. Assuming I can find enough, or else I’ll use sandbar willow bark. We’ll see. 🙂

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