Posted by: terrapraeta | October 15, 2009

Kinnickinnick


comin’ down the mountain
one of many children
everybody has
their own opinion
everybody has
their own opinion
holding it back
hurts so bad
jumping out of my flesh
and i said

Jane’s Addiction, Mountain Song

As I mentioned yesterday, I went out and found me some kinnickinnick the other day. First a few words on language so that I don’t confuse anyone. Native American languages are far more verb oriented than European languages. So the native term for coyote does not refer specifically to (coyote genus/species) but rather to the way that coyotes tend to behave. As a result, anything or anyone mimicking those behaviors would be referred to as coyote. In the same way kinnickinnick refers to a plant used for smoking in tobacco – in my particular piece of the Rockies, the plant is uva ursi or bear berry – but in other areas, other particular species would be indicated. As a result, I suspect that there are wild plants all over the world which could be called kinnickinnick – figuring out what those plants are would be an exercise in botany, history and experimentation.

I had to explore a bit to find it: originally I went all the way up the mountain to the head of the old pass, parked and wandered around. I found lots of ponderosa pine, and some other ground cover plant that I have yet to identify. But no bear berry. As I wandered, I realized that the soil was very loamy. And the bare rock in the area appeared to be predominantly sandstone. My guess is that sandstone, being composed of compressed sand, breaks down into extremely small particles, thus combining easily with organic material and quickly turning to soil. In any case, uva ursi prefers sandy soil, so I headed back down the mountain and kept my eyes open.

About half way down, I started seeing a lot of bare sand and yucca plants began to appear. When I first got to this point, I was in the midst of a huge aspen grove. So that would not do. But a little further on I found an accessible roadside area with mixed ponderosa, aspen and other trees. Sandy soil and yucca growing in the open areas. Paydirt. I walked down a dirt road off the highway and discovered kinnickinnick almost carpeting the roadside margin. Normally, I would not harvest that close to the road, but this was very nearly a private driveway so I expect the environmental contaminates were minimal – and there were fences a few feet in from the road, so I was not going to cross those lines.

About fifteen minutes later and a few handfuls from each patch later, I had a bag full of bear berry leaves and vines and was ready to go home.

kinnickinnick vines

kinnickinnick vines

Now, I would’ve preferred to strip the leaves right there rather than breaking off whole stems and, in some cases, the whole plant to the root. Unfortunately, the plants were not even beginning to dry and I found that each time I grabbed hold there was a different weak spot that gave way almost immediately. So I decided not to fight it. I hope to figure out, over the next few months, when the leaves finally begin to dry out on the vines. That would be the ideal time to harvest, pulling the leaves only and leaving the rest of the plant intact. If I could do that, I could strip and entire patch of leaves without doing any harm to the plant. Right now, I suspect that this will be an early spring event, but we’ll see.

kinnickinnick leaves

kinnickinnick leaves

When I got home, I stripped the leaves off a few stems and left them in a bowl to dry. I am hoping they will be dry enough to make the tobacco blend in the next few days. (So far, they are still very moist) I spread a bunch of stems in a baking tray and stuck it in a window to dry in the sun. Also, so far nothing. The rest I left in a closed paper bag to dry the long way. This is how I prepared the last batch, but it was almost a year between when I gathered it (mid summer) and then pulled it out to use it. So I have no clear idea of how long it took. Only that it did dry without molding.

I would really like to be able to take cigarettes rolled from the blend with me on my trip next week. But we’ll see if the kinnickinnick co-operates with that plan.

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