Solanaceae (Nightshade Family) - Coyote Tobacco

Publication Year: 
1990

Wild Tobacco is apparently not known by contemporary Thompson people. AY referred to mullein as "wild tobacco," and LP-RB had heard of a plant called s/mén'x, a "type of weed" about 0.7m (2 ft) high, but he had never heard of anyone smoking it, and did not know if any use for it. Teit (1900:300) describes the use of wild tobacco as follows:
The Thompson Indians, at least the upper division, have smoked from time immemorial. Their substitute for tobacco was a plant, a genuine wild tobacco(Nicotiana attenuata Torr.) which grew in the warmest valleys. The leaves were gathered, dried and greased, and when used were broken up and mixed with bearberry-leaves [Arctostaphylos uva-ursi], which had first been dried or roasted over a fire. This wild tobacco is now almost altogether replaced by the tobacco of the whites, of which most members of the tribe are very fond, though hardly any of them will smoke it alone, preferring to mix it with bearberry-leaves. Among the upper division of the tribe the women smoke equally as much as the men. Two or three generations ago, however, women seldom or never smoked. Smoking was looked upon as the privilege solely of the men, Only such women smoked as laid claim to being strong in "medicine."

Teit (1900:300-3010) describes and illustrates some of the common types of pipes used for smoking tobacco and tobacco mixtures. Traditional pipes were almost all made of stone, usually with high, narrow bowls and long stems. Soapstone and a soft slate were commonly used, and sometimes sandstone, white clay, sagebrush root, or buck's antler were used. Maple-wood was preferred for making the rather thick stems.
Teit (1900:349) also describes a ceremony partaken at the time the first tobacco of the season was gathered and smoked for the first time. The inhabitants of each lodge went through it:

...An elderly man assembled the people, frequently outside of the lodge, generally a while after sunset, and let all the adult males, and also such females as were in the habit of smoking, sit down in a circle. He sat or stood in the middle of the circle himself. Sometimes he addressed the people at some length, but as a rule simply cut up some of the tobacco, and after mixing it with roasted bearberry-leaves, he filled a large pipe, lighted it, and handed it to each of the individuals, following the sun's course. The people each took one whiff, and holding up their hands, the palms close together, the tips of the middle fingers level with the mouth, blew the smoke downward between their fingers, and over their breast; and as the smoke descended, they crossed their hands on their breast, and rubbing their chest and shoulders with both hands, as if rubbing the smoke in, they prayed, "Lengthen my breath, chief (tobacco), so that I may never be sick, and so I may not die for a long time to come." After every one had had a whiff, some of the tobacco was cut up in small portions, and a piece given to each individual.

Steedman(1930:495) notes of N. attenuata, "The leaves of this plant are the most important source of tobacco, They are dried and toasted before being smoked They are often greased to keep the leaves from getting too dry. Leaves of the bearberry... were usually dried, toasted, and mixed with them." Smith (1900:429) states, howeverm "Chief SalicitE at Nicola Lake said that the narrow-leaved tobacco (N. attenuata Torr.) of the region was used pure until the manufactured tobacco was introduced. Not until then were the leaves of bearberry...mixed with tobacco." Teit (1900:203) mentions large carved stone vessels used for grinding tobacco leaves.
A decoction of wild tobacco was used as a wash to remove dandruff and prevent falling out of hair. Some people believed it would prevent the hair from turning gray until very late in life. They believed the soaps and shampoos of the Whiteman cause dry, scanty, prematurely gray hair, wheras their own scalp and hair treatments were effective (Steedman, 1930:467; see also Teit, 1900:369).

- Text from pp 287 - 288 Thompson Ethnobotany Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Turner, Nancy J. Thompson, Laurence C. Thompson, M. Terry, York, Annie Z.

- Image retrieved from: http://swbiodiversity.org

coyote, tobacco, wild
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