Herbal Treats

Herbal Smoking Mixtures Workshop

We present an Herbal Smoking Mixtures Workshop about twice a year. You can purchase a downloadable recording of the last workshop here.

Herbal Smoking Mixtures Part 2

Barks for Body: Hearty Smoking Mixture Bases

by Howie Brounstein


Barks were a standard ingredient of Native American smoking mixtures, at least on the West Coast of the United States. Good smoking barks are usually astringents, and have medicinal value for external burns, cuts, etc. Smoked, however, they have no medicinal effects, and no apparent physiological effect other than the act of smoking. They have a dull thick flavor that adds Tobacco-like “body” to the smoke. They can be too “raspy” to smoke alone.

Willow and Dogwood bark are two common barks. Use the thin barked willows, or inner layer of the thicker barks for best results. If possible, cut the bark into very thin strips to approximate a fine cut Virginian Tobacco. This isn’t always possible, but it helps to make the smoking mixture easier to deal with for rolling and mixing other herbs.

You can use other astringent herbs like Kinnikinnik in a similar fashion. There are many undiscussed astringent herbs that might add body to smoking mixtures. Try Avens, Geum sp., Cinquefoil, Potentilla sp., Rose, Rosa sp., and Spirea, Spirea sp.

Willow Bark, Salix sp.:

The species of Willows are numerous and hard to identify. As a botanist, there seems to be as many different kinds of Willows as stars in the southern sky. Each of these Willows has a slightly different flavor and texture. Experiment to find the one you like the best.

Willows have medicinal effects internally. They contain salicylates that act like aspirin to relieve inflammation, lower fevers, and relieve pain. These properties do not transfer through smoking.

Dogwood Bark, Cornus sp.:

Dogwood Bark is another herb for body and texture. You can use any Cornus tree or shrub. Each will be different, but this includes Flowering Dogwood and Red Osier (Creek) Dogwood.

Pipsissewa, Chimaphila sp. and Pyrola, Pyrola sp.:

The leaves of all species of these plants are mild astringents that add body to the smoking mixture, yet are very mild. You can smoke them alone with good results, and they break up easily into usable size pieces.

Kinnikinnik, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi:

Kinnikinnik or Bearberry is the standard for the Northwestern smoking mixture. It is a fine thick smoke, but mild enough for some to smoke alone. The leaves are usually used, but it is possible to smoke the red bark. The leaves are leathery, and may require some extra attention to break into small enough pieces to roll into a cigarette.

Kinnikinnik is an Native American word for smoking mixture. It is true they smoked Kinnikinnik (the plant), but usually the “Kinnikinnik” they smoked also contained willow bark and other ingredients. Sometimes it did not even contain Bearberry. This confused some of the ethnobotanists cataloging their herb usage, so be aware of this when reading “Indian Uses for Herbs” type books.

In order of strength from mildest to strongest:

  • Pipsissewa, Pyrola: Mild, can be smoked alone.
  • Kinnikinnik: Medium, can be smoked alone.
  • Manzanita: Strong, can be too raspy to smoke alone.
  • Madrone Leaf: Very strong, too raspy, excellent to mix with other herbs.

Manzanita, Shrubby Arctostaphylos sp.:

Manzanita leaf (and bark if you wish) is a strong astringent with body and flavor that can be too harsh to smoke alone. The leaves may be difficult to break into small pieces. Mix it in small amounts with other herbs, and it will work just fine.

Manzanita has an unusual relationship with fire. Manzanita is fire slowed down and embodied into a plant. Just look at its red bark and wispy habit. Manzanita evolved with fire. If Smoky the Bear wasn’t in charge of fire suppression, most ecosystems with Manzanita would burn naturally on a regular basis. Old thick unburned Manzanita eventually becomes unhealthy. Burning doesn’t kill the plant, it invigorates its growth. The wood is fire resistant and often has unique grains and “burls.” It makes excellent pipe material.

Madrone, Arbutus menziesii:

Madrone is a fiery red barked tree. Its leaf and bark are even stronger than Manzanita. It can still be useful in mixtures, but mix just a little with the other herbs. It is very raspy and harsh when smoked alone, so use a gentle hand when adding it to a mixture.

Blackberry, Rubus sp.:

Blackberry root is a strong astringent that has use in smoking mixtures. Be sure to powder the root and mix well. The bark of the stems can also be used. The leaves are very gentle, and can be added also. Any Rubus like Raspberry, Loganberry, Thimbleberry, and Salmonberry might be useful additions.

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