Tobacco in the Library!

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Mystery Plants and horrors. (Oplopanax horridus, Devils Club)


“Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I’ll just let the mystery be”

“A foolish consistency is the Hobgoblin of little minds…”-Emerson

Perhaps because in a more enlightened view the “consistency” is found to be inconsistent with logic and facts.

Wrapping up the Mystery Plants series at the Library next week, Wednesday evening at 6 PM, 2/23/17, a presentation including slideshow, many specimens of healing plants and herbs, based on 50 years of personal “anecdote” and experience in sports competition and nutrition, feeding racing sled dogs and chickens.

With other specimens will be several tobacco species. Tobacco was introduced and popularized in Europe beginning 500 years ago not for smoking but as one of many “miraculous” healing plants “discovered” in the New World. Monardes wrote about them. He is honored in the name of the Monarda genus, the bee balms such as wild bergamot and Oswego tea.

Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal learned about tobacco and used crushed leaves to treat skin diseases such as ringworm and a form of skin cancer. He sent some to Catherine de Medicis, Queen of France, to be used like snuff for the Dauphin, the crown prince later to become Francois II, who was cured of migraine headaches in this way. Or was it for her own migraines? The tobacco genus is named Nicotiana.


Tobaccos are easy to grow and can be a useful nurse, companion or chaperon plant protecting others. The leaves attract and kill aphids and fungus gnats. Neo-nics, neo-nicotinoids, synthetic pesticide derivatives of tobacco leaf nicotine, are problematic because they persist in the environment for longer time continuing collateral harm to non-target species like honey bees, unlike nicotine and tobacco leaf extracts used historically for the same purposes. Several night blooming species perfume the air with a lovely smell sometimes compared to jasmine. 450 years later laboratory studies have shown the anti-cancer effects of an AMP, anti-microbial peptide, extracted from the flowers of Nicotiana alata, aka jasmine tobacco.


Woodland tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, is an ancestral species of Nicotiana from which most of the commercial and common tobaccos are descended, bred for particular reasons and purposes a thousand or thousands of years ago in South America. The flower perfume is similar to the alata species.Woodland tobacco thrives in the shade of trees or on the north side of buildings. Nicotiana rustica, Hopi tobacco, flowers are quite different in form and have little odor, if any, detectable to humans. One variety of rustica is Oneida said to be originally from the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin.

>Traditional Tobacco History

Prior to colonization, American Indians had

an intimate knowledge of the world around them.

This included animals, geography, and plants.

Some plants were used for food, others for housing

or making tools, and some were used as physical

or spiritual medicines. Tobacco is one such plant

that was used as a medicine. Tobacco came to

American Indians a very long time ago. Each

community has a story about how tobacco has

come to them. We have included some of those

stories in this document.

Prior to colonization, in the Great Lakes area,

the plants used by themselves or in combination

to make tobacco were Nicotiana rustica (traditional

tobacco), red willow tree bark, sage, sweet grass,

cedar and other botanicals. Since colonization,

and with it the commercialization of tobacco,

there has been a shift in the type of tobacco used

by Native people. Many American Indians substitute

Nicotiana tabacum (commercial tobacco) for

the original N. rustica (traditional tobacco)

(American Lung Association, 2004; Struthers &

Hodge, 2004). This shift may be partly caused by

the ease of access to commercial tobacco. Part of

this shift may also have started during the time

when it was illegal for American Indians to practice

their spirituality. The American Indian

Community Tobacco Project (AICTP) reports that,

“It is believed that the need to conduct ceremonies

in secret and begin using commercial tobacco to,

‘hide in plain sight,’ was a factor in the inculcation

of commercial tobacco into American Indian

cultures in this region” (American Indian

Community Tobacco Project, 2006). It was not

until the passage of The Indian Religious Freedom

Act of 1978 that American Indians were allowed

to use tobacco legally in ceremonies.

Click to access tabacco-booklet-web-.pdf

Plant Intelligence

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Do plant interactions with their surrounding environment reach the threshold of what could be called intelligence and learning? What’s in a name? More important, more useful “actionable information” comes with understanding specific facts used to support one side or the other in the argument related to the definition of intelligence.


>…we’re talking with scientists about how to compare plants to animals—and whether or not we can use words we associate with animals, like learning or sex, in reference to plants.

So, calling this field plant neurobiology made a certain amount of sense—but the name was also intended to make a statement. That, although plants may not have brains, they are sophisticated, and modern science should treat them that way. Some biologists even argued that plants deserved to be called. . .intelligent.

Lincoln Taiz is a retired professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and he’s been a vocal skeptic of plant neurobiologists. He’s also an expert on an older semantic dispute, one that arose in the late 17th century when botanists had just discovered that plants reproduce sexually. To call plant reproduction sex at the time though, or to make any comparison between the way plants reproduce and the way humans do, was extremely controversial.

Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, generated evidence that plants can learn.

Gagliano and some colleagues recreated Pavlov’s famous experiment in associative learning—that’s the one where a dog learns to associate a treat with a bell—but they did it using plants. If you want to get into the details of this experiment, I wrote about it for The Scientist, and we’ll put a link to that story in the episode description.

Gagliano, for her part, is fine with swimming against the current. After all, scientists live in the world of unconfirmed hypotheses—that’s their job.

“Humans are the ones we know the best—it’s ourselves, right? And we are still struggling to talk about intelligence, consciousness, memories, learning with us. Let alone when we move to animals, and let alone when we move even further away from our own kingdom.

“But we, you know, we are here to explore, so why not?”bloodroot-3-sanguinaria-canadensis–Episode-1–Smarty-Plants/


Another Language Of Plants

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Watch out vegetarians, plants might be able to hear you coming! Biologist Dr Monica Gagliano and Bio-inspired engineer Dr Rob Malkin show Sam and Si how to listen in on noise made by plant roots. It may be too early to tell if they’re making noises intentionally, but timelapse footage shows that other plants can detect the sounds and fire into action!


Note that the lower photo communication between plants to defend against aphids would not work if the plants are in adjacent pots but not connected via fungus in soil.

The Estrogen In The Room

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(It’s not about Women’s Lib)

The action of many pesticides, for example, is due to their phyto-estrogen activity, which translates to endocrine disruption in other species that are exposed, including humans.estrogen-in-men-estrogen-blockers.


Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), compounds that interfere with native hormonal receptors, has been associated with everything from obesity to cancer. EDCs are present in a variety of consumer products—bisphenol A (BPA), for example, can be found in some plastic containers.

“There are many [endocrine-disrupting] compounds found in the environment now due to pollution, fracking and other kinds of industrial processes,” said study coauthor Ariel Furst, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. These compounds “can have [a] detrimental effect on health, leading to diseases and [other] problems,” she added.

“I was amazed at how much estrogenic activity they detected,” said Wade Welshons, who studies endocrine disruptors at the University Missouri-Columbia and was not involved in the study.


Caveat: SHAKESPEARE “In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:

For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.”

In a study published earlier this month in The Lancet, Trasande and his collaborators estimated that the cost associated with Americans’ exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals—in healthcare expenses, intellectual disabilities, and lost days of work—is about $340 billion per year.

One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison

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Liver toxins, death cap mushrooms: think Milk Thistle


Milk Thistle seeds look rather like dark sunflower seeds. The taste of roasted Milk Thistle seeds also like sunflower but for medicinal purposes don’t bother roasting them. A teaspoonful to chew on is not unpleasant. For dogs the seeds should be ground.

What foods and substances are toxic or unhealthy? It depends… Or as lawyers say, what’s the context, what are the circumstances? Without those details the question cannot have a reliable answer. Jean Drapeau, the Mayor of Montreal at the time of the Olympics, said, don’t answer hypothetical questions.

The dose and the host make the poison and the cure.

Paracelsus, 500 years ago wrote what was already well-established in ancient health and medicine doctrines, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” The herbalist monk in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette says the same in more poetic detail.

SHAKESPEARE “In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.”

My grandfather Francis White suffered occasional “intermittent fevers” from malaria living in China 100 years ago. One episode he recounts that the usual doses were not working,and larger doses of quinine were likely to be toxic. So he suggested to his doctor, a friend and fellow missionary Francis Goddard, to try a North American patent medicine, Indian Cholegogue, which did work. The formula is not known but publications of herbal medicine ca. 1880 propose that it contained quinine and several other herbs that amplified the effects so less of the potentially toxic components were needed.

Food and the usual metabolites of digestion and decomposition or catabolism in the body are conditionally toxic according to what amount is consumed, what other foods consumed at the same time, what is the “terrain,” the animal’s baseline health, internal and external environment. Glucose, sugar is a good example of a conditional toxin. Diabetics must limit their consumption of sugar and glycemic foods to avoid serious health problems, what could be called sugar poisoning.

Vitamins A and D are both toxic according to circumstances but together in optimum ratios may be better utilized and nontoxic at higher levels than could be tolerated separately.

To know the means look to the extremes:

Liver toxins, death cap mushrooms, milk thistle

Death Cap mushroom ingestion is usually irreversibly deadly, turning the liver into jelly.

Based on traditional use, milk thistle has been used as an emergency antidote for poisoning by death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Animal studies have found that milk thistle extract completely counteracts the toxic effects of the mushroom when given within 10 minutes of ingestion. If given within 24 hours, it significantly reduces the risk of liver damage and death.

One medical paradigm is to identify the cause and find a specific remedy or antidote. The presumption of being able to find the root cause which may depend on myriad factors often breaks down. The longer standing tradition, partly exemplified by the Eclectic herbalist school, is based not on hubris but generations of experience with treatments and remedies for similar conditions and symptoms. Treat the symptoms…

Other liver support and detox foods: chlorella and spirulina microalgae, cilantro, cilantro seed/coriander, celery seed, garlic, burdock, ginger, turmeric, dandelion, plantain, rat root-calamus. None of these are toxic at functional and effective dosage levels the way most isolated reductionist drugs and conventional Establishment medicines can be.

From Russia With Vera

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Vera, Nadeshda and Lyuba are common womens’ names in Russia and other Slavic countries, corresponding to the virtues faith, hope, and love or charity as translated to English from Greek, found in a chapter and verse in the Corinthian epistles of Paul of the New Testament. Vera variously translated faith or truth is associated with Sophia or wisdom in name and meaning.

Virtue is the word used for the healthy qualities ascribed to plant herbs in the common European tradition.


The article quoted below, Medicinal Plants of the Russian Pharmacopoeia; their history and applications, highlights many plants and uses that are not so well known or appreciated in the west or that are better known for culinary use than as medicine. Dill, tansy, viburnum (highbush cranberry known as kalina/kalinka in Russia),  marsh marigold, sage, anise, caraway, mountain ash, birch buds, everlasting, spruce are some worth noting.

The words and title to the Russian song, Kalinka, Malinka, refer to viburnum/highbush cranberry and raspberry.


This review article examines the data on medicinal plants included in the Russian Pharmacopoeia, which have been used for many years in the officinal Russian medicine; these plants are not very well known as medicines outside of their region of origin.

Aspirin, codeine, digoxin, and other drugs have their origins in herbal medicine (Yarnell, 2000). However, not all of these efforts were successful. Scientists have often found that the herbs themselves, which possess unique combinations of chemical components, are more effective than the chemical derivatives (Li, 2002). As a result, medical science has also focused on the medicinal values of the herbs themselves and how they could best be incorporated into medical practice.

Most importantly, Soviet / Russian scientists contributed significantly to the development of plant-derived adaptogens – tonics that play an important role in the regulation of metabolism. Aralia, Rhodiola, and Chaga are good examples of adaptogens that have been studied extensively (especially in the USSR / Russia).

Since the 12th century, chaga has traditionally been used in Russia for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even cancer. Allegedly, the Russian duke Vladimir Monomach was cured of lip cancer using chaga (Artemova, 2001). Chaga (in various combinations with other medicinal plants) has been used for the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and for various forms of gastritis (Artemova, 2001 and Kaukin, 2002). Chaga tea increases general stamina, relieves pain and is used to treat heart, stomach, and liver diseases (Gammerman et al., 1984 and Saar, 1991).

Clinical data indicate that when chaga is administered for extended periods, it has beneficial effects in the treatment of patients with stage III – IV of cancer, irrespective of the tumor location. In most of these patients without pronounced cachexia, a 3- to 4-week administration of chaga led to a decrease and a termination of the pain syndrome, which allowed the administration of narcotic drugs to be stopped (Bulatov et al., 1959, Pyaskovskii and Rikhter, 1961 and Shashkina et al., 2006).

The therapeutic effect of the Chaga manifested slowly, reaching a maximum at the 3rd month of regular intake. In most cases, the psoriatic rashes disappeared starting at the torso, then on the scalp, upper limbs and finally, on the hips and lower legs