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