By: Bears Butt

Where did the name “Indian Tobacco” come from?  A question that was asked of me twice yesterday, by two different people.  I did not have the answer and so “the all knowledgeable one” went into action.

When Lewis and Clark were on their travels across the wilderness of America, they encountered Native Americans all along their route.  In a lot of cases those people would bring with them trading items to show that they meant no harm and so Lew and Clark would trade them something they had for what the Native Americans had.  L&C usually had beads and shiny mirrors and an occasional strip of ribbon to trade.  And the all but common in the Native American world was a small leather pouch that contained tobacco.

I found many times a note that Lew wrote of such trading.  Although I did not make note of the date that notes were written, so there may have been only one note written and I read it on many sites over and over.  However, it did not look like the same note.  Nuff said.

It is my surmization (good word huh?), that is was either Lewis or Clark that first coined the bag of tobacco as “Indian Tobacco”.  The curiosity of where these Native Americans were getting this “good stuff” lead them to be shown the plant from which the leaves were picked and dried and crushed to make the stuff they packed into the peace pipe.  A plant commonly referred to as Yellow or Curly Dock.  I’m sure there are a whole ton of other plants from which the leaves were dried and made into tobacco as well, but this baby stands out.

This is a picture I took several years ago of a very large stand of Indian Tobacco.  And this shows you just how bad a field can look when the plant is not kept in check.

I had always grown up thinking it was the brownish red seeds at the top of the plant that gave it its name, but it is not.  I did find out that some people who claim to live off the land, I’ll call “herbologists” for a lack of calling them something else use the plant for several purposes.  One site said they use the dried reddish brown seeds as a replacement for coffee.  Another grinds those same seeds up and makes a flour out of them and mixes it with normal all purpose flour and makes Indian Tobacco cookies out of it.  And other sites give detail as to the leaves being smushed up while green and rubbed over areas that have been hit with poison ivy and stinging nettle.  One said “When the nettle goes in, out comes the dock”!

Medically speaking, the Native Americans also used the pulp of the leaves as medicine to either cause a person to “up chuck”, or to calm their nervous stomach down or to give them a quick purging.  My research found that the leaves contain something  considered an “emetic” (inducing vomiting) and as a natural Alkaloid that contained substantial amounts of  Labeline a substance that is used to curb peoples desire to smoke and that there is a lot of research going on that is investigating that same product to help with other addictions and even hypertension.

To me, all of the above means one should be careful if they are going to ingest either the leaves themselves straight off the stem, or make a tea from them or put the dried leaves in a meal, that the amount they use just might not give them the desired result.  I can envision a person with things happening out both sides against the middle.

This might also lend credence to the saying “Turkey Squirts”.  Did that turkey just ingest some Curly Dock leaves?

On a positive note my extensive research also showed that the plant can be eaten like spinach, either raw or boiled and that the root is also edible and that it contains one heck of a lot of iron.  So if you are anemic and don’t mind taking the chance of using up all your bathroom tissue paper you might just consider this plant as a savior.  Please don’t do it on my account.  Get with your doctor on that one.

So, bottom line, it is my thinking that our buddies Lewis and Clark were the ones who first called this plant “Indian Tobacco”.  I’ll stick with that one because it was the white man coming to America that called the Native Americans “Indians” in the first place.

Bears Butt

July 17, 2012


Written on July 17th, 2012 , Uncategorized

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Just some of my old stories, new stories, and in general what is going on in my life.