September 12, 2023

Kinnikinnick Effects in Native American Smoking Ceremony

Smoking has long been a part of Native American ceremonies. But many tribes today have issues with tobacco, including the health risks and addiction that often accompanies it. So when it comes to replacing tobacco, some members are looking for healthier herbs that still have the same soothing effects. One herbal plant that fits this bill is uva ursi, also known as bearberry or kinnikinnick. This trailing evergreen shrub has been used as an herbal smoking mixture by Native Americans for centuries, and is sometimes combined with other herbs to create a smoke blend. It can be smoked or brewed into a tea, ingested as a tincture or placed in capsules.

The leaves of uva ursi, which can have a pleasant and slightly sedating effect, are commonly sold in bulk at natural food stores. They can also be found at specialty herb stores or online. But it’s easier to grow this herb, called mugwort or cornus stolonifera, from a potted plant, or by transplanting a clump of its large, green leaves. The weed thrives in damp places, such as in a rain garden or in an open field with lots of sunlight.

For many White Earth Nation members, addressing the problem with tobacco goes beyond just saying no to the plant. It means rebuilding respect for it as a sacred element of tribal culture, and learning how to use it respectfully again. This may include introducing other herbs that have similar effects as the traditional tobacco mixture, such as chamomile and yarrow.


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