Podcast 084: Herbal Smoking Blends & Herbs To Quit Smoking
An herbal smoking blend may not sound like your cup of tea – and it isn’t! – but it’s still an effective method of working with medicinal plants. When smoked, herbs have rapid effects on the lungs and the central nervous system, including antimicrobial, astringent, relaxant, and nervine or anxiety-reducing activities. This traditional practice is still relevant today.
But of course, some people need help to quit smoking, not reasons to start! And herbs can help here as well, by reducing cravings and addressing the original reasons one started smoking in the first place. They can also help one cut down on smoking tobacco or cannabis by enhancing the desirable effects of those plants and reducing their undesirable ones.
In this episode we’ll talk about all these aspects of smoking, share some of our favorite plants to include in herbal smoking mixtures, and guide you through some practical considerations when trying this on your own.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria. Nautiyal, Chandra Shekhar, Puneet Singh Chauhan, and Yeshwant Laxman Nene; Journal of Ethnopharmacology 114, no. 3 (December 3, 2007): 446–51.
- The effect of chewing gum flavor on the negative affect associated with tobacco abstinence among dependent cigarette smokers. Cohen LM, Collins FL Jr, Vanderveen JW, Weaver CC; Addict Behav. 2010 Nov;35(11):955-60.
- Puff Herbal Smokes – Boutique herbal smokes, pre-formulated for you by a trained herbalist. (Coming soon!)
- Howie Brounstein’s ebook, Herbal Smoking Mixtures – a classic guide to working with herbs as smoke. A must-read if you’re interested in this topic.
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
and I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.
So this week on the Holistic Herbalism podcast, we’re going to be talking about smoking. We’re going to be talking about smoking herbs, why anybody would do that and also about some herbs to help people quit smoking if that’s what you’re looking to do.
Yeah, there are actually a lot of ways that herbs can help people to quit smoking much more easily and much more comfortably. So, stay tuned for that.
Yeah, so that’s our topic. But first we want to give you our usual reclaimer here, which starts with us saying that we are not doctors, we are herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some information to think about and research further.
We want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours. All right. And we did want to just take a quick little minute here at the beginning to talk about our supporter drive.
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A Brief History of Smoking
Thanks. All right, so let’s get to the topic. We’re talking about smoking, we’re talking about smoking herbs and about quitting smoking. So let’s start with smoking in a general sense. Why would anybody ever bother to do this? [laughter] You know, especially because the first time that you do it, you tend to cough and maybe you even get nauseous depending on which herbs were involved. And it’s usually considered to be pretty unpleasant, but people stick with it. And okay, there are lots of reasons why people smoke and we know about peer pressure and about the addictiveness of nicotine and all of those kinds of factors are real. But we could step back a little bit and say, well, aside from tobacco and nicotine and addiction and the Marlboro man and stuff like that, we can recognize that smoking has been a part of, I guess we’d call them ethno botanical practices, or just folk practices with herbs all around the world and all throughout history. We know that smoking, especially in a kind of a ceremonial sense is for a lot of Americans anyways most strongly associated with native American practices, which had a kind of intertwining between the ceremonial and the medicinal and as I understand, wouldn’t really have seen a whole lot of difference between them. But the truth is that smoking is a worldwide practice. It’s something that humans have done all throughout history. There was a news item just recently about evidence from ancient China, I think maybe 2,500 BC or somewhere around that age of people working with cannabis in funerary rights. Burning it and having the smoke there and all of that.
You know, that’s funny because when I think about smoking, I don’t particularly enjoy smoking. So I don’t typically, but my kind of mental association with ceremonial smoke is actually through incense because I was raised Roman Catholic. And I think that that is one of the ways when we’re looking for other historical cultural references for smoke, that organized religion is one of those places, especially like Western organized religion, although Eastern organized religions also work with smoke. But I know more about the Western one in particular Catholicism. Throughout history, when people were coming in from the little villages to some central location in places where people were gathering, who maybe weren’t in the same place every day, then what you really had was a big room full of germs mixing around together. And all of that incense, in addition to all of its ceremonial aspects and long before the church was organized of course, there were other ceremonial aspects, but we also had that germ fighting action with all those aerosolized volatile oils, which by the way also goes back before the church because even in pre-Christian, pre-organized religion, agrarian rituals, a lot of these also had antimicrobial activity, especially when we look at the turn of the seasons type rituals.
Smoking as Fumigation Agent
Yeah. There’s a paper I really like from 2007 called ‘Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria’. And I like it because it proves this kind of thing. They were looking at what happens when we burn incense in a room and measure the amount of airborne bacteria and microbes before and after, and even up to several days or even longer afterwards. And they found that there was a substantial reduction in the amount of bacteria in the air. And so that’s the ones that you would be susceptible to. And that it persisted in time for quite a bit longer than you would expect, certainly longer than the scent itself was hanging around. So I’ll put a link to that in our show notes here. So we can understand that there are some effects of the smoke that are going to be relevant, whether it’s as incense or a fumigation or what sometimes is called a smudge stick. Although with that term, there are a number of native American social justice activists who have started to press that we not use that term because of the strong association that that has with indigenous practices. You can say fumigation and that’s basically what that means. So those are a way that humans have worked with medicinal smoke. And there are also ways to work with smoke that are a little more targeted. In a lot of ethno botanical practices from all around the world and again, throughout history, we find application of smoke to infected skin or to wounds or to other kinds of basically topical applications of smoke. Which again, us moderns tend to think of very rarely and in some cases to think very little of like, how could that possibly be effective in that manner.
You know, but it has to be. Because really it’s just a mechanism to release the volatile oils when we really look at it. We can separate it entirely from any kind spiritual aspects, from any kind of magical aspect that anybody might want to include. And we can just say, this is simply an extraction method for volatile oils and we are extracting it into a localized area. Presto. Because if a steam works, it’s the same concept. And so if volatile oils have any efficacy whatsoever, which we see anecdotally that they do and there are also jillions of studies that they do, then smoke has to have that effect because it is releasing those oils. It’s just really basic mechanics.
Yeah. So when we turn now to smoking as something that you puff or inhale, now we can recognize that when we do that, we’re achieving direct delivery. We’re getting the herbs to the tissue to, in this case, the lungs. And that is one of the reasons that you might choose to work with medicinal smoke intentionally and thoughtfully and all of that. Because this is a great way to get your herbs or to get their medicinal qualities directly down into the lungs, just like a steam. So, one of them may be more attainable or easier, more portable.
Or desirable yeah, because we can recognize that, when we work with a steam, we have heat and we have dampness or moisture coming in. When we work with smoke, we have heat, but we have dryness. Smoke is hot and dry in terms of energetics, in terms of its qualities. And so if we were looking to target a lung infection, well we know that smoke can convey antimicrobial effects. We know that it’s heating and drying. And so this would be appropriate if you had a wet, phlegmy thick, gloopy kind of a lung condition going on and you want it to dry it out. You could put some antimicrobial herbs into your mix. You could put some expectorants into your mix and deliver those effects directly, right where you need them.
And that will work regardless of whether you are putting your herbs in a pipe or rolling them in a cigarette or just burning them as incense. The direct delivery device isn’t really the important part. I mean the direct delivery device is the smoke, but the tool you use to create the smoke is not the important part. So if you like me don’t actually super enjoy smoking but have a situation where that would be a desirable medicinal effect, then you can do it as incense instead.
Mechanisms of Action from Smoke
Yeah. When we smoke, there are some particular actions that are enabled really rapidly. So when you breathe in some smoke, you get a rapid onset of some direct effects on the mucosa. Which is to say the mucus membranes that are lining the interior of the lungs. And these effects could include astringency, so tightening and squeezing excess fluid out of the mucosal layer there. It could include a relaxant effect. Conversely, where things are going to loosen up and let go and maybe even help you to breathe more deeply, which you know, when you say that to people who only associate smoking with Tobacco or I suppose nowadays with Cannabis, they’re like ‘what? what are you even talking about? That’s ridiculous.’ [chuckle] But it depends on the herbs that you put in there. If you have Lobelia in your smoke, that’s an herb we’re going to talk about a bunch today, then you will feel your lungs open up. And indeed this could even make sense as something for asthmatics to keep on hand, a little herbal cigarette. There are other methods and I am not saying this is my first choice, but it is worth recognizing that we can deliver an effect like that rapidly and directly to where we’re looking for it. Similarly, we can get a stimulating effect on the mucosa, including on the immune responders or immune system cells that are present in those layers of tissue. And it’d be the same kind of herbs we would work with in any regard to accomplish that. If you had a tiny little pinch of Sage or Thyme in your smoking blend and breathe that in that’s going to activate those local immune responders in a very similar way to making a steam out of those herbs. So, those kind of local tissue effects are going to happen very rapidly when you smoke. But you can also observe effects on the nervous system and particularly effects of reducing nervousness, reducing anxiety and helping people to calm down. And this is because when you breathe things in, much of that gets delivered up to your brain. So especially any constituent that’s going to volatilize or you could say evaporate basically. Especially ones that volatilize at low temperatures, those are easily conveyed through the smoke and quite a lot of them is going to be delivered up into the brain. And of course, people are familiar with this kind of effect from smoking Cannabis and also Tobacco. There are effects on your state of mind and your state of awareness that come from both of those herbs. Those two are kind of blunt and that’s not a pun but [laughs]
No, like a sledgehammer, that kind of blunt.
Yes, forceful in the way that they exert those effects until they’re quite obvious. Please do not smoke Catnip and expect to getting the same degree of effect, but at the same time do recognize that the same type of effect is there. You just need to be attentive enough to observe it.
It’s kind of like junk food actually. You know, like if you’ve been eating a super cheesier spicy hot Doritos, I don’t know whatever the extreme flavor is, if you are habituated to eat that kind of thing all the time, then something that doesn’t have that kind of really extreme seasoning isn’t going to have a lot of flavor to you. But if you have re-habituated yourself to real food and real flavors, then they come through. And I think the same is really true when you’re talking about kind of the blunt strength of modern cannabis and modern tobacco versus something- well, effective is a weird word, but effective yet more gentle like Catnip.
Yeah. So, when we think about how do herbs cause effects in the body especially from a sort of science minded, contemporary perspective, we’re often looking for constituents that we can point at and say that’s what’s doing it. When we think about constituents generally, we’re always wondering, what do they extract into? And we say these constituents are water soluble over here and so you can make a nice tea out of that herb and get benefit there. This other plant has oil soluble constituents and so if you make an infused oil and make a salve then you can get a lot of benefit in that regard. Some constituents we could consider to be fire soluble, that they are released by burning that they’re released into the smoke in that way. And the thing here is that when you breathe smoke, there are particulates that you’re breathing in. The plant matter has been broken down into tiny, tiny little microscopic particles and you inhale those. So the truth here is that it’s actually not only the volatile elements that you’re going to be receiving in this way, it’s not only the things that you would smell boiling off of your pot, but also other elements are going to come through as well. So smoke can contain terpenoids. Those are one major category of volatile components. And so we sort of expect those just on the idea that they’re the smelly parts. [laughter] But smoke can also contain alkaloids. And some of the most famous alkaloids are frequently consumed through smoke, like nicotine. Some relatives like lobeline and ephedrine turn up in other plants that historically and even currently have been employed as smoking herbs. Of course, THC and a variety of other cannabinoids are present in smoke, but also plant sterols, plant acids, a variety of different pigment compounds from the herb can come through. And so there are quite a few different chemicals that we understand are going to be active in the smoke itself. And so in that way a pretty decent representation of what many, if not most herbs accomplish in our bodies, is also moving through the smoke. When you burn it and inhale them.
Herbal Allies for Quitters
All right. So, let’s take a moment here and talk about helping people to quit smoking because before we start talking about all of the different herbs that you can smoke and how fun they are, let’s just pause here for a moment to remember that for a lot of people, this is a serious problem. You don’t need me to tell you that habitually smoking is a big problem and especially when it’s modern cigarettes where there’s a lot of tar and other kinds of contaminants in there that’s really problematic. And it’s also quite different from an occasional, either ceremonial or just a medicinal application of smoke herb plants in a unprocessed or relatively pure formulation. And so a lot of people do need to quit smoking and they could use some help. So let’s start with some preparations in tea or tincture or other things that we can offer to people who are trying to quit smoking or are looking for some support as they do that or maybe have tried but you know, fell back into the habit. One of the very first herbs that we tend to think of for smokers is Mullein, that’s Verbascum thapsus, and a couple of other species as well. So Mullein is a really important herb here because when you take it as tea or as tincture, it has an effect on the lungs where it directs more moisture to them and it helps to encourage the mucus cells or the goblet cells in the lungs to secrete a little bit more mucus and also for that fluid to be thinner and a little bit more watery so that it can loosen up some of the crud that’s been collecting on the lungs.
I find this really, really effective even for people who are not interested in quitting smoking tobacco. But they wake up in the morning and they have that sort of smoker’s cough and they feel like they never can really get the crud out of their lungs. Just taking Mullein, even if you don’t change anything else is gonna really improve your state of health. So if you’re like, wow, I know that smoking isn’t fantastic for me, but I’m not ready to quit yet either. Then just start working with some Mullein, whether you take it as tea or even as tincture. It’s really, really effective for at least helping to clear a lot of that crud up out of your lungs.
Yeah, an herb that affects the lungs in a similar way is Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa and this one again, it has that effect of moistening the lungs and directing fluid there and it’s just very, very helpful when the lungs have been dried out and you’re maybe feeling some tension or some inability to take a good deep breath because the lungs become dry and maybe not all the way to brittle certainly, but kind of moving in that direction. And so there’s some tension that accumulates along with that. So Pleurisy root is easiest to take as a tincture. You can make decoctions with it.
You can, it doesn’t taste that bad. It’s not one of the really bitter ones. You can put a little cinnamon with it to make it super pleasant, but even just all by itself, it’s really not that bad.
We would also be thinking about Lobelia here. So this is Lobelia inflata and Lobelia is an herb that is particularly helpful when someone has been smoking tobacco. Because a few drops of Lobelia tincture is often enough to help quell a nicotine craving or a ‘Nick fit’. Lobelia has a constituent in it called lobaline and that is when you take it into your body, it attaches to the same receptor sites that nicotine would attach to and it doesn’t have exactly the same effect on the cells or on your nervous system or on your brain. But it’s close enough that it can often relieve that feeling of craving, that feeling of like, ‘I gotta have a cigarette now’. So again, we start with small doses with this one. We generally recommend you begin with just a few drops. Maybe you bump that up by a few drops each time if you’re not feeling substantial relief, but you tend not to need or want to take too much more than half a dropper full or so. Because too much Lobelia taken all at once can make you feel nauseous. And if you’re having 10 drops of Lobelia, but you’re doing that every 20 minutes, then after your third or fourth dose, you might start to get a little shaky on the inside. So just be aware of that and work with the smallest dose that you find effective.
Lobelia is really constitutionally dependent. So you might have a slower metabolism, sort of colder constitution and you might say, well, I can take a whole dropper full of Lobelia and I don’t get nauseous at all. I’ve never gotten nauseous from Lobelia. That is just because it’s really dependent on the constitution of the person. If you’re a person with a really zippy metabolism, then you may find that a low dose is totally sufficient and much more than that is enough to start feelings of nausea. So you just have to kind of work it out as what’s right for your own body. But if you start with three to five drops and then just increase it a little bit until you find the dose that is really, really effective for you and very comfortable for you, then that should remain the same after that. And kind of be your go-to solution there.
And having it as a tincture is convenient. It’s definitely preferable to making a tea with Lobelia [chuckles]
Oh yeah. I mean I love Lobelia, but I would not even consider making it as tea. Just tincture.
Yeah, it has what’s called an acrid flavor to it. Which usually the best way to convey what acrid means is to talk about the feeling of vomit in the back of your throat. Yeah, that’s about what [chuckles].
Don’t let that turn you off on trying it though, because as a tincture, it’s present but it’s not that much.
Yeah. And you don’t need massive amounts and you can even take these drops under the tongue instead of directly on top because what we are looking for is rapid absorption. And you have some blood vessels right under the tongue. So when you take doses of tincture under there, you get really rapid absorption right into the bloodstream, right up into your brain. So yeah, okay. Now we also need to care for why the person started smoking in the first place and why they continue. Aside from any elements of addiction that may be present, there’s something that people get out of smoking and this can be on a lot of levels. It could be that you think it looks cool. It could be that it does help to settle your nerves or help you to feel more focused. There’s all kinds of reasons.
Even appetite suppression is a big reason that a lot of people start smoking.
So we need to be thinking about how to address those kind of originating issues.
Also. This is maybe not a reason to start smoking, although I think for some people, maybe it was, but a lot of places of employment, if you smoke, you get extra breaks. And if you don’t smoke, you don’t. And that’s really not fair. So a person might go out with the smokers and sort of start smoking socially a little bit just because that’s how we get break time. And then after a while kind of, oops, you’re hooked. But yes, if you’re an employer, just let people take breaks when they need to take a break. Don’t make them smoke forever.
Yes, definitely. So, in this regard we often find it helpful to give folks a nervine blend, often a tincture formula. So nervines are herbs that help us to feel calm, to feel settled, to feel present. And so they can be very helpful to address a lot of these kinds of issues, especially the sort of anxiety type issues or discomfort, social discomfort, things like that. Some herbs that we found helpful here, particularly Skullcap and Passionflower are quite good. These are mental relaxants and they can help to quell anxious and unsettled thinking. I really love to have the two of them in a combination. I feel like they’re much more effective together than either one of them is alone.
Yeah, they’re really lovely if you feel like you have a hamster wheel going on in your brain and you can’t get it to stop. That is like the classic description of when these herbs are most appropriate. Whether you’re a smoker, even if you’re not, these are really great herbs to try in that situation.
Yeah. Skullcap is Scutellaria lateriflora. There are some other species of skullcaps out there in the herbal worlds that are worked with differently. And then Passion Flower is Passiflora incarnata. And that has some other names, people call it May Pop sometimes.
Oh, I hadn’t heard that one.
Yeah, there’s a few others. Along with those we often want to include something that’s very much in the way of soothing. And my favorite for this is Evening Primrose, which is a really fantastic herb for people who are feeling frazzled and fried and on edge and have a lot of dryness elements to the type of nervous agitation that they’re experiencing. So Evening Primrose is one that I really, really love to include in a blend like this if we have it available. That herb is pretty abundant wild and so it’s not super difficult to find some and make your own tincture and prepare it in that regard. I don’t see it a lot in commerce though because most of the Evening Primrose in commerce is being grown for the purpose of making Evening Primrose seed oil. So in terms of finding a tincture to work with, the other option here or one other option to consider would be Milky Oats tincture. We don’t tend to work with that too frequently because of concerns about gluten cross-reactivity and potential gluten contamination in the tincture and all that. But it is an herb that’s very similar to Evening Primrose in this particular regard. And tons of herbalists and tons of clients out there just swear by it and say that this does what nothing else can.
Yeah. I don’t work with that because of the gluten thing, but it is widely available. So if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity and you can’t get your hands on Evening Primrose, then it’s not hard to get Milky Oats tincture to work with.
Yeah. So you would mix all of these herbs together and certainly there could be other herbs that you include. If you have a particular nervine friend like Catnip, Chamomile, Vervain or Tulsi, that you really love, then you can put those into there, mix them all up and now keep that around as your, your Stress Queue Blend or as your Anxiety Relief Blend or something like that. And take one to three droppers full whenever you need it. That should help. I’d also put a shout out here for the exhilarants as an entire category, which are herbs that lift your spirits and they can improve mood. And this is important, in part because, sometimes it’s the bad mood that is the thing that triggers the person to smoke. Whether they’re all the way addicted or not, there are many people who kind of have them around with them and then when they’re feeling really terrible, that’s when they’re going to go and have a smoke. So having an option to take some exhilarants instead could be really effective. And so Tulsi would fit in there, Rose petals fits in there. But I want to give a little shout out to Vanilla. I found an interesting study that was actually working with flavored gum to try to help people to stop smoking. And they had peppermint gum, they had vanilla gum, and then they had a baked apple cardamom gum and these were their intervention groups and they had a no gum control group. They had the people try each of these different flavors for like a week at a time and they would abstain from smoking for two straight days during that period. So from the study compared to the no gum control group, participants in the gum groups reported lower levels of anxiety, dysphoria and tension, seemingly regardless of which flavor. Vanilla and baked apple cardamom flavored gum though resulted in lower levels of negative affect, which is to say ‘bad mood’ while apparently peppermints didn’t quite improve the mood in these particular individuals. So I find that to be a very interesting and kind of speak to that idea that something that tastes good, that can maybe lift your mood a bit, that can perhaps distract you from what you were thinking about and also hits that oral fixation need, can be quite helpful here.
You know, we think about Vanilla, well and also Cardamom as a flavoring that we put into baked goods, but they don’t have to be, you can just make them into a tincture and they are really, really delicious and really, really effective. You can also infuse them into honey or maple syrup and that is also fantastic. So there’s a lot of ways to work with them besides just having a sweet treat.
Yeah. We love to give herbs as tea, that’s our favorite way or preferred way. But oftentimes when we’re mixing blends like this or even giving some single herbs like this to help somebody who’s trying to quit smoking will prefer to give it as a tincture or an elixir or something that you can carry in a little bottle and have with you. Because again, we’re thinking about that oral fixation aspect of the smoking habit where you have something small that you take out of your pocket and you fiddle with it for a moment and then you put it in your mouth and then you feel like, ‘ah, good’. So, with a tincture bottle, you can have a lot of that same kind of effect. That whole kind of ritual is still there with it. So that’s something to consider when you’re doing that.
Smoking Blends for Quitters
Okay. So now let’s turn to a smoking blend for quitters [chuckles]. This is an idea that we’ve shared with lots and lots of students and clients and folks who were trying to quit smoking or even just to cut back or were otherwise concerned about the amount of tobacco that they were they were taking in. The idea here is that we’re basically going to make up a smoking blend and then we’re going to cut down on the amount of tobacco that’s in it over time. So what we say is first you start by learning to roll your own cigarettes because that’s going to be essential here. And while you’re at it, you can be getting some good organic tobacco to do that with.
Yeah. Even if all you did was switched to organic tobacco, you would already be improving the situation because there’s not so many additives and chemicals that are put into it afterwards. So already you would be cutting down on the crud that’s going into your lungs.
Yeah. And these days it doesn’t all have to be the little fiddly piece of paper that you roll and lick and do all of that. You can get shells or blanks basically of a cigarette shape with a filter on it, and you can fill it yourself at home and have it that way. So there are some options with that. But we begin that way. And then we start to add in herbs and you’re going to titrate down the percentage of tobacco. We usually advise that you start with something like 80% tobacco and 20% other herbs. Roll or pack a batch of cigarettes that will last you a few days. Maybe as long as a week. And then the next time you do it, you shift it down. You do it 70 to 30, or 60 to 40 tobacco to other herbs and each time you make a new batch, you’re gradually reducing the amount of tobacco and increasing the amount of other plants, until ultimately there may not be any more tobacco left at all. And so you’re just going to continue with your basic habit in this way. You reduce the amount of tobacco and therefore nicotine that you’re exposing yourself to each time. And generally a gradual step down like this is much easier for people then doing the cold Turkey thing.
Yeah. Because the dependence on the nicotine, you’re just stepping it down slowly and it’s kind of like when you are trying to give up caffeine and you do it by having like half calf for awhile.
I would say here that we’ve actually found this method to be more successful in at least the cases that I’ve observed, then switching over to e-cigarettes or to vaping or things like that. Now I know a lot of people find that to be an effective way to accomplish this transition. And if it works for you, awesome, it works for you. But if you tried that and it didn’t quite stick or you realized that you were sucking on your vape pen really often and wondering if this was actually any better for you after all or not. Or maybe you’ve been looking at some of the news reports about how some of the vape fluids are actually still have a bunch of random carcinogens and other weird crap in them and are not as pure as they claimed to be and all of this and you’re feeling a little sketched out by it. This is a method that definitely works and has a long standing in the herbal community. And it doesn’t really have those other issues of mystery.
Unless you know exactly what’s in it, cause you rolled it yourself. Like there’s no question, you know exactly what’s in there unless you added chemicals yourself. But why would you do that? [snickers] This is one of the very first clients I ever worked with like a couple billion years ago was trying to stop smoking. And like this is just something that is a constant steady stream in the background of herbal practice. And it has been successful every time. It takes people different amounts of time to titrate down but it is such a more comfortable way to get through this process.
Some specific herbs that we would consider including in one those blends is Mullein, which is a really helpful plant here. The plant matter itself is kind of fluffy, if you look at a Mullein leaf, it’s fuzzy and a little bit spongy if you squeeze on it. As it dries, it retains those characteristics. So it’s a base to mix your other herbs together with, because it helps everybody to integrate well. So as not have a big clump of one thing over here and then another thing over there. So Mullein’s very helpful in that regard. It’s also not too harsh, it’s not too drying. Now all smoke is going to be drying, but some is more drying than others. Like if you were to breathe in the smoke from Thyme, that’s much more harsh and drying than the smoke from Mullein would be. And also when you smoke Mullein, you do get some of that relaxing effect on the lung tissue. You don’t really get that moisture release effect of drinking Mullein tea or working with Mullein tincture, but you do get a little bit of a loosening and an opening of the lungs and that can feel good. So that’s usually going to be the majority of the herbal portion of this ‘Quitters Smoke Mixture’ here and we’re going to have a very small amount of Lobelia in the mix as well, for the same reason. Just a pinch stirred in there really nicely. Make sure it integrates well so that it’s kind of evenly distributed throughout there. Lobelia is going to have that effect on the nicotinic receptors in your central nervous system to help you to reduce the cravings. But you know, what we didn’t mention earlier when we were talking about Lobelia tincture is that this is itself a powerful relaxant and it’s specifically relaxing to the lungs. It acts upon the lungs as a broncodilator, which is to say that it opens the bronchitis, the tubes of the lungs and allows you to take deeper breathes. That’s nice because a lot of times with a history of smoking, you’re going to have very shallow breaths and the inability to breathe deeply. So Lobelia is a good thing to include in these kinds of formulas, but you just keep the concentration low. Five to 10% of your total mixture. That’ll be great. And then for one more general sort of option for smoke blend mixtures here we might include some Uva Ursi, which is also known by a native word Kinnikinnick and that specific term or name for it is often used in regard to smoking blends. So this herb does have a very long history of application as a smoking herb. And I can say that it’s a nice one to include. It adds kind of a body or like a lower level of flavor notes to it. It makes the smoke feel a little richer. So that can be pleasant. So those are some things that you might include as your sort of standard.
And then there can be a whole bunch of other herbs that you might choose to include in there. So let’s talk about smoking herbs in a more general sense. Now these again could be part of your ‘Quitters’ blend or they could be part of your occasionally ‘I enjoy a little smoking indulgence and I keep a smoking mixture around for that purpose’. So, you know, of course there are the big ones like Tobacco and Cannabis. I mentioned these here not because I think we need to explain them to you or what kind of attributes they have, although maybe it’s worth saying that tobacco is a fumigating herb in all of the senses that it’s actually a vermifuge and drives away parasites and insects and it’s a strongly antimicrobial. I mean, Tobacco is an extremely powerful plant. And maybe we can start just by recognizing that similarly Cannabis is a very strong plant. It’s an herb that has major effects on our mentality and our internal environment. And so it’s worth recognizing and respecting that. But what I really want to say about these two though is that no need to take them as simples. In the herbal world, when we say you’re working with an herb as a simple, that means you’re just making a preparation of that one plant. Straight up Chamomile tea, straight up Ginger tincture. But when it comes to smoking, there’s no necessity to only smoke simples. You can formulate your tobacco, you can formulate your cannabis and you can say to yourself, what is the reason that I smoke this plant? And what other herbs can serve that same kind of a purpose.
You know, especially with cannabis, it’s very popular right now to say that cannabis doesn’t have any side effects. But it absolutely does. Cannabis is cold and drying. And if you’re a person who runs really tense or if you’re a person who runs really cold, then cannabis actually can exacerbate those things. Or if you are working with cannabis to deal with some emotional aspects, it can definitely help you feel better in that moment. But there’s a stagnating quality. So it may help you feel better in one moment, but it’s not helping you ultimately make progress with the issue necessarily. And if you formulate, then you can get a much more robust action. You can bring in herbs that can, for example, counteract the tension or the drying aspects or counteract the cold aspect. And you can bring in herbs that can help you so that not only is the cannabis giving you the relief that you’ve experienced, but then some other herbs, maybe like Tulsi for example, could be helping you to also progress past some of the emotional issues that you might be turning to cannabis to help you manage. And so really, cannabis is just another herb and all herbs have constitutional attributes. And we work with the constitutional attributes and the herbal actions of cannabis, just like any other plant and we formulate to make it be more appropriate for any individual body.
Good. So we’ve talked about Mullein as a really helpful plant for forming the base of your blends because of that fluffiness and even the hairiness of the leaves too. That’s very helpful to kind of hold everything together. This is particularly relevant if you were going to be rolling these into cigarettes, especially hand rolling because, you just need everything to adhere together. And if you are used to doing that with tobacco and you switch over to some standard dried herbs, you’re probably gonna get a little frustrated because the tobacco that you use is not just dried but cured. And so it has a kind of stickiness to it that makes it much easier to work with in that way. So adding a bit of Mullein in here is really helpful to hold everything together.
Kind of like getting that Velcro action.
Yeah. We also previously mentioned Uva Ursi as an astringent to add body to the smoke and to carry some of that astringency down into the lungs. There are other astringent herbs you can work with though in a similar way if you don’t have Uva Ursi or it’s not local to where you are or you just want to experiment with some other options. I’ve had good results working with Apple leaf in similar ways and that’s a tip I picked up from Jim McDonald’s. In his write up about Apple medicine on herbkraft.org he had a little offhand comment in there about working with Apple leaf and smoking blends and I thought, well, that sounds cool. Why don’t I try that? And really, it can be any random crab Apple tree in your neighborhood, you know, pull some leaves off dry ’em up real good, crumble them up, put them in the mix. I find that that’s a nice bit of a flavor addition there.
I wonder if Peach leaf would work similarly.
Yeah, I do wonder. And given that that neighbor has a peach tree over there, maybe I should give that a shot.
Yes. Try it and then tell me.
Another astringent that I often find myself including in smoke blends at least as some portion is Raspberry leaf. This kind of combines what we get from Mullein and what we get from Uva Ursi because it is an astringent that does have that aspect to it: it’s tonifying and tightening. All of these, Apple, Uva Uris, Raspberry would be particularly good if you were making a medicinal smoke blend to target one of those wet gloopy kind of lung problems. Because of the astringency that they can then tighten up those mucous membranes. But raspberry also has that fluffiness to it. If you look at raspberry leaf in the jar, it often forms these clumps on its own and when you crumble it up a bit, it still retains a lot of that. Like you said that velco-yness [chuckle] So that’s helpful for that reason also.
I noticed that you have Mugwort on your list down lower, but Mugwort has that fluffiness to it also.
Yes, yes it does. And I do like to include Mugwort for that purpose, especially if it’s an evening kind of a wind down blend. And I’ll say more about Mugwort in just a moment.
I just wanted to point out that it’s another fluffy herb.
Yeah. For now let’s talk about our relaxant group of herbs to consider in smoke blends. And again, Lobelia is the strongest one in this regard that I work with and it’s the one that’s most specific to the lungs. Of course when you’re breathing in smoke, all of these relaxants are going to operate on the lung tissue, but Lobelia is just the real standout one there. So if there’s that tightness, that tension, that difficulty breathing, just remember that Lobelia does have this historical application for helping asthmatics. And it would be a matter of mixing up an herbal cigarettes or an herbal smoke blend for your pipe that had a decent amount of Lobelia in there. And when you start to feel that congestion or constriction, that tightness coming on, then you go and have a few puffs and feel a bit of a relieve. But there are other relaxants that are worth considering here. And they don’t all only exert their effect on the lung tissue. One of my absolute favorites to put in smoke blends is Pedicularis, which is sometimes called Betony. And if you’re a longtime listener, know that when Katja and I say Betony, we usually are referring to the species Stachys officinalis. But here Pedicularis is the botanical name for a variety of plants that are sometimes called Betony, sometimes called Lousewort. Some of the species have their own colorful names like Parrots Beak and Elephant Head and Indian Warrior and things like this. I’ve worked with that last one. It’s often sold or you’ll find it as Indian Warrior, or Pedicularis densiflora. And that one has a profound relaxant effect on the entire body: really on your musculature, on your musculoskeletal system, on your mentality, if you have an intense mind, intense thoughts and you’re feeling really stuck on something. I find working with Pedicularis is quite effective at helping to let that go. It feels almost like Kava in the way it affects your body and your mind together where things loosen up and relax, but you don’t feel drugged, you don’t feel drunk. You’re still present. I’ve never tried smoking Kava. I’m not sure that I would really advise it, but certainly Pedicularis is a good one to work with in this way. And again, remember that when we’re smoking for anxiolytic or relaxant effect like this, the effect comes on quite rapidly. So that’s definitely one to consider.
A little more common herbs would be Skullcap, Lavender, Catnip. These are milder than the other two I mentioned so far, but not to be written off. And again, you have to kind of calibrate your expectations here a bit. So don’t mix up Mullein and Uva Uris and Skullcap and Catnip and expect it to be like you’re smoking a cannabis joint. But if you are present with it, you can feel the shift in your, in your body, you can feel the shift in your mind. And each of these has their own specificity. Skullcap is always – however you ingest it, it’s particularly good for tension in the neck and the shoulders. And also, as we mentioned earlier, for those kinds of repetitive racing thoughts Lavender is kind of edging into that exhilarating territory. It has some of that uplifting aspect to it. It has a bit more of a stimulating aspect. So if you don’t just need to be loosened up, but also maybe little bit activated or awakened, Lavender can help with that. And I say this especially in the regard to smoking, a lot of times people work with Lavender for sleep blends. And so they might have listened to what I said a moment ago and said, what are you talking about? [chuckle] But you know, with smoke you really focus on those volatiles and they have this kind of upward moving quality to them. So there’s that. Did you have a Lavender thought there?
Yeah, I was just gonna say, it’s not like Caffeine, it’s not like it’s that kind of stimulant, but yeah, just a nice kind of a clearheadedness.
And if you’re in the doldrums, you know exactly that scent of Lavender flowers, you can picture a field of Lavender and kind of close your eyes and go to your happy place, that kind of thing. And then Catnip is one I almost always put in my own personal smoking blends, because it’s one of my most important herbs, one of my allies as they say. And I just love the effects of it in all manners of presentation. But in smoke it does carry that effective calming and soothing and even helping to settle some of that anxiety that’s affecting digestion. You can get some of that effect through the smoke too. So that one’s quite nice. Plus it smells good. And you should only really smoke the herbs that smell good to you. Right? So some people smell catnip and they’re like, yuck, smells like cat pee or whatever else. So if that’s you, then don’t put this in there just saying, no, no, it’s going to be good for me because of the effects Ryn said it has [chuckle]
These are constitutional things. It might not be the right one for you.
Yeah. Trust your aversions. Okay. And another herb that I almost always include in my own blends is Damiana. Damiana has some elements of a relaxant to it and has some elements of a stimulant to it. When we work with Damiana in tea and tincture, we’re often thinking about increasing circulation, especially circulation to the periphery and to the tiny, tiny blood vessels out there on your edges. So Damiana has a kind of a stimulating quality to it. It’s also highly regarded as an aphrodisiac in large part because of that same movement of blood that it induces. But Damiana is a nice one to include in smoke blends. And this is one I often advise people include if they’re making a smoke blend to be combined with Cannabis because as you say, Cannabis can have that sort of couch lock effect, especially the more CBD heavy or more Indica style strains that can kind of get you stuck or heavy, weighted down. And Damiana works very nicely to counterbalance that, to keep things moving and to keep things flowing. And so I find that’s a very nice counterweight to that sort of effect. Damiana is not quite as velvety like your Mullein is, but it too does have a bit of loft to it. And so that can also be helpful in getting a good consistency for the physical aspects of your smoke blend. And then there’s Tulsi and you’ve been wanting to put Tulsi in a couple of times along the way for good reason.
Yeah. I just keep wanting to talk about it. Tulsi is such a helpful herbs for so many aspects, but really, especially for dealing with stress, for dealing with mood issues, for dealing with emotional issues. And Tulsi also is really, really helpful when you’re trying to recover from PTSD or traumatic experiences. And I know that a lot of people take up smoking because of this. A lot of people are working with cannabis or even tobacco in that specific regard. And so adding then Tulsi in there is really going to provide that targeted effect. And some of what Tulsi can do is actually directly focused on the way that our brain processes our memories and our experiences. And that is just such a good component. If that is an aspect of why you smoke, then adding Tulsi in there is such a good component to just help to really move you through the process of dealing with those experiences.
But even if you just smoke for enjoyment or even if you just smoke for regular kinds of stress, not awful kinds of stress Tulsi is still going to be helpful there. And Tulsi is an exhilarant, it’s in that category of things that make your heart sing. So it really is just a lovely plant. And I got my hands on some Tulsi incense, some organic rolled Tulsi incense that I am just so delighted with. It is fantastic. So again, you can put it in a pipe or a cigarette if that is what you’re into. You can get it as incense or you can just burn it as incense from the loose leaf or from like a bundle of it tied together as well. But whatever way you get that into you, it is just beautiful. So then, you know, I know a lot of people have that habit of a cigarette and a cup of coffee or a cigarette and a beer or something like that. You could have a nice organic hand rolled cigarette or a pipe with Tulsi in it and then a big old mug of Tulsi tea and that would be a very different experience. You might love it.
For sure. You know, this is making me think of Rose. You can put a little bit of Rose into a smoke blend. You probably don’t want to put a ton but just a little bit, just a little addition of some crushed up Rose petals into there that will make you a rosy smoke. Rose is pretty strong.
You could put a ton, couldn’t you?
I’m just thinking too much Rose would be kind of overwhelming. Maybe it wouldn’t be, I don’t know. So Rose has some similar qualities to Tulsi in that regard. It’s another one of our exhilarant plants. It’s another one of our herbs that can relieve those feelings of tension and worry and anxiety and soothe and calm your mind and your heart and the connections between them. So yeah, that’s definitely one to consider.
Yeah. You know, as we’re talking about the relaxing herbs, I did want to go back to Lobelia for just one minute because you’ve mentioned Lobelia and asthma several different times and I just want to be clear that smoking is not required to work with Lobelia for asthma, tincture works absolutely well. So if you heard that little tidbit and you were like, Oh, that sounds really interesting, but I just can’t think about starting smoking to fix my asthma. It’s totally not required.
No, don’t do that.
Tincture is awesome.
Yeah. In general, I don’t advise people to start smoking to fix anything. Most of the times when we’re talking about this, it’s like, you already have a habit of smoking. Okay. So while you’re sick, you know, if you’re not one of the people who can quit smoking until you stop coughing up phlegm, let’s at least change what it is that’s being lit there and that kind of thing.
Two Dream Herbs to Consider
Cool. All right, so let’s talk about Mugwort then. Mugwort does have some of these same kind of nervine effects to release that kind of tension and anxiety and that might be a reason you choose to work with it. But Mugwort is also an herb of dreaming and smoking Mugwort is a thoroughly effective way to access those parts of its medicine, it’s affects on people. And as you mentioned earlier, it does have some of that loft and that fluffiness to it. And so that’s helpful in forming a blend. I really love Mugwort. I work with it very frequently and I do like to include it in smoke mixes for all of these reasons coming together. If this is the first time you’re hearing about Mugwort and dreaming, then I have a lovely blog post written about it on our websites for more detail. But the short version is that Mugwort tends to enhance your dream by turning up the colors or turning up the amount of it that you can remember. And if you’ve been practicing with dreaming or just someone who naturally does this, it may also induce more lucidity or more awareness of the dream while in the dream. So if that’s something that you’re interested in exploring, then Mugwort could be a good herb for you. Also, sometimes people who smoke cannabis very heavily stop dreaming, especially if they’re doing this right before bed. And in my experience, including Mugwort in the base blend that you put under the cannabis or alongside with it can counteract that loss of dreaming that sometimes comes with heavy use.
There’s another herb of dreaming that I have worked with in smoking. So I thought I would just mention it. This is called Bitter Grass. Although most of the places that you go online to buy it, will be selling it as something like Aztec dream herbs or something like that. The Latin name is Calea zaxatechichi or I think the botanists want us to call it Calea ternifolia now. But I don’t find that as fun to say [chuckle] and it doesn’t have the callback to the culture from whom knowledge of this plant originated, which is a Mesoamerican culture and people in ancient Mexico and environs. This plant is another herb that affects dreaming. It does it in a very different way from Mugwort. If you are interested in this, generally don’t assume that they’re exactly the same. Calea’s effects have more to do with, as you’re passing into sleep, conjuring images on the back of your eyelids, you know, the eyelid movies or the phosphenes on the Eigengrau and you know there’s all these names for what it is you’re experiencing there. But I mean, even right now, if you close your eyes, there’s some kind of shapes or colors, there might be streaks of lights and as you’re laying there in bed, if you’re trying to focus on dreaming, you’re going to be paying a lot of attention to those to try to stay mentally alert as you transition from wake to dream. And Calea really helps with that liminal space. And it’s called bitter grass. Of all of the herbs that I’ve put into a smoke mix, this is the one that the bitter taste comes through in smoke most strongly. There are other herbs that have strong bitterness to them, but for whatever reason it doesn’t really pass through the smoke too much. But when you smoke Bitter Grass, you know you’re doing it [chuckle] It’s very interesting, especially if you’re an herbalist and you already have a good relationship with bitter flavors, this is a very different way of experiencing that. And I think it’s worth trying just for that experience alone.
Mixing Smoke Blends
All right. So, again, we tend to put these into mixes, rather than just taking any one of these herbs on its own. In part because a plant like Mullein that can have some physical effects, but it’s not so much of a nervine, whereas a plant like Tulsi has a lot of these nervine effects, but like physically handling it in a pipe or in a cigarette or something, it doesn’t quite have the physical properties that make that easy. So we tend to make blends and again, they tend to be based on either Mullein or Damiana or Mugwort or Raspberry Leaf or some other thing that you have near you that has that kind of loft and fluffiness to it when it’s dried and crumbled. And then we put in whatever it is that seems helpful to you. So just as an example, here’s the smoking blend I put together for a client just recently. It was Damiana and Mullein and then Tulsi, Uva Ursi, a little bit of Catnip and a small amount of an herd called Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris. And those were in decreasing order of concentration. And you know, the intention is always what matters when you’re formulating. So the intention here was to emphasize the desirable effects of cannabis while mitigating the undesirable ones, ideally allowing the person to work with or to take less cannabis, in order to achieve the same effects. And so the effects we were trying to emphasize were feelings of euphoria, feelings of comfort and ease in the world, but to try to reduce the effects of feeling heavy or weighted down or couch locked. With what we said about the various herbs that are included in here so far, I think that that should make sense, about how we were putting that together to accomplish this. So just as an example, but there are plenty of other ways to combine these herbs together.
And I obviously have not covered all of the herbs for smoking in this small presentation here. So do feel free to experiment with different plant matter. And try that out and we’ll say a couple of last things here. One is that a mortar and pestle is actually really helpful for getting your herbs to the right consistency. What I would do would be to combine all the herbs I wanted to put into my blend in the proportions that I wanted in my finished blend. Put them all into the mortar and pestle and just lightly grind them for a little while. And what happens is everything gets pretty nicely integrated. The other option really is to just take all your blend of herbs and crush them between your palms and rub them back and forth vigorously to try to get them to integrate and get the right consistency. This is particularly important if you want to use herbal powders in your mixture. I’ve only done that once or twice. It was for attempting to make a smoke blend that would have clove in it. So you definitely don’t want to use whole cloves. You wouldn’t even want to use crumbled clove because each individual piece is going to be just too intense. So a bit of powder sprinkled over the smoke blend, rubbed into it, so it’s nicely integrated and you can get that flavor into there. I’ll be fair, there are good reasons not to smoke clove in particular. There are some irritating constituents in there and you definitely don’t want to make a big habit out of that. But you know, for all of us goths and ex goths and recovering clove smokers out here in the world, it can be nice to have a little touch of that every now and again. But if you are going to use any kind of herbal powder in your blend, you definitely need some of those fluffy plants as a matrix for it to cling to. And then you want to rub it in there and get it evenly distributed.
Okay. I think that’s about all I really wanted to talk about today. I will have to give here a shout out to Howie Brownstein, who has an excellent ebook about herbal smoking and herbal smoking mixtures. I will include a link to that in the show notes as well so you can learn from his wisdom. I read that probably 10 years ago and was inspired by it. So I have to give credit where credit is due there.
You know also, we have a student in the business coaching group right now who is launching a business in the next few days here, called Puff Herbal Smokes and she has several blends of herbal smokes loose and pre-rolled available and there are other people who sell them as well. I just happened to know this one because she’s in the business group. So if this is interesting to you, you could check that out as well. Especially if you want to try it before you go to the trouble of learning how to roll it for yourself.
Yeah, I think they have a placeholder website up right now at puffherbalsmokes.com.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure they launched like in like another week or two.
Yeah, okay. So if you’re listening to this in the future [laughter] that might be easier to get to. Cool. All right, well that’s it for our topic today, but before we leave we have shout outs.
Yes! First of all to Leslie who suggested this very podcast topic on smoking cessation. So Leslie, I hope that this is really helpful for you and that you like it.
Yeah. Thanks for that. We have a shout out to Pilar who said, that the pod makes herbalism more fun and who also had a question about the best bottles for infused oil storage.
Yeah. Well, we were talking about Amber versus clear and I said Amber, definitely. Or colored.
Yeah, you got to go with those light blocking bottles.
Yes. A shout out to Liz from Maryland who formulated herself a fantastic blend of Tulsi, Chamomile and Ginger to deal with the stress of driving in the city. Hooray.
To Darcy who loves the pod. Thank you so much and likes to drink a Kava and pineapple blend, which she says is pretty weird, but she likes it. That sounds like it’s worth a try.
I thought you were going to say that [chuckles].
Get your tropical theme together. Yeah, I like it.
Yeah. A shout out to Me & Chunk on iTunes who wrote us a review to bump us up to a hundred.
Yay thanks so much.
Also I’m so glad that the podcast is making herbalism easier, more accessible for you. I’m really grateful to hear your thoughts on it.
On Instagram we have a shout out to Oh La Luna Apothecary. “We just found the pod and loved the part about the Elderflower last week.” That was a good pod.
Also to Mrs. Sorensen, many hugs. She loved the crackly fire and whispery brook in last week’s podcast
And to I heart herbs and my Herb Tales who weighed in on the last episode also. And you know, there was pretty much an avalanche of people wishing us happy anniversaries. Thank you everybody.
Thank you so much.
We appreciate it and we appreciate you listening. Whether you are a returning listener or a brand new listener, you’re awesome and we love you.
Thank you so much again, if you want to support this podcast and the work that we do in the community, go to commonwealthherbs.com/support and sign up today.
Yeah, and otherwise, we will be back next week with another edition of the Holistic Herbalism podcast.
See you later.
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