Herb of the Month Series-Tobacco

I decided that the herb of the month had to be something that would not only honor what I have come to call #PettwayHistoryMonth, but my great grandmother whom I usually kick off Pettway history month with. While most people are celebrating Black History Month I take that time to introduce the world to my infamous family. Even though I clearly talk about my family’s illustrious history more often than not, it is a more concentrated effort in February. I have been doing this for the last few years & every year I end up learning something new about my family! This year I decided to celebrate a little differently when I came across a challenge in one of the genealogy pages I follow on facebook. The way I usually celebrate allows me to honor whoever I want so you all know I favor my great grandmothers. This challenge took away that freedom so I decided to dedicate my herb of the month to my love, Martha Jane. 

One of the most prominent memories I have of my great grandmother besides her always having a quilt thrown over her knees is that she chewed snuff. Once I began studying traditional religions I became interested in the snuff she chewed as an offering on my ancestral altar. After a couple of years of looking for her particular brand of snuff unsuccessfully I decided that another fitting way to honor her was to grow tobacco on my medicinal herb mini farm. I would be able to offer her tobacco regularly & use it in my business. Tobacco is extremely medicinal & spiritual. 

It doesn’t hurt that it is a very easy plant to maintain once you get it established. It is a tropical plant so it prefers the heat. It can be overwintered. You want to protect the roots so that they do not die from cold weather. The plant itself is beautiful & puts me in the mind of collards with their big bushy leaves. As I previously stated tobacco has so many different medicinal properties, as well as spiritual. As beautiful as the plant is, it is medicinal once the leaves are processed. It is an antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant & a sedative. Native Americans smoke it to converse with spirit. Used usually to treat bee stings, skin conditions & even snake bites. Chewed tobacco has been used by indigineous people for centuries. Poultice is used for skin conditions & stings or insect bites. Saliva is a contributing factor to the medicine, along with the nicotine in the tobacco. 

Tobacco smoked has a number of medicinal properties. Even though, when you think of tobacco you do not think medicinal. You think cigarettes, which let’s be honest have a number of other very harmful ingredients besides nicotine. Organic tobacco with no additives is a completely different situation than what is found in a cigarette with additives. I smoked the unhealthy version of tobacco in cigarettes for over thirty years. I quit them a little over 3 years ago & it was the best decision I have ever made. I have not personally used the tobacco I have grown for anything beyond an incense & offering to my great grandmother so far. 

I will test tobacco smoke for ear infections or nasal congestion eventually. It will have to be organic tobacco that I have grown with no additives. I will not inhale lol! Tobacco smoke is actually how you tap into the spirituality of the plant. Maybe we will add it to a medicinal smoking blend at some point in that journey. It has ritualistic properties in the quest of shamanic candidates. It is a tool to induce visions as they train. Water spirits are appreciative of tobacco as an offering for travel as well. The incense has been used to eliminate negativity from your space. I never really understood why my great grandmother chewed snuff. I also didn’t really think anything of it if I am being honest.

There was no negativity attached to her chewing it. We did not judge her or other women that chewed it. By the time I came along it wasn’t acceptable for women to smoke cigarettes & they were again, unhealthy with the added ingredients. I don’t remember anyone complaining about my great grandmother’s chewing snuff being unladylike. I think as she got older my grandmother & her siblings might have considered it unhealthy. She lived a very long time so I don’t really know how unhealthy it really could be, but she stopped chewing a few years before her passing. I wonder if she ever used any of her chewed snuff to cure one of the kids or even the grandkids.


  • Kisha

    Thank you for your beautiful testimony Evelyn!

  • Evelyn

    That story was captivating! I started reading and did not stop until the end. Thank you for sharing the story of your great grandmother and her chewing snuff and the awesome information about tobacco. Your story has persuaded me to grow tobacco this year. I have been reading a book called Sweetgrass and your story reminds me of this beautiful book. I never was able to ask my great grandmother any family details and I am sad about that, however as a kid, we sat on the porch together and snapped peas and I learned how to clean greens, she kept rain buckets on the sides of the house to catch the rain. I know she waters her flowers with that. I remember she has grapevines on a fence my great-granddaddy built. And a few more things she did I learned unconsciously. I think back and say ok that is how I know this or that. I transformed my entire backyard into my garden just as she did. I hate we lost our true traditions, all other races celebrate with beautiful colors and dances and foods and music I watch and wonder what did my 6th generation grandparents celebrated? I want to celebrate whatever good things they celebrated. Anyway, thanks for a great testimony of your history.

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