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Rabbit tobaccoPseudognaphalium obtusifolium
Rabbit Tobacco
A little-known plant with a rich magical history, rabbit tobacco has a ton of possibilities for magic workers today. The Sioux described it as a plant able to walk the borderline between the dead and the living, which is shown in the way the plant's flowers persist after the plant is dead but also in that the dried herb will suddenly, after months or years, release a lot of scent--as if it has just returned from the world of the dead. Various uses amongst the tribes illustrate this magic herb's borderland capabilities (living/dead, awake/asleep, sane/insane). The Alabama tribe used it to wash someone who suffered from nervousness and insomnia caused by pestiferous spirits of the dead, and the Creek made a wash of it for elderly people who were unable to sleep and decocted it into a tea for people being harassed by ghosts. The Menominee smudged homes with it to evict spirits of the recently dead; the Cherokee did the same but included banishing loneliness as part of the smudging's effect. The Menominee involved it in the treatment of psychological problems, inhaling the steam of the leaves or smudging with the herb for insanity and even to revive people who had passed out. We see an interesting kind of connection between dispelling and gathering back with this plant. They considered it a very important sorcerer's medicine, which might be demonstrated by its name "owl's crown," the owl often being associated not only with the dead but among a number of tribes, with sorcery. The Yuchi mixed the leaves with those of Eastern juniper (Juniperus virginiana aka eastern cedar, although it is not a cedar) and burned them to smudge the home when someone had died in order to prevent the ghost of the departed from clinging too tightly to the world of the living; they are encouraged to move on and join the dead. The spirits of the restless dead might cause fevers in the living, and for this they also smudged people with sweet everlasting and eastern juniper needles. They sometimes smudged babies the same way, perhaps because babies have only recently crossed the boundary between the living and the dead, or because babies are weak and thus more susceptible to spirit attack. Flowers are picked and put into a medicine bag to be carried for protection not only from the dead but from witchcraft and ill will. Seminoles similarly combined rabbit tobacco and eastern cedar needles as a smudge, but it was to smudge one's hands and body after being in a crowd and perhaps picking up bad witchcraft; the user also took four breaths of the smoke. Likewise, the Seminole smudged a house after they suspected a visitor had left behind bad witchcraft. One herbalist pointed out the connection between rabbit tobacco's use in asthma and its reputation as walker between worlds--in asthma, the breath (life) is restricted, and this herb helps bring that breath back--a very astute conclusion, IMO. In fact, in the Yuchi language, part of its name comes from the word for breath, but in the sense of spirit. The Sioux also descried the plant's abilities to pick up on the good or evil of people around it, even when it is in the dried state; so it is a kind of psychic collector, which can make it very powerful for good or ill. Top

Consider rabbit tobacco for protecting the home from ghosts; smudging folks who are harassed by negative spirits or the unhappy dead; helping folks who are suffering nightmares, insomnia, or who are not in their right mind; and protecting newborns. Has lots of possibilities as part of any work with the Underworld. After some rumination, I settled on designating this an Air herb, on account of its nice scent (but which is not Venus-like), because of its medicinal use in asthma (material uses always helpful as directions for spiritual use), and because of the connection between breath and soul/spirits/ghosts. Top

Mundane Uses

Rabbit tobaccoThe Cherokee decocted rabbit tobacco, made it into a cough syrup, smoked it for asthma, and chewed it for a sore throat. The Creek added it to medicines for its pleasant scent, sort of like cherry flavoring in European medicine This herb is called "everlasting" because of how the dried flowers persevere. In Eclectic medicine, it was referred to as white balsam and infused to make medicines for sore throats, mouth sores, to cause sweating to help break a fever, made into a poultice for bruises, and stuffed into pillows for tubercular people that enabled them to sleep without hacking. Europeans seemed to have missed this plant's magical capabilities, even though there is an unscented Gnaphalium in Europe. Even years after being dried, this magic herb's scent can be released strongly and suddenly. In the field, it releases its scent after a rain. Some think it's a warm, spicy smell, others that it smells like maple syrup. Rabbit tobacco is also known as owl's crown, moonshine, ladies' tobacco, poverty weed, old field balsam, sweet everlasting, cudweed, sweet white balsam, Indian posey, none-so-pretty, catsfoot, life of man, and fussy gussy. Top

How to Grow rabbit tobacco. Even though this is an annual, it benefits from cold stratification. Sprinkle seeds in a paper towel that has been wet and wrung out (I like to use a kelp/water solution for this). Fold up towel, pressing gently, and put inside a cheap baggie. Don't close the top, and don't forget to label the baggie. Put outside in late fall in a sheltered location, like an unheated garage, an unheated porch, or a covered patio. In spring, check regularly for germination and transplant to seed starting pots or peat pellets. It gets 1-3ft/30-90cm tall. Transplant to dryish soil and full sun. rabbit tobacco is usually collected in the fall or winter, when it has naturally dried in the field. Amongst the Yuchi, it is general practice to fast from midnight until harvesting the herb during the day, during which time prayers are said to explain to the divine what is needed to be done, and the herb is harvested while the person faces east. Although a common name for this herb is rabbit tobacco, rabbits do not like to eat it; according to tribal lore, they just like to hang around it. Remember that Rabbit is a trickster, though. General growing info. Top

Rabbit Tobacco
200 seeds $3.75


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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Protection from Ghosts & Witchcraft
Blessing the Bereaved
Air Herb

2012, 2014 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission