The History of Smokable Herbs
Humans have been using smoke produced from burning medicinal herbs for pleasure and curative purposes since the dawn of history. The culture of smoking, specifically the smoking of herbs for medical purposes has evolved over time as part of different traditional healing methods. There is abundant evidence of various cultures in which smoking herbs was an integral part of the healing process. From Darius, King of Persia, in the 5th century BCE, via traditional healing practices in South America, to the great 10th century Muslim healer Avicenna who described the smoking of medicinal herbs in his book "The Canon of Medicine".
Combining Herbal Blends Medical Methods
The smoking of herbs was developed into an organized method by Indian healers who developed the traditional India medicine ("Ayurveda"). This 4000-year old method describes various uses of herbs and emphasizes the special qualities in using them for smoking: "…smoking the herbs enhances and realizes their qualities…". According to the Ayurveda tradition, besides inhaling the active substances found in the herb, by smoking it we release its energy of light and transfer it to the smoker. The inhaled smoke bonds with the prana (= ch'i = lifeforce) which carries the herb's healing potential to any part of the body or soul towards which we may focus deep healing intentions.
Ayurveda literature describes the process of preparing a smoking blend of herbs for different purposes and the way in which smoking is used as a means of healing. The smoking of herbs is still implemented in Ayurveda clinics throughout India today and is studied in Indian universities as part of Ayurveda studies towards doctoral degrees, exactly as it was described in Ayurveda sources thousands of years ago.
The Medical Benefits of Smoking Herbs
The pharmacological influence of the substances that become active in herbs while smoking them is extremely swift and highly efficient. The large surface area of the lungs (almost equal to the size of a tennis court!), and their efficient alveolus activity enable the different particles in the herb's smoke to penetrate the bloodstream almost as soon as smoking is begun. The active components are transferred to the body's different organs and tissues and influence them accordingly.
The influence on the nervous system and the brain is rapid – some of the herb's active substances penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and exert an immediate influence, either soothing or stimulating. The primary beneficial medical influence resulting from the smoking of herbs is ascribed to the respiratory system and includes effects such as drying mucus, expectoration, relaxation of the respiratory muscles and relief for coughing. A further important influence is on the digestive system including the peristaltic movement of the intestine and the innervation of the digestive system via the Vagus nerve. Furthermore, the smoking of herbs alleviates headache and toothache, treats hormonal problems such as imbalance of the thyroid gland, mental problems and others.
What is the Real Leaf Smoking Blend made of?
This blend uses three herbs that are extremely common in the various healing traditions:
Mullein (Verbascum spp.)
Mullein is one of the most useful herbs in herbal medicine. It is extremely common in Europe, North America, and Asia, including Israel. Its medical qualities are found in the large and fleshy leaves which have a bittersweet taste and a mucous-like texture. The herb's appearance and feel, together with its flavor and texture project its medical qualities, actively supporting and soothing damaged respiratory tracts, softening and moistening respiratory systems, especially in cases of dry chronic cough.
The Mullein's qualities and special appearance aroused the curiosity of the Greek healer Dioscorides who was one of the first to recommend using Mullein for softening, soothing and rehabilitating different mucins, especially of the respiratory system.
The natives of North America smoked the Mullein leaves that were considered efficient in treating pneumonia, asthma, sore throat, and hoarseness. There is evidence that Indians from the Navajo tribe referred to Mullein as "the great tobacco" and used it, both for medical purposes and as a tobacco substitute during various ceremonies. In northern India, the herb was used for similar purposes, specifically for treating asthma and coughing. Similar uses were recorded in Tibet, South-East-east Asia and Pakistan.
An interesting tradition use of Mullein describes it as strengthening the spinal cord, both the physical and the emotional. According to tradition, Mullein contributes to the general strengthening of the skeleton, specifically strengthening and moisturizing of the joints and tissues supporting the bones. It was for this reason that the Mullein was also used for bone infections and fractures.
Mullein is used to this day in modern herbal medicine for similar purposes – softening viscous mucus and expectoration, soothing a dry and nagging cough, relaxing respiratory muscles, for hoarseness, and in rehabilitation of mucosa in the respiratory system after infection or long-term injury. Mullein is considered one of the important herbs in treating the respiratory system.
Red Raspberry (Rubus Idaeus)
Raspberry is one of the oldest medicinal herbs. From the natives in North America who used its leaves to fortify the body, mainly the woman's, up to the Chinese who viewed it as beneficial for stimulating the body's ch'i and strengthening weakened tissues. The Indians used the raspberry leaves as part of their traditional smoking blend (Kinnikinnick) which was used for leisure and in religious ceremonies.
The name Rubus originates from Latin and means "red", like the color of the raspberry's fruit. In the past, according to the doctrine of signatures, the raspberry's red color attributed its medical qualities to the vascular system and we now know that the herb is indeed beneficial to the blood vessels. The name Idaeus is taken from the nymph of the same name in Greek mythology, the raspberry being associated with female energy and fertility.
The herb is mentioned frequently in medical records worldwide, including Jewish medical literature of the Rambam (Maimonides) and Asaph Ha-Rofeh. The raspberry was widely considered as strengthening tissue tone and aiding a sense of stability and steadfastness in states of emotional and physical weakness. The herb is known to soothe, and to release excess muscle tone and flexing.
In modern herbal medicine, raspberry is used to fortify tissue, especially the womb and pelvic floor muscles, and to soothe unwanted contractions of the womb during pregnancy. This particular use has made the herb extremely popular among women, both before and after birth. The raspberry leaves are rich in active substances known as tannins that stanch bleeding, heal wounds and more.
Marshmallow (Althea Officinalis)
The marshmallow herb is a relative of the Malva and is used in many medical traditions. First accounts of the herb's use are from ancient Egypt where it was used to prepare sweets. The first recorded medical use was in Greece in the 9th century BCE at the hands of famous healers such as Hippocrates and Dioscorides, from where it spread to Muslim medicine (Unani) and Indian medicine (Ayurveda). The Greeks called the herb "Althea" from the word "althos" which means "healing".
The parts of the marshmallow used are the leaves and the root and the medical indications have remained unchanged across all traditions, even today. The herb is used to moisturize mucous tissue, for expectoration of viscous mucus, to soften the respiratory system, soothe nagging cough, and treat hoarseness. The herb is suitable for all kinds of dryness, from the digestive system to the respiratory system where it is especially suitable for long-term support of decreased lung sensitivity common with heavy smokers. The marshmallow is known to fortify and nourish tissue, to possess calming and cooling qualities that are beneficial in treating cases of "excess heat" such as skin infections, heartburn and a feeling of internal heat.
In Chinese medicine, the herb is known to strengthen the "yin", the female energy, to soften muscles and tissue, to allow for a gentle and pleasant flow of the blood, to nurture bodily fluids, to release excess heat, and to calm the nervous system.
The herb's sweet flavor has aroused curiosity for centuries. In traditional medicines, sweetness is a sign of a supportive and nutritive herb and one that induces physical and emotional calm and serenity. The Indian Catawba tribe cooked the herb to create a sweetish syrup given to children as a cough medicine.
The marshmallow herb has been known for centuries as a herb that can be smoked, either on its own or blended with other herbs. Smoking the herb is described as contributing to calmness and relaxation.