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Coyote Tobacco

Scientific Name:
Nicotiana attenuata
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Klamath: Käch'-kul (Coville 1897)
  2. Northern Paiute: puhi'-pa'mo' (Kelly 1932); wi'si-pa'mo' (Kelly 1932); puihibamo (Couture et al. 1986); bah-moh (Train et al. 1957); poo-ee-bah-hoon (Train et al. 1957); poo-ee-bah-moh (Train et al. 1957); toh-quoh-quah (Train et al. 1957)
  3. Pit River: ohpi (Garth 1953); o·hpi (Kroeber 1958)
Description:

Plant
Nicotiana attenuata is an annual herb growing from 50 to 150 centimeters high. Leaves are oval in shape near the base of the plant, becoming elongated and narrow higher on the stem. Leaves can reach 10 cm in length. Pinkish to white or green flowers are tubular in shape, two to three cm in length with bases enclosed in pointed green sepals. Fruits are elongated, dry, ovoid capsules about one cm in length. Inside, the capsules contain numerous irregular-to-kidney shaped brown seeds. Seeds range from .5 to 1 mm in length.

Starch granules
Transitory starches are present in leaves, but rare. These starches have a centric hila, range in size from 3 to 5 microns, are spherical in shape, and have bright even crosses.

Habitat:

Nicotiana attenuata prefers dry, disturbed areas, specifically those recently burned. It is often found on open, well-drained slopes but does occur rarely in wetlands. The plant can be found across a wide elevational gradient, from 500 to 9000 feet in elevation.

Distribution:

Nicotiana attenuata grows from Baja California north to British Columbia and east to New Mexico, Colorado, and northern Montana.

Ethnography:

As medicine

Northern Paiute: "Smoking was a part of shamanistic treatment. For earache and deafness the doctor blew the smoke of puhi'-pa'mo' in the ear to clear the passages. A tea of the same tobacco was drunk for stomachache. For bad colds a mixture of puhi'-pa'mo' and balsam was smoked." (Kelly 1932:181)

Northern Paiute: "A number of remedies for stomach complaints follow...For stomachache, he drank a tea of boiled leaves of kusi'agüpü or tobacco (puhi'-pa'mo'); or else chewed the seeds of ya'pa'-gwana'bü." (Kelly 1932:197)

Northern Paiute: "There is a large series of cold remedies. A mixture of balsam (to'˙saa) and tobacco (puhi'-pa'mo') was smoked for bad colds, even by children." (Kelly 1932:197)   

Northern Paiute: "Sagebrush leaves are also ground and mixed with tobacco. This is wet so it makes a paste. This is applied to children for fever or put on swellings on adults or children." (Fowler 1989:128)

Northern Paiute: "Although ordinarily employed by the Indians as a smoking tobacco, the plant has a number of remedial applications, most of them being external…A favorite remedy is to apply the crushed leaves as a poultice to reduce swellings, especially those due to rheumatism...although one Indian used the crushed seed as a liniment for such conditions...The poultice of the crushed leaves was reported...to serve for eczema or similar skin infections...The chewed leaves are sometimes applied to cuts...and they are bound on snakebites after the poison has been sucked out...The decoction from the boiled leaves can be administered as a healing wash for hives or other skin irritations...Aside from smoking the dried leaves for pleasure, some of the Indians believe that it also cures colds...especially if the mixture is enriched with dried Salvia carnosa or with bits of 'toh-sah' root (Leptotaenia multifida)." (Train et al. 1957:71-72)   

Other
Northern Paiute: "The generic word for tobacco is pa'mo'.  In the old days two kinds were smoked: Nicotiana attenuata, the usual Basin species; and pinemat manzanita, Arctostaphylos nevadensis Gray (koda'bü)…Nicotiana is pretty well scattered over the country, and the source of supply seems not to have been localized. It is called puhi'-pa'mo' (puhi', green) or wi'si-pa'mo'.  The leaves are dried, pounded, and stored in sacks with a little deer fat added to improve flavor." (Kelly 1932:181)

Pit River: "Burning for tobacco incidental to burning for wild seeds. In fall, "burn brushy place, for wild seeds; next spring wild tobacco grows there. This is gathered. While gathering, tobacco pods rubbed between hands, thus sprinkling the seeds into the ashes; ashes kicked over seeds with feet. Next year pick tobacco from this spot. Tobacco continues to grow at this place for 2-3 years, then very little comes up, so another brush patch is burned off, as there is no brush left at first patch to burn." When burning for wild seed crop, do not scatter these seeds intentionally, as do for tobacco." (Voegelin 1942:202)

Pit River: "Tobacco imported. Always sown on hill, not near river; transplanted; weeded. Ground in mortar; on metate. Mixed for smoking with bark, aromatic root. Kept in horn container. Tobacco eaten, drunk." (Voegelin 1942:165)

Klamath: "Käch'-kul.- The native wild tobacco of the region, commonly appearing as a weed in cultivated fields. My informant stated that the Indians never cultivated it, and that it makes an exceedingly strong smoking mixture." (Coville 1897:104)

Distribution Map: