Inipi and the Fires of Sweet Everlasting Pt 2

My journey on the 5 day Inipi ceremony took an abrupt turn on the second day into the Sweet Everlasting. My intent and prayers on the first day were to deepen my connection to the plant people on this land. After leaving the lodge I started seeing Sweet Everlasting surrounding us…folks who mistook it for a lowly weed were stomping it down.

I didn’t blame them. Few recognize it these days, it looks like a “lowly weed” to most of us. Nor do we find it praised in our herbals. Country folk usually call it rabbit tobacco, or cudweed, or field balsam. Young kids are sometimes encouraged by parents to try it out for a smoke knowing that its likely to end the temptation towards tobacco. Hardly anything to tiptoe around.

Yet, to many tribes, this plant was sacred to the Inipi itself! Sprinkled on heated stones to alter the psychic landscape and carry the people through the veil…a place to actually meet the ancestors. Its smoke was also used to revive the unconscious (even lesson effects of a stroke). Additionally, among tribes who weren’t afraid of it (more on that later), it was added to the herbs smoked in the sacred pipe, the chanupa. These smoking herbs were to include at least three types of herb. One to open the door (tobacco), another to carry one across the threshold into alternate reality, and another to help retain what was learned. Rabbit tobacco served to take one across the boundary. Tribes knew it as  a plant “that walks between the living and the dead”. Rabbit tobacco took root in my mind and I resolved to show it to the group the next day and to make it the focal point of my next plunge into the Inipi.  Lucky for us, it rained the night before.

Rabbit tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) has a peculiar trait. Its one of the plants that stands erect throughout the winter after it’s died

Sweet Everlasting

Such plants rely on their high mineral content of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus for tensile strength. But this one differs. Its stalk has some “give” to it because its primary minerals include less common ones like copper and manganese. Its dried flowers will give off a beautiful vanilla-like scent when there’s the right amount of moisture in the air. That’s how it came to be known as field balsam. In the old days, folks used to pick these flower heads and bring them into their homes to scent the air… learned from the Indians, so it was called Indian Posy.  Medicine men were cautious with it, though. Its scent and life-force lasted for years…so did its psychic powers. Such powers reflect the “vibes” around them. Where there is toxic energy, the plants pick it up and open the door to negative spirits. Therefore, some shamans would leave it outdoors for at least six months before bringing it in, just to be safe.  Some wouldn’t take any chances and didn’t allow it in the lodge nor in the chanupa…who could be sure that some evil hadn’t ruined it!

Well, on the second day of the Inipi, after explaining its sacred and medicinal uses and inviting everyone to its fragrance,  I gave a branch to Wolf and lost myself in it’s sweetness..on that day the lodge cracked open for me and I met its plant spirit.  Fortunately, we don’t have to play with its psychic fires to make good use of it. It was once a valued medicine for tribes and settlers alike. I have no idea why its become so obscure. For example, it has a special way with hard-to-treat asthma, especially that acquired in early childhood and associated with genetics. Its energetic signature marks it for those born with some kind of genetic weakness. You may find recommendations to smoke it for asthma…not so good. Instead, it was stuffed into a pillow that the patient slept on. Over about a year, the asthma slowly cleared up. It wasn’t always a full cure, but a definite improvement could be expected.

The tribes called it rabbit medicine, it grows in areas that rabbits like to hang out in (& it prefers to grow around oaks). It treats “rabbit conditions”, for example: rabbits have a thin skin that’s easily cut…tribes believed that rabbits used it to heal those wounds which carries over to how we can do the same.  It also seems to be an herb of choice for people who have thin skin. Rabbits are twitchy creatures. Gnaphalium is good for our own twitchiness, its a mild sedative and pain killer. Have you ever heard the term, “they breed like rabbits”? Another rabbit trait is suggested in its powers as an aphrodisiac.There are many tribal stories about this plant and its associations with rabbits, also with owls.

It shines for treating respiratory conditions, colds and flu. One of the more thorough articles on its medicinal use can be found here. One caution, folks who are allergic to the daisy ought to avoid it. Make sure your plants come from a “good energy” source,too!

Firekeeper begins fire to heat stones (grandfathers)

Next up, a dear friend suffers from migraines. I was going to send her a long email but decided I ought to post here so others could read it, too. Oh, if you’ve anything to share about Rabbit Tobacco…even your own sad stories about how you tried smoking it as a kid…we’d love to see that in the comments.


About dcoda

An herbalist for over 40 years, ten years spent alone in the Ozark Hurricane Creek Wilderness Preserve, working with its brilliant botanicals. I'm an instructor and co-founder of the Ozark Herbal Academy which offers training in medicinal and edible plants through hands-on workshops and online courses.

Posted on November 30, 2010, in Medicinal Herbs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Mitakuye Oyasin

  2. Hi DCoda, Thank you so much for Part II! What ann inspiring experience, and I’m sure everyone involved made exponential progress. That is the beauty of going deep into a journey while in a group.

    My only “sweat lodges” of late have involved sudden sweating over personal emergencies in my home-lodge. 🙂 The plants have really been coming to my rescue. I feel very fortunate. The most notable emergency involves my father, who was had a serious car crash earlier this week. Fortuitously, a few weeks before the accident, I had begun to feel extra attracted to comfrey (uplandica x), drinking her as an infusion and in general getting friendly. This was good timing, because my dad cracked 10 ribs… I had the similar “cracking open” sense you mentioned, and knew that this wonderful, able plant would help him, once we were sure the bones were in their proper places. He’s now taking comfrey topically and as an infusion, in addition to the allopathic treatment. And I am gaining some new plant friends, which makes the emergencies feel like they’ve come with a silver lining, if nothing else.

    • I like your “healers” attitude! Comfrey would be my first choice,too. You’re quite right, these emergencies bring us closer to our allies…especially when they come to the rescue of someone we love. Please share the journey with us, how your dad responds to this plant.

  3. Hi Dakota,
    Enjoy reading your blog. Lets do a workshop/ fieldtrip on natives in Yellville in the Spring!!!

    • Hi Pamela, I’m working out my 2011 calendar right now so this was timely. I’ll get in touch with you and we’ll see what we can do. I haven’t been to Yellville, would be fun to see what’s there!

  4. hi- sad story. I gave gnaphalium to a boyfriend to smoke around me as I have asthma (and I am missing cherokee family connections). it helped somewhat. Started seeing ghosts of friends of his who had died – right around time I found out he was telling people he was single.One ghost was a cat who used to attack pregnant women – thats how I found out I was pregnant – when ghost of molly rocked up. One ghost was of a friend of his whose brother used to chat me up at a train station. Another ghost showed when I moved out of boyfriend’s house – turned out the ghost was husband of a woman boyfriend tried to chat up. And thats how he got to learn that cheating is found out even beyond death! Figure when the ghosts appear its time to make some changes! Not sure if I want to make a pillow out of this stuff – dont know who or what I will dream about and why!

    • Hi Elle, thanks so much for your story, it really confirms its reputation and offers clues for how to safely use it. There was a lot of controversy among the tribes, some avoided it (no doubt for reasons like your own), and others courted it (helpful spirits?). I can understand why a pillow of it may not be for you! Now, a pillow of thyme might be ideal since it offers sound sleep (& wards off nightmares,too).

  5. Where can I get rabbit tobacco?

    • Todd, I assume you mean where can you buy it? In terms of the herb trade its one of the “unknowns”, meaning too few know about it to make it commercially worthwhile. There are a LOT of herbs in this category which don’t appear on herb product catalogs. And I haven’t seen it listed anywhere, yet. Fortunately, depending on where you live, its a “common field weed”. Another reason it may not appear in the trade is due to its vibrational qualities as described in the post. It “picks up the vibes” around it so a wildcrafter must be well informed and choose only plants from areas with wholesome vibes. I wouldn’t use it unless I knew everything about who picked it and what the area where it grew was like. My suggestion is to learn how to identify it and how to evaluate its environment. I’m interested in learning more about your experience if you do track it down and use it.

  6. Thanks of this info. I dried quite a bit this summer on Long Island. I have some that i’ve been smoking at night in a pipe I made. I find it very enjoyable and not harsh at all. I also added some to a beer for flavoring. I find the effect is greater focus and clarity. I drink coffee and the effect is very different then the ‘spazz’ feeling that caffeine provides. no spiritual encounters yet.

    • I appreciate learning about your experience with it, thanks for chiming in. Adding it to beer is a new idea (I’m going to try that). Please let us know about any other experiments and experiences. It adds to the lore about this plant.

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