Author : Karen Bergeron Shelton (c) December 4, 2018.
Now that most areas have had their first freeze, the Ginseng has died back and it seems there are few medicinal plants to harvest, it is prime time for Rabbit Tobacco. This herb is know to be at it's best in dying, and is said to have an affinity in balancing life and death. While it is said to keep malevolent ghosts away, it is also used to help reach out to loved ones who have passed, and in easing the transition between life and death.
Rabbit Tobacco is unmistakable by its ghostly white appearance in the brown background of fall meadows. The leaves are long, elliptical, fuzzy, and silver green colored with white underneath. Rabbit Tobacco grows up to one meter high. It has an unusual, musty but not unpleasant fragrance. Some say it smells like vanilla. If you find it pleasant, you can use it in sachets.
One the seed disperses, the everlasting flower bracts are star shaped and often used in dried flower arrangements and will last for several years. Another interesting fact about Rabbit Tobacco; it is said to be useful in its medicinal properties only after frost when the leaves have turned brown with their glowing white fuzz underneath, and the plant appears dead. Perhaps it is for those reasons that Rabbit Tobacco is often linked in herbal lore with death and the afterlife. I am reminded of the beauty of an elderly woman in its presence. Is there not wisdom beneath those wrinkled, brown leaves and all the white hair?
Rabbit tobacco seeds are like tiny dandelion seeds and it is best if you remove them outside before you bring in your plant material or they will make quite a mess, think glitter...flying around like dust. It is usually quite easy to remove any remaining seed in the field when harvesting in late fall. If you can contain them, the fluffy dried flowers are useful for stuffing small pillows. Otherwise, just use the leaves harvested after they have turned brown, and you will have the same aroma without the mess.
Rabbit Tobacco is found growing wild in hayfields and waste places in poor soil. It will grow wild in heavy clay soils, dry areas and in places where other vegetation is rather sparse.
Rabbit tobacco will grow easily from seed planted in fall. Stratified seed can be planted in Spring. I grew it once when I dried bundles in paper bags, then shook the seed over broken ground in a hayfield. It grows well in the same conditions as Passionflower and Mullein.
Very little is written about Rabbit Tobacco's medicinal properties, and it is rarely used for such. It can be made into a relaxing tea. It is considered to have pain relieving and decongestant properties. As it is readily available in the wild, it might be worth trying for colds and winter aches. You will find some useful links at the bottom of this article.
Rabbit Tobacco is a good herb to harvest for its attractive dried flowers and aromatic qualities, even if you don't venture into medicinal use. A common tobacco substitute used by young boys in rural areas Rabbit tobacco has been smoked for respiratory ailments. No, it won't get you high, or anywhere near it, and it is a pretty rough smoke. Perhaps the age old use of putting a pouch of Rabbit Tobacco in one's pillowcase would be a safer alternative. To use such a pillow every night is said to help with asthma after a few months.
Lots of folklore here Alchemy Works
Naturalist Newsletter - Rabbit Tobacco Nice pictures for ID
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