HerbRally Podcast: Smoking Herbs and Strategies for Quitting
The HerbRally podcast takes a deep dive into all things herbal with some of the best teachers in the field of plant medicine, wild foods, botany, and health accessibility. In this podcast episode, hear from Puff Herbal Smokes founder, Lian Bruno, as she talks about why you might want to work with herbs through smoke, herbal strategies to quit smoking tobacco, and how to craft your own herbal smoking blends.
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[0:08] Hello HerbRally listeners! My name’s Lian, and I’m the founder of Puff Herbal Smokes, a company that advocates herbalism for smokers of all plants. Today we’re going to talk all about herbal smoking. So why you might want to work with herbs through smoke, herbal strategies to quit smoking, herbs to work with in other ways if you are a smoker, and smokable herbs and how to craft your own herbal smoking blends.
[00:34] And before we dive in, I just want to let everyone know that I’m an herbalist, not a doctor, and that the information I’m going to be sharing with you today is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please do your own research concerning the safety and usage of any herbs and consult with a healthcare practitioner before use, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking any medications.
Why Herbal Smoke?
[00:58] Alright so let’s start with why you might want to work with herbs through smoke.
- [01:04] So first: when you smoke something, the effect is almost immediate. You’ll very quickly feel the influence of whatever plant it is that you’re smoking. This almost instantaneous effect is because the smoke that’s entering your lungs is carrying with it certain constituents of your plants, and therefore entering your bloodstream quickly. So some constituents are what we could call fire-soluble or smoke-soluble: volatile oils (terpenoids), alkaloids (nicotine), THC and other cannabinoids, plant sterols, acids, pigment compounds, etc. So many of the effects that herbs have on us when digested or inside of our bodies also take place when smoked as well. And unlike working with orally-ingested herbal preparations like capsules or teas that have to first enter your digestive system in order to get into your blood, smoke bypasses that first step and goes right for the blood, then the heart pumps the blood up to your brain. You may be familiar with how tinctures, even though they’re orally-ingested, can be fast-acting when dropped under your tongue, and the point is the same here which is that if you want to feel the effects of your herbal preparation more quickly, you want them to enter your bloodstream quickly. So that first reason is that when you smoke something the effect is gonna be almost immediate.
- [02:43] Second: instant effect means instant relief. So when do we want instant relief? When we’re feeling anxious is a major one. Maybe your anxiety is starting to feel like it’s ballooning beyond your control and you want to calm down NOW. When you’re feeling nervous, maybe you’re at a party and you tend to feel a little socially anxious, you can pop outside for a quick smoke to feel more relaxed and at ease with the current situation. This is also a very socially-acceptable way to behave at a party. You might feel a little self-conscious taking out your tincture bottle in front of people and having them ask what that is, but everyone has heard someone say at a party that they’re just stepping out for a smoke. Well, it depends on your friend group, I guess. But still, just taking a minute to go outside or even just physically moving away from other people at an outdoor gathering to smoke is a well-known way to behave.
- [03:54] Third: smoking is an activity, a familiar activity, that a lot of people already take part in, or have taken part in so that they are familiar with it. And here I mean smoking ANY plant, whether it’s tobacco or cannabis, or maybe you’re already smoking other herbs. But because smoking is either a leisure activity, a social activity, a ritual, a habit, or an addiction, for a lot of people, this gives me as an herbalist an in in terms of basically, for lack of better words, getting herbs into people, right? I’m a clinically-trained herbalist, and a lot of the work that clinical herbalists do with their clients is working with the client to figure out how they will consistently make the changes in behavior that will help them to achieve their goals. It’s easy enough to make the perfect tea blend for your client that addresses every single one of the concerns they reached out to you for for help, but if they don’t even own a tea strainer or maybe they don’t even like drinking tea at all, it’s not going to do them any good if they’re not drinking it. So smoking is a way that can meet some people where they’re at.
[05:15] Plus, because smoking has an almost immediate influence, this is an effective way to have people undeniably feel herbs working. Depending on the concern, tinctures, even if you’re taking them under your tongue every single time, sometimes need to be taken consistently for two weeks or a month before a person may be like, “oh yeah, I guess I haven’t been feeling as anxious lately.” And of course this depends on how tuned into their body a person may be. But Smoking is a way to kind of smack someone in the face with herbs. And all of this isn’t to say that smoking is the best way to work with herbs, because it’s not, but it’s a way to meet some people where they are, and convince people that already smoke that herbs really do work if they’re skeptical. From there, then it may not be so hard to get a client to drink tea everyday.
- [06:12] And then there’s also the ethnobotanical and medicinal use of plant smoke throughout human history that’s worth mentioning and that shouldn’t be discounted when we talk about working with smoke. You know, when most people hear the word “smoking” or are asked “do you smoke?” most people will think of cigarettes. But it’s important to note that the conventional, modern cigarettes that are so prolific in our modern world and cause so many health issues are actually a super recent development. There are thousands of documented ways that cultures all over the world work with the smoke of plants, and likely thousands of undocumented ways as well. So as someone with an anthropology background, I just wanted to be sure to mention this, and I could talk about this for a long time, but let’s continue on and move on to herbal strategies to quit smoking. And by smoking here I mean tobacco smoke.
Strategies to Quit Smoking
[07:12] So if you’re trying to quit smoking, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give is to be kind to yourself during the process. You’re trying to break a habit, and it’s not just diminishing and breaking the physical expectation your body has of receiving nicotine at say certain times of the day. This process could involve first recognizing thought patterns or tendencies that first led you to start smoking in the first place. You know, maybe you started smoking because all of your friends were and you wanted to fit in and feel accepted. Maybe you liked the appetite-suppressant nature of cigarettes and maybe there are some underlying body image issues there. Maybe you slowly started smoking as a crutch during emotional stress, instead of dealing with the root of the issue. Whatever it may be, it’s not always easy to, first of all, acknowledge these things, and it may feel really uncomfortable. So just keep that in mind. There’s no reason to beat yourself up if you have a smoking habit. A person that smokes is not less than a person that doesn’t. So, remember that and be kind to yourself, and if you’re not a cigarette-smoker, also remember that and be kind.
[08:37] And before we even begin to think about starting to scale back how much or how often you’re smoking, let alone quitting altogether, we want to first focus on what we can ADD before we take anything away. We want to first make sure that we’re doing all we can holistically to be healthy. And what I mean by holistically here is: are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting regular movement in your life? Are you eating well and getting proper nourishment? Do you feel like you’re part of a community? How are you managing your stress, OTHER than smoking?
[09:17] If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating real food, moving regularly, or engaging in self-care that isn’t having a smoke (whatever that may look like for you), it’s going to be so much harder to cut back on smoking. Think about when you want a cigarette the most, or if you don’t smoke cigarettes, think about when you want something sweet or chips or whatever junk food it is you crave, the most. Or think about how you’re feeling when you say to yourself, “I need a drink.” I don’t smoke tobacco, but I know that I want a drink or something sweet the most when I’m feeling stressed out. I want them during difficult times or after a long day when I’m feeling tired because it’s instant energy. My body doesn’t really need to work that hard to digest and convert the sugar to energy because it’s already sugar! It’s easy.
[10:13] All of this is to say that if you’re looking to quit smoking, first take some time to really focus on these things, and I can assure you that the path to a tobacco-free life will feel so much less uphill. Focusing on all of these things could be podcast episodes in their own right, so in the interest of staying on topic, let’s move on to how we can ADD herbs to our smoking rituals and to our lives as a way to begin the process of quitting.
[10:45] So the first thing I advise people to do who are trying to quit is to smoke organic tobacco if you’re not already doing that. Conventional tobacco has tons of additives, some of which actually enhance nicotine delivery which can enhance its addictiveness, and some of which act to mask undesirable symptoms of smoking. This is especially important to note because there’s no such thing as side-effects, there are only effects. Calling the effects that we don’t want “side-effects” is just semantics to downplay negative effects of something. So by making the switch to organic tobacco, maybe you’re noticing how tobacco actually makes you feel now that it’s not being made nicer, so to speak, with additives.
[11:40] The second thing I advise people to do who are trying to quit is to roll your own cigarettes with loose-leaf tobacco if you’re not already doing that. This way, it makes it very easy for you to both control the amount of tobacco that’s going in there and to add herbs in. So the main idea here is that you’ll start rolling smokes with say, 90% tobacco and 10% herbs. And later we’re going to talk about some herbs you can add to your smokes, but what this does is basically delivers the amount of nicotine that you’re used to, but you’re also starting to get a taste of herbal blends. So at this point I’d say just smoke smokes with this tobacco-herb ratio as you normally would for about a week.
[12:31] After a week, drop the tobacco down to 80%, bump the herbs up to 20%, and then smoke those for about a week. And I’m saying a week here, but the timeline will be very person-dependent. And you can probably see where this is going, but then the following week your tobacco is 70% of your smoke, and your herbs are 30%, and you keep steadily decreasing your tobacco while increasing your herbs until you’re either only smoking herbs, or you don’t feel that need to smoke anymore at all.
[13:02] And something that will really help is if you can take some time to pre-roll all of these ratioed smokes, and then keep them in a labeled jar or something so that all you have to do is take one out when you feel the need to smoke. If you’re rolling them as the cravings come in, it could be very tempting to not add your herbs in, especially if that tobacco is right there in front of you.
[13:28] So what you what to do is mix up your tobacco-herbal blends thoroughly in a bowl or something, and THEN roll up that blended mixture. I had someone ask me, “if you added herbs to a smoke, would those herbs burn faster and down the side of the smoke?”, and I think the reason this person asked this question is because the sort of classic or traditional spliff is half-tobacco and half-cannabis, and typically when you’re rolling this combo or I guess any combo, you’re putting down a row of tobacco onto your rolling paper and then a row of cannabis and then rolling that up. And of course that’s fine to do, you can roll however you want, but our intention here is to roll a smoke where the herbs are uniformly mixed in.
[14:19] Another approach is to replace one smoke per day with an entirely herbal one, and then maybe once you feel comfortable with that, you replace two smokes per day with an herbal one, and so on. This is a way to still take part in the ritual of smoking, because that’s an element that can be important to preserve while we’re going through this process. Besides simply consuming nicotine, smoking also involves taking a moment to stop and take a break. It involves fiddling with something in your hands and maybe an oral fixation. Maybe it’s pretty central to how you socialize. So it can be a bit jarring for people going cold turkey in that they’re no longer taking part in these rituals. So again we want to focus as much as we can on adding things that will help us in the transition instead of taking away more than we need to.
Herbs to Work with as Non-Smokables
[15:23] Now, before we get to smokable herbs and how to make your own herbal smoking blends, I want to talk about two herbs to work with in a non-smoking way. Mullein is going to be a big friend here, and because there are many types, to be specific I mean mullein with the latin name Verbascum thapsus. So mullein’s leaves, when prepared as either tincture or tea, help to direct moisture to the lungs. What happens here is that mullein helps the mucous cells secrete more mucous, and this mucous is going to be thinner than usual. This helps to dampen any built-up, caked-on crud like tar in the lungs that may have built-up from smoking. Think about how when you cook something in a pan and it’s super caked on, what do you do? You soak it in water first so that the gunk will lift off more easily. So when moisture is being directed to the lungs and the crud gets dampened, it’s gonna become a lot easier to cough up. This is going to be especially helpful for those with a “smoker’s cough,” where the body is regularly trying to clear crud up and out of the lungs. So mullein tea or tincture is something that we’re going to want to ADD.
[16:45] And I want to note here that the benefits of mullein don’t only apply to tobacco smokers or those looking to quit. It’s important to recognize that smoke is smoke, even if it’s herbal smoke it’s still smoke, and smoking ANY plant, even cannabis, will result in a buildup of crud and tar in your lungs over time, especially if you’re smoking regularly. So that’s something to be mindful of. I’ve had people see the smoking blends I’m selling at markets or on social media and ask me which blend they should choose and I always ask what they currently smoke. If they say they don’t, I say well if you don’t currently smoke anything at all, then don’t start. But for those smoking regularly or even just casually, mullein is an herb you’ll want to be sure to be working with.
[17:52] So that’s mullein, let’s now talk about lobelia. The lobelia that I’m referring to has a latin name of Lobelia inflata. Lobelia contains a constituent, an alkaloid, called “lobeline” which attaches to the same receptor sites in the body that nicotine does. Now, even though this may sound amazing, like omg why don’t all smokers just work with lobelia to stop smoking instantly, lobelia doesn’t have the exact same physiological effects that nicotine has. And nicotine has a long list of effects on the body that make people feel good. It literally triggers a reaction in the brain’s reward system, which is part of the reason why it’s so addictive, but even though lobeline attaches to the same receptor sites, what are called nicotinic receptors, it’s not going to act as a total replacement for nicotine physiologically. But what it does do is that it can help to quell cravings and a few drops of lobelia tincture is often enough to do so. You want to start with only a few drops, because too much can cause nausea, so just take it slow in the beginning and see how it feels in your body. And you’ll want to be working with lobelia tincture, not tea, because lobelia tea will not taste pleasant at all, it’ll have a very acrid taste, and yeah, it won’t be nice.
Smokable Herbs and How to Craft your Own Herbal Smoking Blends
[19:55] Ok, well now let’s move on to the fun part: smokable herbs and how to craft your own herbal smoking blends! And just to note here that all of the herbs I’m going to be talking about are going to be in their dried form, because that’s what most people will have access to.
[20:24] So the first thing you’ll want to do is establish a base for your blend. And for a base you’ll generally want to work with herbs that are very soft and fluffy and sort of naturally clump together. So some good soft and fluffy base herbs are mullein (the same mullein mentioned earlier), mugwort, or raspberry leaf. So let’s start with mullein. Mullein leaves are fantastic and I say that if you’re going to smoke anything at all, there should be mullein in it, and this is for a variety of reasons. Mullein is a respiratory relaxant, meaning it relaxes the bronchial tissue, which helps you to breathe more deeply. It helps to loosen crud stuck in the lungs from smoking, and can help to cough it up. This action won’t be as pronounced as a tea or tincture preparation, but it is present through smoke. Now, you might think, why would I want to smoke something that’s gonna make me cough? Coughing isn’t always a bad thing, it’s a way to clear your respiratory system of crud and excess mucous, so when working with mullein if you cough it’s going to be a productive cough, plus mullein is soothing to inflamed respiratory tissue which is an added plus. Getting the smoke directly to that tissue can help your lungs along in their job to get that stuff outta there. Now, mullein burns well and its fluffiness helps to carry other herbs that you add to a smoking blend, but mullein by itself as a smoke doesn’t really have much flavor or much body to it. So I think mullein should be A PART OF your base, but not your entire base.
[22:48] Ok so that’s mullein, now let’s move on to mugwort, latin name Artemisia vulgaris, is another soft and fluffy herb that makes for a great smoking base, especially for smoking at night. Mugwort helps to release tension and anxiousness which is great if you want to go to bed soon, but mugwort also kind of has some magical properties in that it can really enhance your dreams. Mugwort dreams tend to be a lot more vivid and easier to remember when you wake up. Mugwort is also a great herb to work with if you’re a regular cannabis smoker, and blends wells with cannabis. You know how when you’ve been smoking weed for awhile and then you stop, your dreams are crazy? That’s because cannabis suppresses REM sleep which is responsible for the intense dreams we tend to remember, so mugwort can bring your dreams back! It also helps to keep you from waking up in the middle of the night, which disrupts your sleep cycles and can prevent you from being in that critical REM state.
[24:20] So that's mugwort. Raspberry leaf, Rubus idaeus is the latin name, is another soft and fluffy herb that’s good for a base. Raspberry leaf is also astringent, and astringent herbs help to add body to herbal smoke blends. This is going to make your smoke more palatable, especially if you’re working with dried herbs and you’re not curing herbs to smoke. And the astringency can also be helpful for wet phlegmy lung conditions because it’s gonna tightening up those mucous membranes. I personally don't work with raspberry leaf in smoke mostly because I feel like if I'm gonna be smoking something... like smoking is a very hot and dry action so if anything I want more moisture in that situation. But raspberry leaf's astringency can be really nice. It has a slightly sweet flavor also.
[25:44] Another couple of other herbs that I really recommend for building a solid base are marshmallow leaf, latin name Althaea officinalis, and damiana, latin name Turnera diffusa. These two herbs are also pretty soft and fluffy, and they’re great at adding smoothness to your smoke. Marshmallow’s great because it’s such a moistening herb, and although like mullein it doesn’t really have much of a flavor, I make sure to always include marshmallow leaf in my personal smoking blends because I really want my smoke to be smooth. Damiana, on the other hand, I think has a fantastic flavor for smoking. I can’t really think of another herb to compare it to flavor-wise, but it’s almost like a very light sweet black tea in a way. Super pleasant and smooth. It retains a good amount of its oil content once dried, which really helps to add smoothness to your smoke. And damiana, out of all of the herbs we’ve talked about so far, is actually the only one that I personally would smoke entirely on its own.
[27:15] Damiana also has some very desirable effects as a smokable herb. It emanates a warm and fuzzy feeling which is really nice, because it’s a gentle circulatory stimulant that gets blood moving to the periphery of the body. It also brings with it mild euphoria, and it’s regarded as an aphrodisiac because it increases blood flow to the pelvis. So this makes it a fun smoke to enjoy with a partner or before some quality alone time. Damiana is also a great cannabis companion, especially with indica or high-CBD strains, because as a circulatory stimulant it helps to counteract what I like to call the “couched” effect of CBD, where you’re feeling heavy and stuck to the couch basically.
[28:21] So those are your solid base herbs: mullein, mugwort, raspberry leaf, marshmallow, and damiana, and your base is generally going to be anywhere from say half to three-quarters of your blend, depending on what other herbs you want to put in there and the formula you want to create.
[28:42] Now from here you can add herbs that can provide targeted support to something you’d like help with. And because anxiety is such a prolific feeling in our modern world and one of the top reasons that people smoke to begin with, I’m going to focus on herbs to help with anxiety. Nervines are herbs that really help with anxiety, these are herbs that have an affinity for the nervous system and are nourishing to the nerves. And what’s great about nervines is that their effects are very what you could call “fire-soluble” or “smoke-soluble” which means they’re great for adding to smoking blends, and that their effects when worked with in either tea or tincture will also come through in smoke.
[29:40] One of my favorite smokable nervine herbs is catnip, because catnip has an affinity for anxiety and tension that rises upwards from the stomach and builds in your chest. So if you’re the type of person that internalizes your stress then catnip can be a great ally here. Catnip pairs really well with mullein, to help relax the airways and ease tension that can be causing shortness of breath.
[30:22] Another great nervine for internalized stress is chamomile. Chamomile’s a nervine that calms emotional upset and agitation that tends to move downward into the pit of your stomach. And chamomile is nice because this is an herb that a lot of people already have in their homes, and most grocery stores carry it. A common way that anxiety can manifest physically in the body is a feeling like you have a knot in your stomach, or that your stomach is tied up in knots. Or that you have a really bad “gut feeling” about something. Chamomile can really help here as it has an anti-spasmodic action that can un-tie the tension of those knots. And if you’re feeling anxious tension somewhere in your torso but you can’t figure out if it’s moving upwards or downwards, or maybe you’re feeling both, you can work with both catnip and chamomile at the same time and it's not like they’re going to cancel each other out or anything.
[31:43] Next I want to talk about skullcap and passionflower as a pair, because they’re just really the perfect couple. Skullcap is Scutellaria lateriflora and passionflower is Passiflora incarnata. These are two nervines that just complement each other so well in their actions, and they’re my absolute favorite for bedtime blends. Skullcap helps to slow down racing thoughts, and passionflower helps to get you out of circular thoughts, two patterns of thinking that often come hand in hand. Skullcap also has an affinity for relaxing upper body tensions that can develop due to stress, like tension headaches, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and hunched shoulders, especially if you’re on a computer or driving a lot. These are all indications that skullcap can really help you.
[33:00] Passionflower is really nice because it’s a gentle hypnotic, meaning it makes you feel sleepy. And since racing and circular thoughts can keep you from getting some sleep, it's nice to have that little nudge there as an added bonus. What’s also really nice about passionflower is that there really is no next-day hangover, like there can be with some other hypnotic herbs.
[33:32] So those are a few supportive nervine herbs you can add to your smoking blend. Now from here we can add some flavor, and the most flavorful herbs to smoke are often going to be ones that also smell really nice. A couple very popular herbs here are lavender and peppermint. Lavender is excellent in a herbal smoking blend. I personally don’t really enjoy the taste of lavender in tea, but I absolutely love it in smoke. It creates such an aromatherapeutic experience in that in between puffs your smoke is almost acting like a smoke wand with burning lavender, and you’re just being surrounded in a lavender cloud, and it’s just so lovely. Not to mention lavender is incredibly tension-relieving. And lavender’s also another great cannabis companion and can have synergistic effects with your weed to amplify pain relief and relaxation.
[34:51] Now peppermint is really nice too. If you are or were a fan of menthol cigarettes then you’re gonna love adding peppermint to your smoke blends. Lots of other mints are great in a smoking blend too, but I think peppermint is best for recreating that menthol experience. I have tried to get spearmint, the flavor of spearmint to come through smoke but I found that it just doesn't really like peppermint does. Even though I personally prefer the flavor of spearmint, I just don't really think it comes through that well. But you can try, and maybe it was just the spearmint that I was working with at the time. But anyway, I compare herbal smoking blends with a good deal of peppermint in them to splashing your face with cold water because with both tension's getting released, your blood's getting moving, and this sense of clarity arises. So it's really nice and refreshing.
[36:04] So to recap: when crafting an herbal smoking blend you’ll want to start with a base, then add herbs to target a need and herbs for flavor. For the most part, I’d say your base should be about 50%, then your flavor can be say 30-40%, and then the supports 10-20%. It’s hard to give definite ratios here because it’s really going to depend on the herbs you’re working with and your specific tastes, but this is a good foundation to start with to see how you like it.
[36:54] And if you’re curious but aren’t quite sure yet about jumping in yourself, you could buy from someone who makes herbal smoking blends to try it to see how you like it. When selecting an herbal smoking blend to buy, I would just suggest looking at that company’s or that person’s website and just see if they’re talking about the herbs. You can also do a bit of research on the herbs in their blends to see what kind of formula they’re creating if you’re not sure what all of the herbs are.
[37:36] And just very quickly, I want to say that if you make an herbal smoking blend and you feel it’s too dry and harsh of a smoke, or if you have a blend on-hand that’s become harsher than it used to be, something you can do is mix a little bit of honey with water, put that into a spray bottle, and spritz your blend. Then let the herbs absorb that moisture in a closed container for awhile, generally like a day, and this will make your smoke a lot smoother. Another option is to seal your blend in a container with an apple slice. For either of these, you’ll just want to keep a close eye on your herbs to make sure mold doesn’t form.
Wrap Up and Discount Code:
[38:33] Ok, so I hope that gives you guys a pretty solid herbal smoking foundation to start building upon and some strategies to help either you or a loved one quit tobacco. You can check us out at puffherbalsmokes.com or find us on Instagram @puffherbalsmokes where I post smoking blend recipes and about other herbs not mentioned in this episode if you’re interested in learning more. We also offer herbal smoking blends and pre-rolled herbal smokes, and just for you HerbRally listeners, you can use the discount code HERBRALLY in all caps for 20% off all products for the month of August, and that’s August 2020! Thanks for listening and be well. Bye!
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.