Tree Tobacco as a Stinging Nettle Cure

Tree tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. Image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday’s Solanum nigrum (Black Nightshade) post reminded me of a fascinating tidbit about another plant from the nightshade family that I learned from foraging expert Pascal Baudar: the leaves of tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) ease stinging nettle rash. We were out gathering nettles with Pascal, so the lesson was much appreciated–and field tested. All you have to do is rub a Solanum nigrum leaf on the sting–make sure some of the leaf juice gets on there– and the sting goes away. So if you plan to harvest nettles, I’d recommend you keep a tree tobacco leaf in your pocket.

The classic herbal antidote to nettle stings is Jewelweed, but I don’t believe it grows in the southwest–at least I’ve never seen it. Tree tobacco is a good substitute for folks in our region

Native Americans smoked Nicotiana glauca and used it as a topical medicine. It is poisonous if taken internally.

A late note from Kelly, who is out of town and so didn’t get to consult on this post before it went up: 

As Erik says here, Nicotiana glauca totally works for nettle stings–I highly recommend it– but I have some contradicting information regarding Native American usage.

I took a herbology class with the late Cecilia Garcia, who was a Chumash medicine woman, and she told us that Indians used this plant as an appetite suppressant during hard times. The adults would drink tea made of its leaves so they could give what food they had to the children. This sad story always gives me chills when I think of it.

That said, I would never drink it myself! There are safer appetite suppressants out there. The toxicology report Erik links to seems to indicate that the fatalities occurred in people who mistook it for an edible green and ate a lot of it.

As always…toxicity is related to dosage!

Also, I wouldn’t smoke it. If you want to smoke natural tobacco, it would be safer and probably better tasting to grow an interesting old strain of heirloom smoking tobacco. Native American smoking blends tend to be mixes of many plants, so I’d be wary of a 100% glauca cigarette. Again…dosage!

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9 Comments

  1. Here in Oregon Sword Fern spores work great for nettle sting.If you look at the under side of a sword fern frond there are little dots of spores.Rub the spores on the nettle stings.Works every time.

    Funny how nature always leaves the cure near by.Smart eh?

  2. When I lived in Belfast, in NIreland, I came across stinging nettles for the first time, that I was aware of. I brushed my calf against the plant and was rewarded with a sting. My partner at the time looked on the ground right around the nettle and found what he called, either dockweed or dogweed, I cannot remember now. He rubbed that on my sting and it eased immediately, to my great relief!

    • Dock leaf!

      It’s the classic stinging nettle remedy in the UK. I think plantain is better, but dock has the advantage of growing in similar conditions to nettles so it’s often growing nearby.

  3. Since this is so toxic, I would worry about a pre-teen or teen thinking the real thing was free and right there. My brother smoked rabbit tobacco when we were kids. So, I know that a child will do things without complete information.

    Do you know if there is a cure for poison oak/ivy exposure growing nearby?

    • Re: Poison oak: I’ve heard that mugwort helps–and our local mugwort is Artemisia douglasiana. That was the kind that was pointed out to me as being helpful–there are many “mugworts.”

      I’ve only tested it once. I was gathering acorns, not paying attention, and a poison oak branch swiped across my cheek. I picked some mugwort growing nearby, squished it up and rubbed the juice on my cheek. I never broke out in a rash. Now, maybe I never would have broken out anyway…I can’t know.

      Re: Tree tobacco: Erik looked it up and says it won’t kill you if you smoke it. I doubt kids know what this plant is–it doesn’t seem much on the radar.

  4. This guy is listed by Cal-IPC, like the black nightshade that some people write about as poisonous (and I thought was true), a lot of writers write that the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California used this as medicine. However, there is no evidence that this plant is native to the area or that Native Americans used this in the past. There are actually other native tobaccos to CA. This one is native to South America. Some biologists consider it naturalized and suggest it be delisted by Cal-IPC.

    This is a controversial plant.

  5. I’ve used chewed up wads of bracken fern for nettle stings. If fact years ago I applied such a chewed-up-wad to a kids cheek at a outdoors camp I was working at (Polk County Oregon)

    I did it without thinking because this cute little kid ran into some nettles (which were all over the camp) and afterwards was worried he was going to tell someone and I’d get in trouble (rubbing spit on kids not exactly approved, although effective). Luckily it worked so well I think he forgot immediately.

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