Rabbit Tobacco

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My grandmother grew up in Americus, GA, a rural town over 100 miles south of Atlanta. Her parents were of Cherokee descent, so I asked her about any herbal remedies passed down to her. She told me of several, but the one that she remembered with the most clarity was rabbit tobacco.

Rabbit tobacco is also known as lasting, everlasting, sweet balsam, white balsam, feather-weed, and sweet cudweed. Its scientific name is Gaphalium obtusifolium. These annual herbs reach a height of 1 to 3 feet and have erect stems with brown, shriveled leaves persisting into winter and stems covered with felt-like hairs in summer. The leaves are 1 to 3 inches long, and alternate. The flowers, minute in whitish heads, appear in late summer to fall. Fields, pastures, and disturbed areas are the sites of this common native plant of the eastern United States. The Cherokee named it rabbit tobacco because they believe it was the rabbit who took attended the plant.

In Cherokee medicine, it is believed that councils of animals created diseases in order to avenge the loss of their families and living spaces. The plants, being sympathetic to humans, decided to each furnish a cure for these diseases. It is believed that the spirit of the plant will tell a sick person which one to use to cure his illness.

Rabbit tobacco can be used medicinally in several ways. Smoking the leaves is good for sinusitis, head colds, and congestion. In hot teas, it is used to treat sore throats, fevers, diarrhea, colds, flu, pneumonia, asthma, and coughs, as well as a mild nerve sedative, a diuretic, and an antispasmodic. My grandmother said it was most often used in her home as a salve made of lard and ground up leaves. It was applied to the chest and back and caused profuse sweating. The effect is similar to Vicks in that it helped open up breathing passages. It is also believed by the Cherokee, as well as other Native American tribes, to help cleanse a house after a person's absence or to cleanse the body...
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