7 Smokable Plants You Can Grow That Aren’t Marijuana
By Brian Barth
Here's a non-trend that you'd think would be more hip: tobacco-free herbal smoking blends.
Quite a few plants may be safely, and pleasurable, lit up in a pipe or rolling papers. Those listed below are legal, unregulated, and totally safe to use. They are also non-hallucinogenic and non-addictive—perhaps that explains their lack of popularity?
While they won't get you high, when blended according to the instructions below, these herbs produce a smooth, tasty smoke and give a gentle, relaxing buzz. All of the following varieties may be purchased online or at any well-stocked herb store. You may also grow your own. Of course, we'd be remiss not to remind you to discuss any questions with a doctor.
While scores of herbs are smokable, those listed below are among the most commonly used and easily grown at home. Skip to the sidebar to learn how to dry your herbs into the perfect smoking blend.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Herbal Properties: Mullein has a long history of use as a lung tonic. It can actually help you stop coughing when you're sick.
Smoking Qualities: The smoke is extremely light and mild, almost like smoking air, and virtually flavorless.
Type of Plant: This biennial herb grows up to two feet wide at the base, with flower stalks rising six feet or more.
How to Grow: Considered by some a garden weed, this fuzzy-leafed plant is very easy to grow from seed planted directly in the garden in spring. It prefers a sunny location and soil that is well-drained and not too fertile. It benefits from a bit of irrigation as a seedling but is drought-tolerant once established.
Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)
Herbal Properties: Skullcap has a mild calming effect when smoked.
Smoking Qualities: This herb is a medium smoke, with a fairly neutral flavor.
Type of Plant: A spreading perennial that grows about a foot tall, skullcap makes an attractive groundcover in the garden.
How to Grow: Sow seeds indoors in spring, planting the seedlings in a sunny or partly shaded location with rich soil once the weather has warmed. Skullcap requires weekly irrigation during dry periods. Cut the dried foliage to the ground each fall.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Herbal Properties: Coltsfoot is an expectorant, helping to free phlegm from the lungs.
Smoking Qualities: This herb is a light smoke with a neutral flavor, but can cause harsh coughing if used in a high concentration in smoking blends.
Type of Plant: This 6- to 12-inch tall groundcover spreads by underground rhizomes to form extensive colonies under optimum growing conditions.
How to Grow: Dried coltsfoot seed rarely germinates, but "fresh" seed, as well as potted plants, are available online. Rich, moist soil and a location in full sun or part shade are this plant's preferred growing conditions.
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris)
Herbal Properties: Many ancient cultures smoked mugwort to promote vivid dreams. It also produces a very mild psychotropic effect while you're awake.
Smoking Qualities: This herb is a light smoke with a pleasant, slightly sweet flavor.
Type of Plant: Mugwort is a spreading perennial growing up to 2 feet tall.
How to Grow: While seeds are available online, mugwort is easier to start from a potted plant, or by transplanting a clump from an established patch. Mugwort thrives with little care once established, but beware: it can become invasive, especially in moist locations. Cut the dried stalks to the ground each fall.
Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Herbal Properties: Also known by the Algonquin name kinnikinnick, this native plant has long been smoked by Native American tribes for ceremonial purposes.
Smoking Qualities: Uva-ursi herb is a medium smoke with a strong earthy flavor.
Type of Plant: This attractive woody groundcover, which grows about 6 inches tall, is a popular landscaping plant.
How to Grow: Uva-ursi is very difficult to propagate by seed, so it's best to obtain potted specimens from a native plant nursery in your area, or from an online supplier. Grow in full sun or light shade; excellent drainage is essential. Uva-ursi is drought-tolerant and requires little care once established.
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Herbal Properties: Mints are used primarily to impart flavor to smoking blends. There are many varieties worth experimenting with, including spearmint (Mentha spicata) (pictured above), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita 'Chocolate'). Close relatives of mint, including lemon balm (lemony flavor) and yerba buena (sweet menthol flavor), are often incorporated in smoking blends, as well.
Smoking Qualities: Varies by species.
Type of Plant: These herbaceous perennials spread to form extensive colonies under optimum growing conditions.
How to Grow: Mints are easier to establish from potted plants, or by transplanting a clump from an established patch, than by sowing seeds. Part sun and rich, moist soil are the preferred growing conditions. Mints can become invasive in the garden, especially in moist areas, so you may want to confine them to a pot. Cut the dried stalks to the ground each fall.
Sage (Salvia spp.)
Herbal Properties: Sages are used primarily to impart flavor to smoking blends. There are many varieties worth experimenting with, including white sage (Salvia apiana), black sage (Salvia mellifera), and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) (pictured above). Beware though: One type of sage, Salvia divinorum, has strong psychotropic properties and is illegal in many states (many gardeners find themselves accidentally breaking the law).
Smoking Qualities: Varies by species.
Type of Plant: Most sages are shrubby perennials, ranging from less than 1 foot to more than 6 feet tall.
How to Grow: Growing conditions vary by species, but most sages prefer full sun and dry conditions. Cut them back about 50 percent each fall.
How To Make Your Own Herbal Smoking Blend
Smoking mixtures are largely a matter of personal tastes and preferences—experiment with different herb combinations to see what suits you best—but here are the basics to get you started.
- Harvest fresh, young leaves, ideally in the morning after the dew has evaporated.
- Dry the leaves slowly indoors—try hanging them in bundles from the ceiling or spreading them out on a window screen (see our article on drying techniques here). Don't dry them fast in an oven, as you want the leaves to retain a bit of moisture for a smoother smoke.
- Once dry, crush the leaves by hand into an even consistency.
- Combine according to the guidelines below:
- Mullein is the ideal "base" for smoking blends because it is such a light, smooth smoke. It should form about 50 percent of the mixture.
- Then add several other herbs for the "body" of the blend. Mugwort and skullcap create a headier smoke, while uva-ursi gives it more of a tobacco-like quality. Add a bit of coltsfoot if you're lungs are irritated from frequent tobacco use. Combined, these herbs should constitute about 40 percent of the blend.
- Use flavoring herbs, like mints and sages, for the final 10 percent of the blend.
- If the blend is too harsh when you smoke it, trying spritzing the dried herbs with a spray bottle to reintroduce moisture.
- Store smoking blends in glass jars or resealable plastic pouches.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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