Traditional Tobacco

Posted by Yodit Gidey on Jan 8, 2018 9:55:39 AM


Traditional tobacco is a natural plant grown and harvested by some Indigenous populations. Elders from most Indigenous nations have stories of how tobacco was introduced to their communities about 18,000 years ago. According to the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, growing and harvesting of traditional tobacco by indigenous peoples predates the arrival of Europeans (Pego, Hill, Solomon, Chisholm, and Ivey 1995).


Typically, traditional tobacco is used for prayer, healing, gifting and origination. However, the use of traditional tobacco may differ amongst different tribe. In Objibwe tribe, the purpose of traditional tobacco includes

  • Spiritual
  • Cultural
  • Ceremonial
  • To honor and welcome guests
  • To communicate with the Creator or Spirit World
  • As a sacrifice to the Great Spirit
  • As an offering to those asked to pray or share wisdom

Marie, an elder from an Objibwe tribe and Cultural Programming Coordinator at Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative says “When we take anything from the earth we give gratitude. When it’s hot outside, we give thanks for the wind to cool us down. When it’s cold we give thanks for the sun for the warmth. When we take anything from the water like fish or rice, we give thanks for nourishment. When we offer thanks with tobacco, the creator hears us because we are showing gratitude for our blessings.”


Traditional and commercial tobacco are different by how they are planted and grown, harvested, prepared, and used. Marie explains that unlike commercial tobacco, traditional tobacco is used for praying and giving thanks to the creator by holding, burning or putting the tobacco in a water source. When tobacco is burned, the smoke carries the prayer to the creator. When placed in water, the wave takes the prayer to the creator. When placed on the ground, lay the tobacco by a tree where it will nourish the tree. The smoke from traditional tobacco plant is generally not inhaled.


The planted tobacco seeds start in a pot, then moved to a garden plot after a couple of months when grown to two inches tall.


Tobacco mid size 1


After 4 or 5 months of nurturing the plant, the leaves turn yellow and the flower budding starts as a sign to harvest the plant and hang it dry for 3 to 4 weeks.


Traditional Tobacco yellowing leaves sunflowers in background




Traditional Tobacco hanging to dry 2017


The dry tobacco can be cut and placed in a leather bag.

Traditional Tobacco seed pods


Traditional Tobacco seeds in container



Pego, C. M., Hill, R. F., Solomon, G. W., Chisholm, R. M., and Ivey, S. E. (1995). “Tobacco, Culture, and Health among American Indians: A Historical Review.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 19(2): 143-164.



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