UP IN SMOKE: Weedeater column by Nance Klehm (Arthur, 2012)

Up in Smoke

by Nance Klehm

Illustration by Kira Mardikes

Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (January 2013), art direction by Yasmin Khan

Reginah Waterspirit, aka Brown Dove of Albuquerque, told me this story. 

Her husband Bearheart had been reading from his book at a major bookstore in town. Afterwards he was approached by a woman who he’d noticed had arrived at the reading late. She didn’t ask any questions, just looked into his eyes and gave him a paper, folded up. He put it into his pocket without looking. Later in the evening, Regina asked him what the woman had given him. He had forgotten about it entirely. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper holding a yet-to-be-used teabag. So they put the kettle on.

* * *

We are in an age of contraction that has the potential to unlock hidden economies. We all carry the scars and burdens and gifts of our ways of being. Tension exists between our desire to connect and our need to protect ourselves. There is a disconnect caused by doing this. As my friend Bill Wheelock told me: ‘I am a post-worker in a post-work economy.’ And he is right on. We’re dang uncomfortable about this structural unemployment. We have been made more vulnerable now with loads of sticky edges and on top of that we feel constricted by our own eggs.

Since so much of what we exchange, or have within us, is difficult to value in market terms, how do we even begin to form new economies?

In the economic monoculture of money, money is traded for money and devalues large classes of goods and services. Goods and services have concrete value. Money is only worth what it can buy; and indeed, money is an efficient shorthand for distributing goods and services. In the ecological, non-monied world, economic transactions happen across kingdoms—Bacterial with Animal (lacto-bacillus and animal gut) and Fungal with Plant (yeast and sugar) are recognizable economies.

If someone comes to your door, you help them out. If someone helps you out, you show your gratitude for what they have shared with you. This is part of the hobo ethical code. This is also an economy. And maybe, this give-and-take rocks back and forth, creating a rhythm of more mini-economic transactions and a relationship is nourished into being. And, maybe, in this flurry of synergistic exchange, the original impetus to engage is lost. It’s from here that our new economies emerge.

Most economies now relate to information. Getting it from somewhere quickly and at no cost so we can pack our heads with it. Hit the internet and books all you want, but when you ask someone to share something garnered from what they have lived, whether they have lived it easily or with difficulty, following a path chosen or given, and from whom you have no prior relationship, no prior economy, you should come without empty pockets.

Even better, before you ask them, slow down and ask yourself if your question is really that important. The answer is frankly, most likely, NO.

But if the answer is YES, here is an urban-foraged weedy smoking mixture that you can easily find, gather, dry and mix yourself to later put in your pocket and pull out for payment or sharing when needed. 


(I have included leaves, a flower, a root and some bark in this mixture, celebrating all parts of a plant.)

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Check a dry hill or rocky area for this one. Mullein feels dry to the touch when picked but needs to lose some more moisture to be smoked. Rub the not-too-dry leaves in your hands until fluffy. It usually is 50% of my mixture. It doesn’t taste like much but helps with sticking other herbs together. It opens the lungs for asthma and other bronchial conditions.

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

A common weed that is delicious and medicinal. Dig up the whole plant, eat the leaves in a taco and chop and dry the root for smoking. Marshmallow is demulcent or soothing to the lungs (and stomach, that taco!) and is also used for asthma.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Has naturalized in many urban areas from LA to NYC. In the mint family, so pleasant tasting. Because it is a sedative, only use some of these leaves in your mixture.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis)

While not so-called foraged, this is so common a plant, you are bound to find it in some park or garden. I like to use the flowers. Lavender is also in the mint family. It helps with anxiety and low spirits, soothes burning and makes for a nice scent.

Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) 

I would only use some of this magical plant in a mixture as it can be strong. It is a nice aromatic so use just a pinch of leaves in your mixture. You should rub the leaves so they get fluffy just like you did with mullein.

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)

So you don’t hurt the shrub, trim a small branch off and scrape the outer bark into thin strips with a knife. Chop up finely and dry. This is a mild smoke. In the Midwest, this is called ‘kinnick kinnick’ which is not to be confused with Uva ursi (Arctostaphylus uva-ursi). Uba ursi is a NW and NE plant whose leaves make a very nice ingredient in a smoking mixture, so if you live in that neck of the woods, put some in.

Smoking a pipe is quiet, slow and not about wiping the mouth piece between passes. Where is our wealth? It lies in our metabolisms. It is in The Metabolic. Let’s alchemize our struggles and smoke the pipe together.

Nance Klehm is a radical ecologist, system designer, urbanforager and bioinstigator. Her work has taken her internationally where she lectures, builds community-based living systems and leads skill-based workshops to reconnect people with their habitat. She is currently finishing a pair of small books on urban wastes/urban soils. spontaneousvegetation.net

Kira Mardikes is a comic artist from Portland, Oregon who lives in New Orleans where she self-publishes comics, sells postcards on the street and takes part in a mélange of other storytelling activities. Her newest book, Inhaling the Sun, comes out this month! kiramardikesart.com

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