Nicotiana rustica. Delaware-Lenape Sacred Tobacco. One of the most sacred species of tobacco, N. rustica types were the common tobacco of the Eastern tribes. Nora Thompson Dean, James Thompson's (a late 94-year-old elder and Delaware-Lenape traditional speaker) daughter and a talented herbalist. Nora was raised traditionally, and throughout her life was instrumental in keeping alive Lenape religious ceremonies, social functions, dances, craftwork, herbal medicines, and language. Nora and her family had maintained this sacred Delaware tobacco, called leni kwshatay in their language, for generations. The sacred tobacco was dubbed leni meaning “common” or the “real” tobacco to distinguish it from the increasingly prevalent white man’s smoking tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum. The seeds had been carried with her family from the time they were pushed out of their Eastern lands in the late 18th century to Ohio and other removals further west, ultimately ending up in Oklahoma on Indian land that the Lenape were forced to purchase from the Cherokee. The Delaware suffered a great diaspora, and tribal members ended up scattered from Canada, New York, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Sadly, this plant is rarely, if at all, still grown by the Lenape-Delaware of Oklahoma. It has become exceedingly rare and would have been lost if it weren't for Nora Dean's family and preservation.

The Delaware’s use of sacred tobacco was analogous to practices across the woodland complex. It was without a doubt the most important sacred plant used on a regular basis by most Indian tribes. Amongst the Lenape a gift of tobacco was given to a healer or herbalist to engage their services. The healer would then seek out the plant or plants required for healing. When the first patch of the plant was discovered, he would pray to appease the spirit of the plant, and tobacco was placed in a small hole dug at the base of the plant. The plant that was given the tobacco was not gathered. It was felt that it would communicate to the other plants of its type what the person was asking for. Other types of Delaware healers would perform good and sometimes evil through supernatural means. These multipurpose healers could be termed conjurers. A conjurer might work to effect a change in a person’s life such as reconciling a marriage or dispelling an evil charm, or a more malevolent outcome such as breaking up a marriage. Tobacco was ritually used to facilitate these practices. A witch supposedly could supernaturally travel to his enemy’s or victim’s home but had to return to his own lodging before a pipe of tobacco he had lit before journeying went out, or he could be discovered. Tobacco was offered to various manitous, that is the spirit or supernatural power such as Fire and Thunder. At the feast to honor Fire, tobacco was offered by throwing it onto the 12 stones representing the 12 manitous. Tobacco was used in the sweat lodge ceremony to communicate with the Creator to ensure a good outcome for the varied purposes for which it was employed. It was smoked to appeal to the creator to deliver “good” dreams because negative dreams were often a symbolic indication of something unpleasant that would become reality. Tobacco was used as part of prayer to ensure a good outcome for the hunt and sprinkled upon the planting of the corn. A gift of tobacco was given to the attending midwife of a pregnant woman by her husband. As a remedy to help alleviate stomach pains, tobacco smoke was blown into a cup of water, while tobacco smoke blown into a child’s mouth was reputed to cure colic and into the ear for earache.

This tobacco, much the same with other Rusticas, is very potent in nicotine. We at The Roughwood Seed Collection and Roughwood Table do not encourage the use of tobacco products. The Surgeon General has determined that tobacco use is dangerous to your health. This is a very sacred plant and should be respected. Tobacco is considered by many tribes to be the most powerful gift one can give to Mother Earth and The Great Spirit/Creator. Using as a form of incense for prayers, healing, cleansing, etc. are respectable uses.

This variety is selected and maintained by Florida seed steward Mark Homesteader of Homestead Heirloom Gardens.

Leni kwshatay Sacred Tobacco