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Anodyne

Traditional tobacco curing techniques

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This question came up in discussion and I realised that I have absolutely no idea how tobacco has been cured traditionally, or if it even was. My research hasn't turned up much except variations on modern curing techniques. Does anyone know how it is/was done? I've read of tobacco being used in aya ceremonies and so on - but always about how it is used, never about how it was prepared. Someone told me that some South American people dry the leaves in the smoke over an open fire, which sounds like it would make an interesting product, and I read that other countries just dry them out in the sun, but these methods seem very different from modern commercial curing which needs high humidity and a long aging period. I suppose I'm wondering if the idea of slow-fermented tasty tobacco is relatively modern, or if there are traditional equivalents?

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There's plenty of info out there on the net about curing techniques. Most home methods involve sun drying leaves until brown, then sweating, and jar curing for extended periods.

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Look up some of pat uri's posts, he obviously knew his stuff.

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Thanks Glaukus, I have read them - but I was really more interested in learning about traditional techniques. As you say, there are endless curing forums out there as well, but these all seem to focus on methods which look to me like a scaled-down version of modern commercial curing. I was wondering if there were other ways - if these modern teks are adapted from similar traditional ones, or whether traditional methods were totally different and didn't involve "curing" as we know it at all.

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Well this is interesting thread. I'd guess in south america, at least in the lower altitude regions, the environment would be akin to the humidifiers used to cure tobacco materials. Highly humid, warm air.. Bet they'd just hang the leaves by their stems till brown or at a point the person likes it =)

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I reckon an anaerobic cure like burying would be interesting.

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"I reckon an anaerobic cure like burying would be interesting."

Am I assuming right, that this would be akin to the "wrap in a towel process" used for small amounts of leaves by some gardeners here?

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Mmm, possibly, but with the exclusion of oxygen from the process. I'd guess you'd have to let any built up ammonia escape during the process or you might end up with some pretty pungent baccers.

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I'm a bit hazy on this but I seem to remember reading somewhere that once harvested it is laid down and inch or two deep on the ground to sweat (cure) for a day or so then hung to dry. That simple.

It was then pounded in rosewood bowls with an high alkaloid ash.(Snuff use pre-dates smoking in the Americas, and was therefore the first method of tobacco consumption). Smoking came later..

Edit:wording

Edited by katu
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i'll ask mum for ya mate.

depends on the precinct it was grown in but if i remember the maco's would just hang em upside down out the front of their houses not in sheds because mouldy oldy would set sail in their britches. lol. anyway i'll ask the ol girl next time i visit her witch ship.

good question ano.....hows the serenity of that jasmine aye

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i saw a process of squeezing out all the gooey wetness from tobacco leaves with a special press once on a youtube vid..

I wonder if this was also an olde tek once carried out with stones or wood bound together ?

and I wonder how leather /hide may have been incorporated into the process..?

Look forward to seeing this awesome thread develop ...

and learning some more techniques other than just hanging leaves out in the rain and sun for an undetermined and pretty random duration

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I don't know how accurate this is but seems to be related.

"The first to mention ‘tobaco’: Oviedo y Valdés (1851-55, 2:298-99) about the Caquetio of northern Venezuela"

"and they sow this herb and they keep the seed which it produces to sow the next year and they cure it carefully for the purpose of securing predictions. When they cut the leaves they put them together and having hung them up they dry them in the smoke in bunches and they keep them there, and the product is much esteemed by the Indians"

what you reckon?

http://www.hoboes.com/Politics/Prohibition/Notes/Shamanism/

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Thanks for the responses all, keep em coming! :)

..It was then pounded in rosewood bowls with an high alkaloid ash...

katu, I'm just curious - did you mean "highly alkaline" ash here, or are you talking about using some kind of alkaloid-containing plant ash?

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Hello everybody

I found this in other forum some years ago.

I hope it would be interesting for you.

As requested, I give you an account of the manner of growing, handling, and curing tobacco grown by me in 1868 from fresh Cuba seed. The seed and special instructions were furnished by a friend who was a resident of New Orleans, but the owner of a large tobacco plantation in the province of Vuelta Abajo, in Cuba.

I first soaked the seed in fresh milk forty-eight hours, keeping them in a warm room. Without allowing them to dry, they were mixed with ashes and sown on a bed prepared in the usual way by burning.

I selected rather gravelly hillside land of good quality, prepared it well, and cast it up into ridges three feet apart. The ridge was cut through with a hoe, taking off about one-half of it at spaces as near twenty inches apart as could be done. The plants were set out and kept well worked, allowing them to run up until the blossom had shot out, which I pinched off, but did not prime the plant. I let the suckers grow to about two inches in length; turned out one of the most vigorous next the ground for a second crop; broke down from one side all the rest, taking care not to break them entirely off, but leaving them hanging by the skin on one side. I had no more suckers to trouble me or draw sap from the growing plant. I found many of the suckers struggling for life when my tobacco was ripe. The same plan succeeds well with our heavy tobacco.

The plants were allowed to stand until thoroughly ripe, which is of great importance. The leaves are then stripped from the stalk as is fodder from corn. The stalk was cut above the sucker, and the latter was worked and treated in every respect like the first crop. This second crop was somewhat smaller, but was much finer, richer tobacco, and ripened about the 10th of October.

When the crop was ripe and stripped from the stalk, I dug a pit long enough and two feet deep, just as though I was preparing to barbecue meat, filled it up with sound hardwood, which I set on fire. When the wood burned down, I carefully raked off all coals. I had freshly cut crab grass ready, clear of weeds with which I lined the bottom, sides, and ends of my pit, and packed the freshly-stripped tobacco smoothly and closely down and covered it over with about four inches of crab grass, and then put on eight or ten inches of earth, being particular to leave no part uncovered to allow the steam to escape. It remained in this condition about forty hours.

I then stripped off the covering and took out the tobacco. The water was streaming from a black, unsightly, and, as I thought, ruined mass. Still I obeyed instructions, tied the leaves into small hands, put them on sticks, and hung them up in the open shed of my barn. I was so sure that my trouble and labor had been thrown away I felt no anxiety to look at it.

The fourth day I was riding by the barn and happened to pass on the windward side. I caught a whiff that brought me to the ground immediately. I threw open the door of the shed and was saluted by a perfect billow of rich, real Havana aroma filling the entire barn. My tobacco was as dry as snuff and perfectly cured.

The first damp day brought the leaf in order, when I packed it in a large dry-goods box, nailed it up, and stored it in a dry room. I did not open it for one year. None but a connoisseur can imagine what a luxury I enjoyed in return for my perseverance. The tobacco was very dark, almost black, and was equal to the best cured Havana tobacco.

Greetings.

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Thanks for the responses all, keep em coming! :)

katu, I'm just curious - did you mean "highly alkaline" ash here, or are you talking about using some kind of alkaloid-containing plant ash?

Hehe, yeah sorry, dislexia or a Freudian slip?? :lol: , that would be highly alkaline ash..

Edited by katu

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edit

Edited by bardo

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Just to clarify here, when I say "traditional" I don't mean early United States commercial methods (interesting as they are), or any kind of home-curing methods (please check the rules about self-incrimination folks!), I'm asking about pre-colonial techniques. So what I'm trying to work out is this - were the methods like the one Malverde posted adapted from some traditional version, or did the first commercial tobacco farmers figure out new ways, and the earlier methods were totally different because those people used tobacco in a different way?

Snuff use pre-dates smoking in the Americas, and was therefore the first method of tobacco consumption). Smoking came later..

Yes, this is what I'm wondering - was tobacco still slow fermented & aged if it was for snuff or eating?

Dale Pendell in Pharmakopoeia says:

"Jungle tobacco, like mapuchu, is made by pouring a hot extraction of some of the leaves over others that have been dried. The whole mass is rolled up into a long cylinder and wrapped tightly with vines."

So I guess the juice re-introduces moisture & maybe enzymes for fermentation.

This then led me to an great article - it doesn't entirely answer my question, but interesting nonetheless, especially the bit about snuff preparations (chillies! really?!)

Mapacho is considered very sacred by Amazonian shamans and is employed alone (by tabaqueros) or in combination with other plants in shamanic practices. Some shamans drink the juice of tobacco leaves alone as a source of visions. Mapacho is used extensively in healing practices and is considered a medicine, not a health hazard, when used properly.

Nicotiana are native in North and South America, especially in the Andes (45 species) and in Polynesia and Australia (21 species). The two commercially important species are Nicotiana tabacum, cultivated in warm areas for smoking tobacco, and N. rustica, cultivated mainly for insecticidal use. Both species are believed to be of hybrid origin.

Tobacco is one of the most important plants in the lives of all tribes of the northwest Amazon (Wilbert, 1987). It’s many names include lukux-ri (Yukuna); ye’-ma (Tariana); a’-li (Bare); e’-li (Baniwa); mu-lu’, pagári-mulé (Desano); kherm’-ba (Kofán); dé-oo-wé (Witoto) It plays a part in curative rituals, in important tribal ceremonies and it is occasionally used as a recreational drug. In its various forms it is also employed in the ordinary medical practices of some tribes.

The Tukanoan peoples of the Vaupés often rub a decoction of the leaves briskly over sprains and bruises. Amongst the Witotos and Boras, fresh leaves are crushed and poulticed over boils and infected wounds. Tikuna men mix the crushed leaves with the oil from palms to rub into the hair to prevent balding. The Jivaros take tobacco juice therapeutically for indisposition, chills and snake bites. In many tribes tobacco snuff may be employed medicinally for a variety of ills, particularly to treat pulmonary ailments.

Tobacco is smoked on rare occasions, except in ceremonies and curative rituals of the medicine men who blow smoke or spit tobacco juice over the patient or inhale the smoke, all with appropriate incantations and ritual. Recreational smoking amongst the Indians of the northwest Amazon is not common, and cigarettes are rarely smoked except in areas where tribal customs are breaking down due to acculturation and the availability of commercial cigarettes. The Witotos sometimes smoke cigars, but this custom may be recently acquired. During ceremonies in which Ayahuasca is taken, enormous cigars, some as long as 36 inches, are smoked, especially amongst the many tribes of the Vaupés. The Sionas of the Mocoa region, like the western Tukanoan tribes, also employ the gigantic ceremonial cigar, but occasionally make smaller cigars and smoke them for non-ritual use; they have probably learned this use from colonists who have come from the Andes. The Jivaros and Aguaruna of Ecuador smoke large cigars in a tobacco-smoking festival to celebrate the initiation of a youth into manhood.

The recreational use of tobacco is usually in the form of snuffing. Preparation of the snuff appears to be similar from tribe to tribe; the leaves are hung up to dry, sometimes over a low fire, then pulverized, finely sifted and mixed with about an equal amount of the ash of sundry plants. The product is a greyish green powder. The preferred source of ash for this admixture is the bark of a wild cacao tree (Theobroma subincanum). The snuff may be taken at any time during the day, but it is most frequently used towards evening when the men are taking coca. Usually it is sniffed alone, but on occasion Capsicum pepper may be added; it is said to make the snuff more “effective”.

The Witotos and Yukunas may; on rare occasions and in special festivals, mix powdered coca with the tobacco snuff. During festivals and dances, tobacco snuff is consumed in enormous amounts, often with Ayahuasca amongst the Tukanoan tribes of the Colombian Vaupés. It is usually administered in snuffing tubes made of hollow bird bones or, occasionally; in long tubes made of reed-like plants. Almost all tribes in the northwest Amazon take tobacco as snuff: Kubeos, Barasanas, Makunas, Tanimukas, Sionas, Koffins, Witotos, Boras, Muinanes, Mirarias, and others.

Chewing tobacco leaves is common practice in numerous tribes, e.g., Cocamas, Omaguas, Zaparos, Omuranas, Sionas, Inganos; Waika men keep a quid of tobacco leaves in the lower lip all day. The Nonoyu mix tobacco with coca powder for chewing. Tobacco juice is taken by the Jivaros alternately with Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis) or maikoa (Brugmansia). Amongst the Coto Indians of the Rio Napo of Perú, only the shaman is allowed to take tobacco juice through the nostrils; the general male population drink it.

The mestizo ayahuasqueros of Perú mix tobacco juice with Ayahuasca, crushing the leaves and softening them with saliva, leaving the juice overnight in a hole cut into the trunk of the lupuna tree (Trichilia tocachcana), the presumably toxic sap of which drips into the tobacco juice. Amongst the western Tukanos of Colombia and Brazil, master medicine men make their students drink a gourdful of the juice to cause vomiting and eventual narcosis.The Jivaros of Ecuador drink the juice in initiations, visionary quests, war preparations, victory feasts and witchcraft; even women partake of the juice in wedding feasts and initiations.

Tobacco licking is also widespread in the northwest Amazon, although it is apparently not common in the rest of Amazonia. Its concentration appears to be in the Putumayo-Caquetá region of Colombia and Perú. The tobacco preparation is a thick syrup generally called ambil. The “civilized” llaneros of Colombia and Venezuela customarily take tobacco in this form which they call chimb. It is not clear whether they adopted it from the Indians or vice-versa; at least it has an ancient record of use amongst an extinct tribe once living on Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.

With Witotos, Boras and several other tribes of the northwest Amazonas, the common use of ambil, usually with coca, takes place during the early evenings before fresh coca is made and chewed. The thick syrup is applied to the gums with a finger or a stick and is swallowed very slowly with saliva and coca powder. The residue, formed by the slow evaporation of aqueous extracts of tobacco leaves, is also mixed with the “salts” obtained by the leaching of ashes of various plants. Amongst the Witotos, any male may make ambil, and there is no special hour or ceremony connected with its preparation (Schultes, 1945).

The application of tobacco in any other form, such as rectally by enema, is almost unknownin South America except amongst the Aguarunas, a Jivaroan tribe of Ecuador who apply it by clyster alone or mixed with Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is repeatedly drunk alternating with swallows of tobacco juice to cause vomiting before use of the tobacco-ayahuasca enema. The Kulina customarily smoke all night when taking Ayahuasca.

Details of the preparation of the various forms of tobacco and their uses, ritual, medical and otherwise, by the Indians of South America may be found in an outstanding recent treatise with extensive bibliographic references to earlier works (Wilbert, 1987).


References:
Schultes, R.E. and R.F. Raffauf. 1995. The Healing Forest: medicinal and toxic plants of the northwest Amazonia, Dioscorides Press, Portland, Or.. ISBN 0-931146-14-3
Wilbert, J. 1987. Tobacco and Shamanism in South America, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.

(edit: fix formatting)

Edited by Anodyne
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Great find Anodyne, thanks for posting =)

"crushing the leaves and softening them with saliva, leaving the juice overnight in a hole cut into the trunk of the lupuna tree (Trichilia tocachcana), the presumably toxic sap of which drips into the tobacco juice."

That's interesting, I wonder if this is simply to ferment the leaf to become alcoholic? Saliva and tree enzymes... could do just about anything i guess.

Edit; This may also be to gain the spirit of a strong tree for healing reasons. It may be a hard spirit to gain due to toxins in the tree, thus requiring a method of extracting an effective material (spirit?) whilst leaving behind the toxins. (to clarify, applying a aqua barrier (saliva) to the perhaps highly oily nicotine in / on the leaf (the extraction medium) to obtain a quite possible inactive oil or such, the plant spirit to help in healing. Perhaps even a medically active material that could also be called spirit).

Edited by ghosty
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When I said Americas I was refering to the country pre-white colonisation and yes my understanding was that snuff use was how tobacco was consumed and it was only "smoked" in ceremonial settings.

Fermenting and ageing were techniques that were introduced by the English after its introduction to them by the French, obviously much later than the periods you are interested in..

Edit:wording

Edited by katu

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Ha, of course it had to be the French with all their awesome cheeses, same concept..."yep this thing is delicious, but do you know what'd make it even better? Leaving it in a damp barn for a year"

Thanks for the answers katu :)

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Hey anodyne, I apologise, it was pre morning coffee I made that post.

I believe it was actually the Spanish that first introduced tobacco as a medicinal herb to Europe, but the English were most definately the first to refine the process of snuff production in terms of fermentation and ageing :blush: . They still make IMHO the best snuff in the world!

Sorry, I try not to post anything i'm not pretty sure of, my apologies... :unsure:

Edit:spelling

Edited by katu

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katu, hey I don't know what you're apologising for, your posts have been great!

So have I got this right then: pre-Spanish-colonisation of Americas, tobacco was mostly snuffed or taken orally, and was quick-dried in the sun or over a fire, probably not fermented or aged much at all. Then the Spanish took it back to Europe where modern curing techniques were born. Then these were re-introduced to the Americas, where they were adopted by all US tobacco farmers & some South American tribes. What a twisty path!

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I don't know if this has been posted yet or if it's common knowledge or whatever but you should only pick/dry/use the leaves that are turning yellow. That's right, the curing process begins while the leaf is still attached to the plant. This would almost certainly be how it was used traditionally.

Up in PNG where things are still quite primative, tobacco is grown all around every second hut, it's everywhere. Tobacco is a valuable and guarded commodity, but the leaves are never picked while green. Each leaf is left to sit there for as long as it takes for it to start turning yellow, even if people are hanging out bad for a smoke, they don't think it is worth smoking the green stuff. It's shit and no one smokes it.

The leaves usually turn yellow one at a time from the bottom of the plant up. ie the oldest leaves (at the bottom) are the first to turn yellow and the youngest leaves at the top will take a couple of months before they are ready to be harvested.

The yellowing leaves start to go a bit limp and soft and sticky compared to the green leaves. They are bunched up into groups of 5- 10, tied with string and hung to dry somewhere inside the hut where it is dark and dry. There they are bathed in smoke from the fire day and night (like everything else in the hut) for at least a week or two. I think they just go by feel, not too wet, not too dry/crispy. Finally they are bundled up and taken to market for sale.

Even though it grows everywhere it still fetches a high price because with only the yellow leaves being picked, only small amounts are ever up for sale at any one time. They never seem to harvest whole plants or anything like that. They warned me it is a powerful drug which is hard to quit so people are better off if they never take up smoking to begin with.

I'll have to quiz some of the boys about it and get back to you.

Edited by Halcyon Daze
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katu, hey I don't know what you're apologising for, your posts have been great!

So have I got this right then: pre-Spanish-colonisation of Americas, tobacco was mostly snuffed or taken orally, and was quick-dried in the sun or over a fire, probably not fermented or aged much at all. Then the Spanish took it back to Europe where modern curing techniques were born. Then these were re-introduced to the Americas, where they were adopted by all US tobacco farmers & some South American tribes. What a twisty path!

Thanks mate :wub:

But yes, that sounds about right :) .

The history of tobacco is an amazing subject IMO, a most twisty path indeed!

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