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For other uses, see Kinnikinnick (disambiguation).

Kinnikinnick is a Native American smoking product, typically made of mixture of various leaves or barks with other plant materials.


The term "kinnikinnick" derives from Unami Delaware /kələkːəˈnikːan/, "mixture" (c.f. Ojibwe giniginige "to mix something animate with something inanimate"),[1] from Proto-Algonquian *kereken-, "mix (it) with something different by hand".[2]

By extension, the name was also applied by the European hunters, traders, and settlers to various shrubs in which the bark or leaves are employed in the mixture,[3] most often Bearberry (Arctostaphylos spp.)[4] and to lesser degree, Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Silky Cornel (Cornus amomum), and even to Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) and the Littleleaf Sumac (Rhus microphylla).

Preparation and use[edit]

The preparation varies by locality and by Native American tribes. Bartlett quotes Trumbull as saying: "I have smoked half a dozen varieties of kinnikinnick in the North-west—all genuine; and have scraped and prepared the red willow-bark, which is not much worse than Suffield oak-leaf.[3][5]

Eastern tribes traditionally used Nicotiana rustica in their peace pipe but western tribes used kinnikinick.[4] Cutler cites Edward S. Rutsch's study of the Iroquois, listing ingredients used by other Native American tribes: leaves or bark of red osier dogwood, arrowroot, red sumac, laurel, ironwood, wahoo, squaw huckleberry, Indian tobacco, Jamestown weed, black birch, cherry bark, corn, mullein; along with muskrat glands or oil, and other animal oil or rendered fat.[4]

In regards to material used for smoking by the Ojibwa, Densmore records the following: The material smoked by the Chippewa in earliest times were said to be the dried leaves of the bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.), and the dried, powdered root of a plant identified as Aster novae-angliae L. The latter was also smoked as a "charm" to attract game. Two sorts of bark were smoked, one being known as "red willow" (Cornus stolonifera Michx.) and the other as "spotted willow" (Cornus rugosa Lam.). The manner of preparing the bark is as follows: The sticks are gathered in bundles, the outer bark is removed and discarded, and the inner bark is scraped off, the man drawing his knife toward him when removing it. He then takes one of the sticks and splices another on it so as to form a letter "Y," after which he laces narrow strips of basswood or other fiber back and forth between the upper branches of the frame, making a sort of netting. This is his "toaster" when preparing his material for smoking. He puts the scraped bark on this little framework and holds it over the fire until the scrapings of bark are crisped or toasted to the desired degree. He takes a little of this material in his hands, and holding his hand in a vertical position over a cloth rubs the crisped bark between his palms, letting the resultant powder fall on the cloth. It is then tied in a cloth or wrapped in leather and kept for use, or may be put loose in a man's tobacco bag. A plug of the white man's tobacco or a "twist" of native tobacco is kept in the same bag, and when a man wishes to smoke he slices a little tobacco, puts the powdered bark on the little pile of tobacco and mixes the two. The usual proportion is 2 parts of powdered bark to 1 part of sliced plug tobacco. In the old days a much smaller proportion of tobacco was used, as it was difficult to obtain and was made to last as long as possible. A small wooden bowl is used for cutting the tobacco, which may be mixed and offered in an oblong tray if a number are smoking.[6]

Historical references[edit]

  • "At this moment the Indians were in deliberation. Seated in a large circle round a very small fire, the smoke from which ascended in a thin straight column, they each in turn puffed a huge cloud of smoke from three or four long cherry-stemmed pipes, which went the round of the party; each warrior touching the ground with the heel of the pipe bowl, and turning the stem upwards and away from him as "medicine" to the Great Spirit, before he himself inhaled the fragrant kinnik-kinnik." — N. Y. Spirit of the Times.[5]
  • "I at this moment presented to the Duke the Indian pipe, through which he had smoked the day before, and also an Indian tobacco-pouch, filled with the k'nickk'neck (or Indian tobacco) with which he had been so much pleased." — Collin's Travels in Europe.[5]
  • "There ore also certain creeks where the Indians resort to lay in a store of kinnikinik, the inner bark of the red willow, which they use as a substitute for tobacco, and which has an aromatic and very pungent flavor." — Ruxton, Life in the Far West, p. 116.[5]
  • "While I am writing, I am smoking a pipe filled with kinnikinick, the dried leaves of the red sumac — a very good substitute for tobacco." — Carvalho, Adventures in the Far West, p. 36.[5]
  • "The older hunter watched the singular preparations of his silent son, and suspecting that he had discovered signs of an enemy, arose, and saying he would go and cut a few sticks of the red willow [Kinnikinnick] to smoke, he left the lodge to go and see with his own and more experienced eyes, what were the signs of danger." — Warren, History of the Ojibway people[7]
  • kinnikinic, n. caŋṡaṡa. — Williamson. An English-Dakota Dictionary[8]
  • "Tobacco used in the early day consisted of the inner bark of red dogwood—Indians on all reservations called it 'red willow.' An informant removed the outside bark of a twig with her thumbnail and noted that the remaining layer of bark when carefully shaven off served as tobacco, so-called kinnikinnick. Today kinnikinnick is a mixture of finely crushed inner bark of the red dogwood and shavings of plug tobacco. The mixture is worked with a mortar with pestle, both mortar and pestle being of wood. This mixture, too, is used today for ceremonial smoking." — Hilger, Chippewa Child Life[9]
  • "From the red stone of the quarry
    With his hand he broke a fragment,
    Moulded it into a pipe-head,
    Shaped and fashioned it with figures;
    From the margin of the river
    Took a long reed for a pipe-stem,
    With its dark green leaves upon it;
    Filled the pipe with bark of willow,
    With the bark of the red willow; ...." — Longfellow, "The Peace Pipe" in Song of Hiawatha[10]

Native names[edit]

  • Algonquin: nasemà, "tobacco" (mitàkozigan, "unmixed tobacco"; apàkozigan, "mixed tobacco")
  • Dakota: caŋṡaṡa, "tobacco"
  • Lakota: cansasa, "tobacco"
  • Menominee : ahpa͞esāwān, "kinnikinnick"
  • Odaawaa: semaa, "tobacco" (mtaaḳzigan, "unmixed tobacco"; paaḳzigan, "mixed tobacco")
  • Ojibwe: asemaa, "tobacco" (mitaakozigan, "unmixed tobacco"; apaakozigan, "mixed tobacco")
  • Shosnoni: äñ′-ka-kwi-nûp, "kinnikinnick" [11]
  • Winnebago: roxį́šučkéra, "bark to smoke" [12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "kiniginige" in Frederic Baraga A Dictionary of the Ojibway Language. Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN: 1992). ISBN 0-87351-281-2. Part II, page 189.
  2. ^ Flexner, Stuart Berg and Leonore Crary Hauck, eds.. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed. (unabridged). Random House (New York: 1987). Page 1058.
  3. ^ a b "Kinnikinnick" in Frederick Webb Hodge (editor) Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: 1911). Part 1, page 692.
  4. ^ a b c Charles L. Cutler. Tracks that speak: the legacy of Native American words in North American culture. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Boston : 2002). Pages 174–176. ISBN 0-618-06510-5
  5. ^ a b c d e ""Kinnikinnick" in John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms, 4th Edition. Little, Brown, and Company (New York: 1877). Page 335.
  6. ^ Frances Densmore. Chippewa Customs. Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: 1929) Reprint: Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul: 1979). Pages 144-145.
  7. ^ William W. Warren. History of the Ojibway People. Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN : 1885; repr. 1984). Page 150 and page 411.
  8. ^ John P. Williamson. An English-Dakota Dictionary. Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN : 1902; repr. 1992). Page 95.
  9. ^ Inez Hilger. Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background. Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN : 1951, repr. 1992). Page 63.
  10. ^ "The Peace Pipe" in Song of Hiawatha
  11. ^ Chamberlin, Ralph Vary (1911). "The Ethno-botany of the Gosiute Indians of Utah" (PDF). Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association Vol II, part 5. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  12. ^ "Hočąk Encyclopedia". Richard L. Dieterle. 2005. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 

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