From Quebec and Ontario to Texas and Florida, “rabbit tobacco” or “sweet everlasting,” (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium), is a creamy-white wildflower on a light green cottony spike of foliage, which gradually turns to a light tan and brown, near tobacco color. Its blooms may be seen in Virginia beginning in the tail end of August to the early part of September. The durability of the flower, which retains its beauty and aroma even after it is dried, gives rise to its descriptors “sweet” and “everlasting.” It has been assigned a host of other names as well, including Catfoot and Old Field Balsam.
Cherokee Religious Lore
The flower, an annual member of the aster family, is considered everlasting, because the flower “lives on,” and for this reason the idea was born that the plant can be used to communicate with the realm of the dead. A Cherokee Indian tale tells us1Rabbit was trapped by some underbrush and in endeavoring to escape, he was cut. He discovered the herb was able to cure cuts, hence the name incorporates the term “rabbit.” Since rabbits were seen in its presence, it was assumed they must employ this substance in getting into touch with their Creator. The herb thus became established for use in Indian medications and in religious efforts at communication.
Herbal Folk Medicine
It was once a common practice to associate certain qualities of a plant with its shape or some other feature. So health ailments that remind one of a rabbit, such as twitches, were reckoned treatable by treatment with rabbit tobacco. In more recent times, rabbit tobacco has been used in the concocting of cough syrup. It has also been used dried in pillows for the treatment of asthma, some claiming it diminishes and perhaps even can cure the condition.2
1 Sunnyfield Herb Farm – “An Intuitive Study of Rabbit Tobacco,” by Matthew Wood.
2 The author does not advocate any form of medical treatment, being unqualified to do so.
Additional References and Resources:
Flora of North America – Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium
Jefferson Davis Community College – Wildflowers of the Escambia – Rabbit Tobacco