Herbs that Help Smokers Quit

Herbal boosters for the nonsmoking life

| July/August 1999

  • Ginseng, top right, increases stamina, milk thistle tincture, center, supports the liver as your body cleans out toxins, and St.-John’s-wort balances mood.

 3 herbal friends to help along the way 

Herbs don’t offer a magic bullet for kicking the habit. However, they can be allies in your effort to stop smoking once and for all.

I imagine my first introduction to tobacco was similar to that of many: peer pressure. One summer evening when I was about fourteen years old, I was sleeping out with some friends. One guy, who must have been about sixteen or so, emerged with a pack of these wonderfully fascinating white sticks. I was the youngest person there that night and became the center of a little game—“let’s get him to start smoking.” Of course, to prove myself, I accepted the offer, drew the burning butt to my mouth, and took my first puff. I attempted to inhale—coughing and spewing forth smoke in disgust, yet persisting until, after some practice, I could fully inhale the acrid-tasting smoke.

Such was the beginning of my use of this plant, which has been the source of both fascination and frustration for humankind since its introduction nearly five centuries ago. In the process of researching this article, I was reminded of my introduction to smoking when I read the “Tobacco” chapter of Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany (Cummings and Hilliard, 1818): “There is no plant which has less to recommend it than the common tobacco. Its taste in the green state is acrid, nauseous and repulsive, and a small quantity taken into the stomach excites violent vomiting, attended with other alarming symptoms.”

But the first person who had courage and patience enough to persevere in its use, until habit had overcome his original disgust, eventually found tobacco a pleasing sedative, a soother of worry, and a substantial addition to the pleasures of life.

Since tobacco’s introduction to Western cultures in the sixteenth century, social attitudes toward its use have remained largely negative. The glamour of smoking has disappeared, and each day the media depicts the addiction in less flattering ways. It becomes more and more difficult to find a place to smoke. Maine has recently followed Massachusetts in banning smoking in all restaurants. In Vermont, smoking is not allowed in any public place. If you are a smoker and a frequent flier, you know only too well that smoking on airlines is prohibited in most parts of the world, and it’s difficult to find a place to smoke at most major airports. Many ban smoking indoors altogether, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a smoking zone outside an airport. If that’s not enough, buying a pack of cigarettes has become almost more expensive than buying a mixed drink at an airport bar!

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