Grow a smokable herb that isn't marijuana

April 1, 2022

We hear what we want to hear. When Brewer and Shipley performed the hit song “One Toke Over the Line,” Vice President Spiro Agnew said the song about smoking marijuana was "blatant drug-culture propaganda" that "threatens to sap our national strength," and pressured the Federal Communications Commission to include the song on its list of banned music because of drug references.

The song was banned in several areas, especially in the Deep South, the Bible Belt, and rural areas in the Midwest. However, Lawrence Welk thought the song's references to Jesus and Mary made it a “modern spiritual,” and a cover version was performed in early 1971 by Gail Farrell and Dick Dale on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Studies show that cannabis opens the airway passages and aids in respiratory health. Smoking tobacco is cancer-causing, but the truth is, humans have been smoking herbs because of their health benefits for thousands of years.

You can grow smokable herbs that are not marijuana. One of the best is white horehound (Marrubium vulgare). If you’re like the other 300 million people who suffer from asthma, white horehound is a great choice. This Mediterranean native herb is a very strong anti-inflammatory, especially useful in treating respiratory inflammation. Traditional medicine uses white horehound to treat asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough.

White horehound is naturally high in marrubiin, which gives it expectorant properties. This is the herb used in old-fashioned horehound cough drops, which may taste somewhat bitter. White horehound is also used to stimulate the appetite. As an analgesic, this herb helps soothe pain, particularly discomfort from toothaches and headaches.

The perennial herb is quite showy with mounds of fuzzy, silver-gray foliage that reach 18 inches tall and about 20 inches wide. Small, snapdragon-shaped white flowers are used for candy making.

Plant white horehound seeds 1/4 inch deep in a spot that will get 8-12 hours of direct sun. Like many herbs, it thrives in dry, poor soil. The seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks. Thin the plants to stand about a foot apart, and harvest white horehound as it begins to bloom.

If you cut back the plants after flowering, you will get a second crop of leaves. The musky odor of the leaves goes away when they are dried. You can divide your plants in early spring or fall. The ideal soil pH is 6.1-7.8, and the plants are winter hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. Dry your white horehound for smoking by hanging the plants upside down in a dry, dark area such as an unheated garage or attic.

White horehound uses animals to spread its seeds. Each seed has a small hook that attaches to the fur of passing animals. In some areas, it can become invasive, although it’s easy to control.

As with any herb, consult a doctor before using it. When taken in excess, white horehound can affect the heart. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should not consume horehound, because it could be dangerous for infants.

For an herbal smoke or just a lovely garden plant, grow white horehound. Smoke it to relax your lungs, and try to stay one toke over the line. Lawrence Welk would be proud.


  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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