History of smoking in Europe
April 4, 2016 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Is there any evidence of herbs other than tobacco being smoked in Europe prior to tobacco, any evidence of the pipe existing prior to tobacco?

I have heard that cannabis is reported to have been smoked according to some Greek sources, but in reading about how many different kinds of herbs were often blended in tobacco in traditional use by indigenous people it got me wondering if there was any chance this was done on other continents as well and what the plants were (if known) or if archeological evidence had found any sorts of pipes or smoking devices in European digs. Burning plants for therapeutic, healing, or ritual purpose seems to have been popular on many continents but most discussions of European use of smoking or incense that I've found seems to focus on imported plants- while I am curious about ANY sources you know (particularly online so I can access but other too)- I am particularly curious about what plants other than tobacco may have been used for incense or smoking purposes in Europe other than imports, if there were any.

If you happen to know anything about this topic please share away, and point to reading materials or search ideas for further info, thank you!
posted by xarnop to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The first reference to smoking a pipe in the Oxford English Dictionary is sixteenth-century, and involves Native Americans smoking tobacco. The first reference to using a pipe for other sorts of drugs is eighteenth-century: "Malays mix liquid opium with a certain herb called madat, and this they smoke in a large pipe."
posted by yarntheory at 8:23 AM on April 4, 2016

Frankincense was used in the church pre-tobacco, but I'm not sure that's really what you're looking for.
posted by Vortisaur at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2016

Instanbul had hookahs prior to tobacco, but that's probably too far east to be the Europe you're looking for. I would assume that Europeans had at least encountered smoking hookahs even if it was not practiced in Europe.
posted by Deflagro at 8:39 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, medieval European medicine was much more into poultices than burning things, but I've managed to dredge up:

"For tooth worms, take acorn meal and henbane seed and wax, of all equally much, mingle these together, work into a wax candle, and burn it, let it reek into the mouth, put a black cloth under, then will the worms fall on it."
Leechbook of the Bald, English, likely 9th century

I'm sure I recall another medeival medical reference to burning something under a labouring woman to draw out the baby, but I can't recall which text.
posted by Vortisaur at 8:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Delphic oracle sat over a fume filled vent before entering a prophetic trance, and there is a theory that the fumes were from burning oleander.
posted by tavegyl at 9:06 AM on April 4, 2016

In Wolfgang Schivelbusch's wonderful "Tastes of Paradise," he relates that western Europe (I believe the illustrated document was English) was so unfamiliar with the concept of smoking that ads for tobacco referred to its use as "drinking smoke."
posted by aspersioncast at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2016

but, aspersioncast, isnt that consistent with the words used still to this day to describe pipe smoking (of tobacco) - that is to say it is perfectly normal/acceptable to describe someone "sipping" a pipe.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2016

Hm, I'll have to dig up my copy; I seem to remember the context being a general lack of familiarity with the activity, but pipes are actually a really old invention. There's a whole chapter about this but I don't remember enough detail.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:03 AM on April 4, 2016

Here's a little bit of information on cannabis and opium found in a Scythian burial site. In this case, they seemed to use bowls in their rituals, not pipes.
posted by cabingirl at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hemp grows in Scythia: it is very like flax; only that it is a much coarser and taller plant: some grows wild about the country, some is produced by cultivation: the Thracians make garments of it which closely resemble linen; so much so, indeed, that if a person has never seen hemp he is sure to think they are linen, and if he has, unless he is very experienced in such matters, he will not know of which material they are.

The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy, and this vapour serves them instead of a water-bath; for they never by any chance wash their bodies with water...
The History of Herodotus, Book IV
posted by y2karl at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Delphic oracle sat over a fume filled vent before entering a prophetic trance, and there is a theory that the fumes were from burning oleander.

Or just unsmoky ethylene gas
posted by IndigoJones at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

that is to say it is perfectly normal/acceptable to describe someone "sipping" a pipe.

It is?
posted by kenko at 4:37 PM on April 4, 2016

Alright I'm gonna throw a curve ball in here check this out... numerous magazines/texts from the 1800's mention that smoking pipes in ancient Greece and rome have definitely been found. What happened to that evidence? Was it discovered to be false or just became forgotten? Here is an article that claims "that smoking pipes have been found among Roman remains is beyond question"

It mentions pipes being found among ancient remains of celts in Ireland and Kildare. It says the Romans smoked coltsfoot; according to Strabo,Discioredes, and Pliny the Greeks had a practice of inhaling fumes of plants unelated to tobacco smoking.

How cute, it claims mini fairy pipes were found. LOL. Man I wish I could read a reubuttal from snopes on all the claims LOL.
posted by xarnop at 5:04 AM on April 5, 2016

Wow no joke in the 1800's there were a lot of books and articles about ancient smoking in antiquity! Many claim that Pliny said coltsfoot was smoked through a pipe, also that cypress roots were smoked and.... cow dung?It's certainly true that some translations of Pliny claim cowdung was smoked through a reed. Hmmm fun.
posted by xarnop at 5:41 AM on April 5, 2016

There's a series of songs from 14th Century France that reference 'smoking', presumably something slightly mind-altering. "Puisque je suis fumeux" is the one I know, but there are apparently more: Puisque Je suis fumeux.
posted by jrochest at 11:16 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

And the 16th century referred to "drinking" tobacco -- which, because it was very expensive, was often cut with other smokeable substances. Usually not psychoactive.
posted by jrochest at 11:17 PM on April 5, 2016

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