It is believed that smoking on the North American continent originated 5, 000 years ago and over time has become an essential attribute of all social and religious activities of indigenous peoples. However, it was tobacco for these purposes that began to be used no later than 500 years ago. Researchers from the University of Washington (USA) tried to answer the question of what the Indians smoked in more ancient times.
The study was carried out according to a new method, where the subject of interest is not just traces of chemical compounds (markers, like nicotine or caffeine), but various metabolites. These are intermediate products of plant processing, including when eaten or burned in a tube. Compared to single traces of a substance, each metabolite is a whole album of different markers, which significantly increases the accuracy of identification of the found.
It was the study of metabolites in the soot of ancient pipes, whose age is at least 1400 years, that brought scientists to a specific plant - naked sumac, lat. Rhus glábra. The candidate is almost perfect, if only because it is almost the only plant that grows naturally in all 48 continental states of the United States. It didn't matter if the tribe was rich or poor, traded with neighbors or lived in seclusion, everyone had access to a source of raw materials for smoking mixtures.
Sumac naked is considered a healing plant, it contains a lot of tannins, it is added to tea, and smoke is used for inhalation. The use of a dried plant as an alternative to tobacco is quite logical, as is the fact that with the advent of tobacco itself, the Indians still preferred to add readily available sumac to it. Traces of such mixtures are found in smoking pipes of a later period.