What Did Native Americans Smoke in Peace Pipes?

Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Traditionally, North American Indian peace pipes contained a mixture of tobacco and various wild herbs, such as willow bark, sumac and white sage. A variety of tobacco species and types of herbs were used in peace pipes based on regional differences.

In Native American ceremonies, tobacco was commonly offered to spirits. Many Native American tribes used a ceremonial pipe in rituals they considered to be sacred. A peace pipe is also known as a calumet. Besides its use during treaty negotiations, a calumet was used during council meetings, sweat lodge ceremonies and friendship greetings. It was commonly used in meeting opening rituals. At the beginning of a meeting, the pipe was lit, and smoke was blown towards the east, south, west and north before offering smoke to Father Sky and Mother Earth. After the invocations, the pipe was passed around among attendees. Contrary to popular belief, the smoke from a peace pipe is not inhaled.

Certain Native American tribes perform what is known as the Calumet Dance, an elaborate dance offering smoke to the Great Spirit. Alternatively, some tribes call it the Medicine Pipe Dance. During the dance, pipes are used to represent male and female principles. In this instance, the long-stemmed pipes are used as a wand.