Have you ever wondered about growing tobacco in Montana?

For many Montanans, Mother's Day marks the unofficial kickoff to gardening season. Garden centers and nurseries were bustling this weekend across the Treasure State. It's game on for Montana gardeners, and this year I'm experimenting with a new plant: tobacco.

Photo by Siwawut Phoophinyo on Unsplash
Photo by Siwawut Phoophinyo on Unsplash

Yes, tobacco grows in Montana.

Wild tobacco nicotiana (specifically N. rustic and N. sylvestris) grows in dry areas across Montana, according to the Montana Indian Nations Sacred Plant Guide. Tobacco has been a treasured plant for Indigenous people across the globe for centuries. Uses, per the guide, include:

Tobacco is an antiseptic, sedative, pain reliever, and a stimulant for the nervous system. It may also be used as a mosquito repellent when the dried leaves are placed in a fire. American Indians use the dried leaves for prayers, tobacco ties, ceremonies, offerings, blessings, and gifts. 

Tobacco will grow pretty much anywhere you can grow tomatoes. For some reason, the crop never took off commercially in Montana. However, it wasn't because nobody tried.

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The Missoula Current covered the exploits of a Worden, MT farmer who experimented with the crop in 1923. He noted his crop was “equal, if not superior, in quality to that grown anywhere else" and that the plant grew larger and harvested sooner than tobacco grown in southern states where tobacco is king.

Tobacco Workers
Ah yes... the "good old days" of child labor. Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

How did I end up with two tobacco plant seedlings?

My mom is an avid gardener and health enthusiast. When she told me a few weeks ago that she had tobacco plants started in her greenhouse, it caught me slightly off guard. Neither she nor my dad are smokers or chew tobacco. "Why in the world is my mother growing tobacco?", I wondered. It turns out, she makes various tinctures and natural remedies from plants harvested out of her garden, including tobacco plants.

While everyone knows that smoking is not healthy, numerous studies have been done regarding the tobacco plant's health benefits for various ailments when consumed orally or topically.  A 2020 study shared by Frontiers in Pharmacology takes a deeper look into tobacco and the processes and treatments used in traditional Peruvian medicine.

Credit Michael Foth, TSM
Credit Michael Foth, TSM

Is it legal to grow tobacco in Montana?

Okay, I searched the internet longer than I'd like to admit on this one because I wanted to be sure. I found plenty of Montana.gov rules and regulations regarding the sale of tobacco products, the laws regarding the marketing of tobacco, and the penalties for the sale or consumption of tobacco to underage consumers.

I couldn't find a single statute regarding the personal use of homegrown tobacco. Note: I'm not an attorney. Please research the legality before starting a tobacco farm in Montana. 

Since I don't smoke tobacco (except for a couple of random cigars here and there) and I quit chewing Copenhagen a few years ago, I'll be growing my two little tobacco plants mainly for fun. Perhaps I'll make them into medicine. If all goes well, I'll give you an update in approximately 100 - 120 days.

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