The Neverending Search for a Legal Herbal High


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
December 5, 1968, Vol. XIV, No. 8

by Howard Smith

WITH A LITTLE HELP from my readers, I’ve been compiling a legal list of herbs that improve a high. The latest additions — Kava kava, Rat Root, and Rue — get you there all by themselves. The reader who suggested them says they are usually available at Kiehl’s Pharmacy (109 Third Avenue, at 13th Street).

If you’ve never been to Kiehl’s, go. The window alone is a sort of alchemists’ wonderland. Platters and trays of crushed and powdered roots and herbs and flowers with neat signs recommending these natural remedies for what ails you.

Inside it’s a modern witches’ shopping center. The walls are lined with huge, gleaming apothecary jars filled with more organic goodies. As in the window, everything is clearly labeled so that you can wander the shelves and be fascinated by just the names. If you go, you’ll be sure to find something you want. There are exotic soaps, fragrant sachet mixtures of crushed flowers, and mysterious elixirs and teas. Kiehl’s proprietors are eager to please and will spend a lot of time figuring out what’s good for your needs. They carry Kava kava, Rat Root, and Rue — purely for health reasons, but I checked out their head potencies in “The Hallucinogens” by Hoffer and Osmond, published by Academic Press.

They give Kava kava root the psychedelic okay, in this very thorough and excellent book, explaining that it is drunk in the South Sea Islands as a mild social euphoriant.

Rat root is used by the Canadian Indians as an anti-fatigue drug. Two inches of it, report Hoffer and Osmond, will eliminate fatigue and give a feeling of well-being but is very unlike amphetamine; while if you eat 10 inches it is very like LSD. Kiehl’s sells it as Calamus Root, $1.95 for four ounces. The reader who suggested it says the taste is very bitter, so you should make it into a sugar tea.

Rue, or Ruta Graveolens, can be rolled in a joint, smoked in a pipe, or brewed.

My informant says it gets you stoned.

For those of you who like to stay on the wrong side of the law, you can pick Rue illegally from the Cloisters Herb Garden or the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in spring or summer. But Kiehl’s sells it for $1.55 for four ounces.

ALL ALONG I thought Joan Baez was a folk singer. Turns out she’s really an evangelist. During a Los Angeles concert a few weeks ago she gave a little spontaneous anti-Vietnam speech urging those present to make public gestures against the draft. She then sang “Walk That Lonesome Valley,” and 20 young men walked up to the stage and handed in their draft cards.

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