Did you know this about Tobacco?

Tobacco comes from the same plant family as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, and has a beautiful toxic cousin known as the herb Henbane.


Tobacco plants have been around for a very long time, the oldest recorded use of tobacco dates back to C.E 550, but we can be assured it was probably used way before then; we just don’t have the archaeological proof.

There are 64 species of tobacco plant; most derive from the Americas – North and South, with a few in Australia. The active ingredient in tobacco was named ‘Nicotine’ after the French explorer Jean Nicot; it was he who introduced tobacco to Paris in 1560. But Tobacco first came to the notice of the west in 1492 due to Christopher Columbus and his band of intrepid explorers. It was not called tobacco back then, that name came about in error after the tavaco pipe used to smoke it.  Called petum or cohobba by the Native Indians, they used the tobacco plant in all aspects of their life and culture; smoking it at social gatherings, before warfare, for fertility rituals, and of course for spiritual trances, magic and medicine.

Cuban Doctors of the same period apparently used burning tobacco leaves as a disinfectant, in Brazil, tobacco was being used to treat ulcerated abscesses and sores, and breathing the odour of fresh tobacco leaves was said to ease headaches and was used for pain relief. Users of the time knew that tobacco was addictive and could depress the appetite. (And don’t we know it!)

Jean Nicot

Columbus’s crew recorded that tobacco was used as pain relief, as an anti-parasitic, a poultice for boils, a snake bit remedy and to treat dizziness and fainting. But when tobacco reached Europe, it seems that the Europeans went a bit crazy with it, expecting it to be a wonder drug, possibly because it was exotic, and they had read how freely the Native Indians used it. Normally the Physicians of the time used the home grown herbs for specific ailments only, tobacco though, was used as a cure all, and not surprisingly it failed. This may have been due in part to administration being haphazard and dosages pretty scary.  Yet recent research has corroborated the ancient use on skin ulcers and growths, as the leaves do have anti cancer properties – it is the burning of tobacco in cigarettes that is harmful and toxic, and this link to cigarettes has unfortunately given tobacco such a poor reputation.

Tobacco is not the ‘evil’ toxic plant that the anti-smoking lobby would have you believe. Yes it contains nicotine, but like most plants on this wonderful planet we live on, it does have medicinal properties that are beneficial to humans, animals and maybe even insects –we just have to go back to nature and de-code her wisdom to really find out. It would be poetic though if tobacco did turn out to be a cancer fighting plant.


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