Botanical Name: Nicotiana tabacum
Species: N. tabacum
Synonyms: Tabacca. Tabaci Folia (B.P.C.).
Part Used: Leaves, cured and dried.
Habitat: Virginia, America; and cultivated with other species in China, Turkey, Greece, Holland, France, Germany and most sub-tropical countries.
Description: The genus derives its name from Joan Nicot, a Portuguese who introduced the Tobacco plant into France. The specific name being derived from the Haitian word for the pipe in which the herb is smoked. Tobacco is an annual, with a long fibrous root, stem erect, round, hairy, and viscid; it branches near the top and is from 3 to 6 feet high. Leaves large, numerous, alternate, sessile, somewhat decurrent, ovate, lanceolate, pointed, entire, slightly viscid and hairy, pale-green colour, brittle, narcotic odour, with a nauseous, bitter acrid taste. Nicotine is a volatile oil, inflammable, powerfully alkaline, with an acrid smell and a burning taste. By distillation with water it yields a concrete volatile oil termed nicotianin or Tobacco camphor, which is tasteless, crystalline, and smells of Tobacco; other constituents are albumen, resin, gum, and inorganic matters.
Tobacco plants growing in a field in Intercourse, Pennsylvania
Tobacco seeds are scattered onto the surface of the soil, as their germination is activated by light. In colonial Virginia, seedbeds were fertilized with wood ash or animal manure (frequently powdered horse manure). Seedbeds were then covered with branches to protect the young plants from frost damage. These plants were left to grow until around April.
In the nineteenth century, young plants came under increasing attack from the flea beetle (Epitrix cucumeris or Epitrix pubescens), causing destruction of half the United States tobacco crop in 1876. In the years afterward, many experiments were attempted and discussed to control the flea beetle. By 1880 it was discovered that replacing the branches with a frame covered by thin fabric would effectively protect plants from the beetle. This practice spread until it became ubiquitous in the 1890s.
Today, in the United States, unlike other countries, tobacco is often fertilized with the mineral apatite in order to partially starve the plant for nitrogen, which changes the taste. This (together with the use of licorice and other additives) accounts for the different flavor of American cigarettes from those available in other countries. There is, however, some suggestion that this may have adverse health effects attributable to the content of apatite.
After the plants have reached a certain height, they are transplanted into fields. This was originally done by making a relatively large hole in the tilled earth with a tobacco peg, then placing the small plant in the hole. Various mechanical tobacco planters were invented throughout the late 19th and early 20th century to automate this process, making a hole, fertilizing it, and guiding a plant into the hole with one motion.
Tobacco is harvested in one of two ways. In the oldest method, the entire plant is harvested at once by cutting off the stalk at the ground with a curved knife. In the nineteenth century, bright tobacco began to be harvested by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened. The leaves ripen from the ground upwards, so a field of tobacco may go through several “pullings” before the tobacco is entirely harvested, and the stalks may be turned into the soil. “Cropping”, “pulling”, and “priming” are terms for pulling leaves off tobacco. Leaves are cropped as they ripen, from the bottom of the stalk up. The first crop at the very bottom of the stalks are called “sand lugs”, as they are often against the ground and are coated with dirt splashed up when it rains. Sand lugs weigh the most, and are most difficult to work with. Originally workers cropped the tobacco and placed it on animal-pulled sleds. Eventually tractors with wagons were used to transport leaves to the stringer, an apparatus which uses twine to sew leaves onto a stick.
Some farmers use “tobacco harvesters” – basically a trailer pulled behind a tractor. The harvester is a wheeled sled or trailer that has seats for the croppers to sit on and seats just in front of these for the “stringers” to sit on. The croppers pull the leaves off in handfuls, and pass these to the “stringer”, who loops twine around the handfuls of tobacco and hangs them on a long wooden square pole. Traditionally, the croppers, down in the dark and wet, with their faces getting slapped by the huge tobacco leaves, were men, and the stringers seated on the higher elevated seats were women. The harvester has places for four teams of workers: eight people cropping and stringing, plus a packer who takes the heavy strung poles of wet green tobacco from the stringers and packs them onto the pallet section of the harvester, plus a driver, making the total crew of each harvester 10 people. Interestingly, the outer seats are suspended from the harvester – slung out over to fit into the aisles of tobacco. As these seats are suspended it is important to balance the weight of the two outside teams
(similar to a playground see-saw). Having too heavy or light a person in an unbalanced combination often results in the harvester tipping over especially when turning around at the end of a lane. Water tanks are a common feature on the harvester due to heat, and danger of dehydration for the workers. Salt tablets sometimes get used as well.
Constituents: The most important constituent is the alkaloid Nicotine, nicotianin, nicotinine, nicoteine, nicoteline. After leaves are smoked the nicotine decomposes into pyridine, furfurol, collidine, hydrocyanic acid, carbon-monoxide, etc. The poisonous effects of Tobacco smoke are due to these substances of decomposed nicotine.
Medicinal Action and Uses: A local irritant; if used as snuff it causes violent sneezing, also a copious secretion of mucous; chewed, it increases the flow of saliva by irritating the mucous membrane of the mouth; injected into the rectum it acts as a cathartic. In large doses it produces nausea, vomiting, sweats and great muscular weakness.
The alkaloid nicotine is a virulent poison producing great disturbance in the digestive and circulatory organs. It innervates the heart, causing palpitation and cardiac irregularities and vascular contraction, and is considered one of the causes of arterial degeneration.
Nicotine is very like coniine and lobeline in its pharmacological action, and the pyridines in the smoke modify very slightly its action.
Tobacco was once used as a relaxant, but is no longer employed except occasionally in chronic asthma. Its active principle is readily absorbed by the skin, and serious, even fatal, poisoning, from a too free application of it to the surface of the skin has resulted.
The smoke acts on the brain, causing nausea, vomiting and drowsiness.
Medicinally it is used as a sedative, diuretic, expectorant, discutient, and sialagogue, and internally only as an emetic, when all other emetics fail. The smoke injected into the rectum or the leaf rolled into a suppository has been beneficial in strangulated hernia, also for obstinate constipation, due to spasm of the bowels, also for retention of urine, spasmodic urethral stricture, hysterical convulsions, worms, and in spasms caused by lead, for croup, and inflammation of the peritoneum, to produce evacuation of the bowels, moderating reaction and dispelling tympanitis, and also in tetanus.
To inject the smoke it should be blown into milk and injected, for croup and spasms of the rima glottides it is made into a plaster with Scotch snuff and lard and applied to throat and breast, and has proved very effectual. A cataplasm of the leaves may be used as an ointment for cutaneous diseases. The leaves in combination with the leaves of belladonna or stramonium make an excellent application for obstinate ulcers, painful tremors and spasmodic affections. A wet Tobacco leaf applied to piles is a certain cure. The inspissated juice cures facial neuralgia if rubbed along the tracks of the affected nerve.
The quantity of the injection must never exceed a scruple to begin with; half a drachm has been known to produce amaurosis and other eye affections, deafness, etc.
The Tobacco plant was introduced into England by Sir Walter Raleigh and his friends in 1586, and at first met with violent opposition.
Kings prohibited it, Popes pronounced against it in Bulls, and in the East Sultans condemned Tobacco smokers to cruel deaths. Three hundred years later, in 1885, the leaves were official in the British Pharmacopoeia.
Externally nicotine is an antiseptic. It is eliminated partly by the lungs, but chiefly in the urine, the secretion of which it increases. Formerly Tobacco in the form of an enema of the leaves was used to relax muscular spasms, to facilitate the reduction of dislocations.
A pipe smoked after breakfast assists the action of the bowels.
The pituri plant contains an alkaloid, Pitarine, similar to nicotine, and the leaves are used in Australia instead of Tobacco. An infusion of Tobacco is generally used in horticulture as an insecticide. In cases of nicotine poisoning, the stomach should be quickly emptied, and repeated doses of tannic acid given, the person
kept very warm in bed, and stimulants such as caffeine, strychnine, or atropine given, or if there are signs of respiratory failure, oxygen must be given at once.
Uses of Tobacco in the New World
Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). Turkish Tobacco is grown in all parts of the globe.
N. quadrivalis, affording Tobacco to the Indians of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, has, as the name implies, four-valve capsules.
N. fruticosa – habitat, China – is a very handsome plant and differs from the other varieties in its sharp-pointed capsules.
N. persica. Cultivated in Persia; is the source of Persian Tobacco.
N. repandu. Cultivated in Central and southern North America. Havannah is used in the manufacture of the best cigars.
Latakria Tobacco (syn. N. Tabacum) is the only species cultivated in Cuba.
N. latissima yields the Tobacco known as Orinoco.
N. multivulvis has several valved capsules.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider