Quick Facts about Tobacco
How much do you know about tobacco, aside from the fact that cigarettes are stuffed with dried, finely cut tobacco leaves? Ever been curious about the tobacco plant and its history? If you’re interested in learning more about the tobacco plant and its roots, no pun intended, here are some quick facts you should know.
⦁ Tobacco is classified under the nightshade family of plants, many of which are considered poisonous to humans. Nightshades are typically rich in alkaloids, which are natural pesticides and are used by nightshade plants as a defense mechanism against getting eaten. One such alkaloid is nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug for humans.
⦁ There are many types of tobacco plant. Two of these, Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica, are used in the production of tobacco products such as cigars and cigarettes. Nicotiana Tabacum is the most commonly used variety of tobacco today.
⦁ North America is the homeland of the tobacco plant. Other species in genus Nicotiana can be found all over the world. It’s even been discovered that, prior to the advent of modern tobacco, Australian aborigines consumed a certain type of tobacco that’s native to the Australian continent.
⦁ Tobacco is an old, old crop. Historians believe that the tobacco plant was first cultivated and domesticated several millennia ago. What started as wild growth in South America eventually spread to North America, where certain varieties of the plant have been domesticated as early as 1000 – 1400 BC. Diggers in northeastern Peru actually recently found fossilized tobacco dating back to the Pleistocene Era, 2.5 million years ago.
⦁ The tobacco plant once enjoyed sacred status for ancient civilizations in the Americas. As early as then, peoples from North America and South America were aware of tobacco’s abilities to alter a person’s mental state, so the tobacco plant was widely used in important ceremonies. Tobacco was often consumed with other substances to enhance its narcotic effect.
⦁ Ancient Native Americans consumed tobacco plants in more ways than modern humans can conceive. Of course, ancient Native Americans smoked its leaves, but they also ground the plant up and snorted the powder up their noses. Tobacco plants were mixed with liquids and imbibed. Tobacco-laced enemas were also common then.
⦁ Aside from being used as a hallucinogenic substance, tobacco also served as a rudimentary form of medicine. The skin was rubbed with tobacco juice or exposed to tobacco smoke to prevent insect bites. Tobacco’s other medicinal qualities have been widely recorded. Tobacco smoke or tobacco juice was also used to protect other plants from pests.
⦁ Upon reaching the New World in 1492, Christopher Columbus was given tobacco leaves, among other gifts. Columbus was not aware of the value of tobacco leaves, but Europeans eventually became acquainted with the many uses of tobacco.
⦁ Rodrigo de Jerez, a man who sailed with Columbus, was the first European to learn the art of smoking tobacco leaves and he was held captive for seven years for his newfound knowledge. Jerez had seen the natives in the act of smoking the leaves, and, when he started smoking back home in Spain, the Spanish grew frightened of him. They believed that only the devil could expel smoke from his mouth. So the infamous Spanish Inquisition captured Jerez and held him captive for seven years.
⦁ Tobacco plants started sprouting in Santo Domingo by 1531, and active farming of the plants became widespread. In fact, Nicotiana tabacum was specifically brought to Cuba and Santo Domingo for cultivation.
⦁ Tobacco reached French shores in 1556, and this kick-started the spread of the tobacco plant throughout Europe. Tobacco was acclaimed for its supposed medicinal properties, and the plant enjoyed particularly high popularity in Spain. French Queen Catherine de Medici used tobacco to relieve the pain brought by migraines. English sailors had started to smoke tobacco, too.
⦁ Sir Francis Drake brought the Nicotinia tabacum plant to the Americas in 1573. Tobacco cultivation boomed with the invention of the clay pipe and its introduction to England. It wasn’t long before the American tobacco trade was born, and, in 1615, the first American tobacco crop was sold to England.
⦁ Tobacco was once used as currency. It was highly valuable, especially for the early European settlers, which considered the tobacco plant a cash crop. Many colonies were supported by the commerce of the tobacco plant.
⦁ The American Revolutionary War was said to have been encouraged by tobacco growers fighting restrictions on tobacco commerce. Oddly, tobacco sales also played a large part in funding the said war.
⦁ Tobacco is as popular now as it was then. Since its discovery, the cultivation and harvest of tobacco has greatly grown. In fact, tobacco is the most widely produced domesticated crop in the world, not counting food crops.