Nicotiana tabacum. Tobacco.
At the time of the discovery of America the Tobacco plant was cultivated by the natives in the West India islands and in different parts of the continent, especially those bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever may have been its native climate, we need not trace it farther back than this period; and can incur but little risk in considering it as indigenous to the southern parts of the United States in their present enlarged extent. [Note B.] It is an annual plant capable of perfecting its flowers and fruit in almost any part of the Union, yet seldom found growing spontaneously except in cultivated grounds or their vicinity.
The genus Nicotiana has a funnel-shaped corolla, with its border somewhat plaited. Stamens inclined; stigma emarginate. Capsule two-celled, two or four-valved. The species Tabacum, represented in our plate, has its leaves ovate-lanceolate, sessile, decurrent; flowers panicled, acute.
Class Pentandria, order Monogynia. Natural orders Luridae, Linn. Solanaceae, Juss.
The common Tobacco has a long fibrous root; a stalk five or six feet high, erect, round, hairy, and viscid, branching at top. Leaves sessile, very large, ovate or lanceolate, acuminate, viscid, of a pale green colour. Bractes linear, acute. Flowers forming a panicle on the ends of the stem and branches. Calyx swelling, hairy, glutinous, half as long as the corolla, ending in five acute segments. Corolla funnel-shaped, swelling toward the top, the border expanding, with five acute lobes; the tube of a greenish white, the border red. Filaments inclined to one side, with oblong anthers. Germ ovate, style long and slender, stigma cloven. Capsule ovate, invested with the calyx, two-celled, two-valved, but opening crosswise at top; partition contrary to the valves. Seeds very numerous, small, somewhat reniform, attached to a fleshy receptacle.
It is a remarkable law of the animal economy, that the power of use and habit is capable of reconciling the system to bear with impunity what in its unaccustomed state proves highly deleterious and even fatal. It is a fact that most substances in the Materia Medica lose their effect after the continuance of their use for a certain length of time, so that if we would realize their original operation, we must increase their dose in proportion as the body becomes accustomed and insensible to their stimulus. This is particularly exemplified in the narcotics. Many of these substances, which at first are not only nauseous and disgusting in their sensible qualities, but highly injurious in their influence upon health; are so changed in their effect by habitual use, as to become to those who employ them an innocent and indispensible comfort and a first rate luxury of life.
In its external and sensible properties, there is no plant which has less to recommend it than the common Tobacco. Its taste in the green state is acrid, nauseous and repulsive, and a small quantity taken into the stomach excites violent vomiting, attended with other alarming symptoms. Yet the first person who had courage and patience enough to persevere in its use, until habit had overcome his original disgust, eventually found in it a pleasing sedative, a soother of care, and a material addition to the pleasures of life. Its use, which originated among savages, has spread into every civilized country; it has made its way against the declamations of the learned, and the prohibitions of civil and religious authority, and it now gives rise to an extensive branch of agriculture, or of commerce, in every part of the globe.
Tobacco was in use among the aborigines of America, at the time of its discovery. They employed it as incense in their sacrificial fires, believing that the odour of it was grateful to their gods. The priests of some tribes swallowed the smoke of this plant to excite in them a spirit of divination, and this they did to a degree which threw them into a stupor of many hours continuance. When recovered from this fit of intoxication, they asserted that they had held a conference with the devil, and had learned from him the course of future events. Their physicians also got inebriated with this smoke, and pretended that while under the influence of this intoxication they were admitted to the council of the gods, who revealed to them the event of diseases. Harriot.
In 1559 Tobacco was sent into Spain and Portugal by Hernandez de Toledo, and from thence it was carried into France as a curiosity by Jean Nicot or Nicotius, ambassador at the court of Lisbon, whose name is now immortalized by its application to this genus of plants. From this period the use of tobacco spread rapidly through the continent, and in half a century it was known in most countries in Europe. The rich indulged in it, as a luxury of the highest kind; and the poor gave themselves up to it, as a solace for the miseries of life. Its use became so general and so excessive, that in many countries, the constituted authorities, both of church and state, found it necessary to interpose, and to stop the extravagant indulgence in it by the severest prohibitions. James the First of England, besides writing a book against it, called his "Counterblast to Tobacco," gave orders that no planter in Virginia should cultivate more than one hundred pounds. Pope Urban the Eighth published a decree of excommunication against all who took snuff in the church. Smoking was forbidden in Russia under penalty of having the nose cut off. In Switzerland a tribunal (Chambre du tabac) was instituted for the express purpose of trying transgressors in Tobacco. A Turk, who was found smoking in Constantinople, was conducted through the streets of that city with his pipe transfixed through his nose.
Even in this country, where the use of Tobacco originated, we find our puritanic ancestors guarding against its abuse by salutary statutes. In the old Massachusetts colony laws is an act laying a penalty upon any one "who shall smoke tobacco within twenty poles of any house;" or who shall "take tobacco in any inn or common victualling house, except in a private room, so as that neither the master of the said house nor any other guest shall take offence thereat."
—In the earliest records of Harvard University soon after its foundation, is a regulation of this kind. "No scholar shall take tobacco, unless permitted by the president, with the consent of their parents and guardians, and on good reason first given by a physician, and then in a sober and private manner."
While the legal authorities in various parts of the world took upon them to control the abuse of this fascinating weed, the literati of different countries entered warmly into the discussion of its merits and its faults. Among its advocates were Castor Duranti and Raphael Thorius, both of whom wrote Latin poems expressly in its praise. The performance of the latter is entitled a "Hymn to Tobacco," and is very lavish in ascriptions to this plant, which he styles the "gift of heaven and the ornament of earth." So warm were the prejudices of its advocates, that it obtained the reputation of a general panacea, and the catalogue of diseases which it was announced to cure, amounted almost to a complete nosology.
But the opinions of its adversaries were not less extravagant upon the other extreme. It is remarkable that in the days of its first general introduction, no man spoke about it with coolness or indifference, but every one warmly espoused its censure or its praise. Camden, in his life of Queen Elizabeth, says, that men used Tobacco every where, some for wantonness and some for health's sake; and that "with insatiable desire and greediness, they sucked the stinking smoke thereof through an earthen pipe, which they presently blew out again at their nostrils;—so that Englishmen's bodies were so delighted with this plant, that they seemed as it were degenerated into harbarians."
Dr. Venner in a work entitled Via recta ad vitam longam, published at London in 1638, gives a brief summary of the injuries done by Tobacco. "It drieth the brain, dimmeth the sight, vitiateth the smell, hurteth the stomach, destroyeth the concoction, disturbeth the humours and spirits, corrupteth the breath, induceth a trembling of the limbs, exsiccateth the winde pipe, lungs and liver, annoyeth the milt, scorcheth the heart and causeth the blood to be adusted. In a word, it overthroweth the spirits, perverteth the understanding, and confoundeth the senses with sudden astonishment and stupiditie of the whole body."
A poetical phillippic, called "Tobacco batterred," was published in the reign of King James by Joshua Sylvester, in which he compares Tobacco to gunpowder, and pipes to guns; making the mischief of the two equal. But the most celebrated of all invectives against Tobacco was the "Counterblast" of King James I. That weak monarch gave vent to his prejudices against this herb in a publication, in which he professes to disprove all the alleged grounds for the toleration of Tobacco, and warns his subjects in a most earnest manner not to sin against God, and harm their own persons and goods, and render themselves scorned and contemned by strangers, who should come among them; by persevering in a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, and baneful to the brain."
Such were the commotions excited by the introduction and spreading of an article, whose use has now become so common as scarcely to attract notice. This article is the product of several species of Nicotiana, but chiefly of the N. tabacum or Virginian Tobacco, and the N. rustica, sometimes called English Tobacco, and being the sort which Sir Walter Raleigh introduced at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Another species, N. fruticosa, is said to have been cultivated in the East prior to the discovery of America. The Indians on the banks of the Missouri and Columbia rivers cultivate for use the N. quadrivalvis of Pursh and Nuttall. It has been remarked that the Tobacco of warm climates is more mild in its flavour, while that raised in colder latitudes is more strong and pungent. The Bengal Tobacco, of which the sheroots are made, is one of the most weak and mild in its properties. After this is the West India Tobacco which affords the Havanna cigars. Next is the Tobacco of our Southern States, and lastly the Tobacco raised in the northern parts of the Union, which is the most acrimonious and pungent of all. [Several varieties of Nicotiana Tabacum are cultivated in the United States, of which the principal are the broad leaved or sweet scented, and the narrow leaved.]
An elaborate chemical analysis of Tobacco, has been published by M. Vauquelin in the Annales de Chimie. His results are, that the broad leaved Tobacco furnishes from its juices the following constituents.
1. A large quantity of animal matter of an albuminous nature.
2. Malate of lime with an excess of acid.
3. Acetic acid.
4. Nitrate and muriate of potash in observable quantities.
5. A red matter soluble in alcohol and water, which swells and boils in the fire, its nature undetermined.
6. Muriate of ammonia.
7. A peculiar acrid, volatile, colourless substance, soluble in water and alcohol, and which appears different from any thing known in the vegetable kingdom. It is this principle which gives to prepared Tobacco its peculiar character, and it is perhaps not to be found in any other species of plant.
The medicinal activity of Tobacco evidently resides in this volatile portion, for both the extract and decoction of the plant by long boiling become nearly inert, while the essential or the empyreumatic oil is one of the most deadly poisons known.
Among the substances used by Mr. Brodie in his experiments or vegetable poisons, was the empyreumatic oil of Tobacco prepared by Mr. Brande by distilling the leaves of Tobacco in a heat above that of boiling water. A quantity of watery fluid came over, on the surface of which was a film of unctuous substance, which he calls the empyreumatic oil. Mr. Brodie found that two drops of this oil applied to the tongue of a young cat with an interval of fifteen minutes occasioned death. A single drop suspended in an ounce of water and injected into the rectum of a cat, produced death in about five minutes. One drop suspended in an ounce and a half of mucilage and thrown into the rectum of a dog, produced violent symptoms, and a repetition of the experiment killed him.
Tobacco has been used both as a luxury and prophylactic, and as a medicine. In the former cases it has not been taken internally, but only kept in contact with absorbing surfaces. It is well known, that to the mouth it is applied in substance and in smoke; and to the nose in the form of powder. The opinion which at one time prevailed of its power to prolong life and to secure immunity from diseases is now pretty fully abandoned. It has no prophylactic reputation except as a preservation for the teeth, and in some degree as a protection against the contagion of epidemics. In both these cases it is entitled to a certain degree of confidence, though it is probably inferior to many other substances for both these purposes.
As to its effects upon longevity, the great frequency of its use and the facts and observations of Sir John Sinclair render it improbable that when moderately taken, it has any influence in wearing out the constitution, or abridging the usual period of life. But like ail other narcotics its excessive use or abuse must impair the health and engender disease. Of the different modes of using Tobacco, I imagine that smoking is the most injurious, and the most capable of abuse, since in this process the active principles of the Tobacco are volatilized with the smoke, and are extensively applied to the lungs as well as the mouth and nose and fauces.
As a medicine, this plant has been employed in a variety of ways for the alleviation and cure of diseases. Externally it has been applied with benefit in tinea capitis and in complaints occasioned by the presence of insects. In the form of a cataplasm applied to the pit of the stomach it occasions severe vomiting. The prostration of strength and other distressing symptoms which attend this application, must prevent its general employment. Still it may be remembered as an auxiliary in cases where other emetics have failed to operate. A surgeon in the U. S. army informed me that the soldiers had an expedient to exempt themselves from duty, by wearing a piece of tobacco under each armpit, until the most alarming symptoms of real illness appeared in the whole system.
Dr. James Currie has recorded a case of epilepsy cured by the external use of Tobacco. A cataplasm was applied to the stomach for several days about half an hour before the expected return of the paroxysm. A violent impression was produced each time upon the system, the paroxysm prevented and the diseased association effectually broken up. Two cases of obstinate and dangerous intermittent were cured in the same manner by a decoction of half a drachm of Tobacco in four ounces of water, thrown up as an enema, a short period before the time of the paroxysm.
The Tobacco enema was formerly recommended in colic, nephritic complaints, &c. Of late years it has been extensively employed in strangulated hernia. In cases of this complaint where the taxis has been ineffectually attempted and the usual auxiliaries have failed, an injection made by infusing half a drachm of Tobacco in eight ounces of boiling water for ten minutes, is found extremely useful. If assisted by the local application of ice to the part, it frequently causes the contents of the sac to return spontaneously, and renders the operation unnecessary, which would be otherwise unavoidable. It operates by its powerfully sedative and relaxing effects, as well as by its cathartic property.
When the infusion is not used, an injection of Tobacco smoke into the rectum frequently produces the same consequences. The smoke may be made to penetrate farther than any liquid, and it is equally efficacious, from the activity of the volatile parts. It was formerly much used in the restoration of persons apparently dead from drowning, but of late years it has gone more into disuse. From the sedative effect of Tobacco, the tendency to syncope and the great prostration of strength which it occasions in ordinary cases; it is probable that its employment in cases of asphyxia from drowning, must assist in extinguishing rather than in rekindling the spark of life.
As a diuretic, Tobacco has been administered internally in doses so small as not to offend the stomach, with very good effect. Dr. Fowler has published a collection of facts relative to its use, principally in dropsy and dysury, from which he concludes it is a safe and efficacious diuretic. In thirty one dropsical cases in which he employed it, eighteen were cured and ten relieved; and out of eighteen cases of dysury, ten were cured and seven relieved. Dr. Ferriar and several subsequent practitioners have found it a valuable diuretic, although Cullen does not speak very encouragingly of its use. At the present day it does not seem to be extensively in use, having passed into neglect rather because more fashionable remedies have superceded it, than because it has really been weighed and found wanting. It will always deserve trial in obstinate dropsical cases (and such cases it must be confessed are not rare) in which the more common remedies have been tried without benefit. Of the various formulas recommended by Dr. Fowler, the Wine of Tobacco is the only one preserved in the Edinburgh and Massachusetts pharmacopoeias, being the one which is believed to extract most fully the virtues of the Tobacco. It is made by digesting for a week, an ounce of the dried Tobacco in a pound of Spanish white wine. The dose is from thirty to eighty drops. Dr. Fowler himself however believed the most effectual mode of administering the Tobacco, was in the form of pills of a grain each.
Tobacco has been employed with some success in the locked jaw, both of warm and cold climates. Mr. Duncan, surgeon of Grenada, has published in the Edinburgh Journal the account of a very distressing case of this kind, which was relieved and finally cured principally by enemas of Tobacco smoke. These applications generally produced syncope and deathlike sickness in the patient, but by prudent management of them, the disease was entirely overcome, and recovery took place. Dr. Holmes of Worcester county, Mass. exhibited the infusion of Tobacco, to a patient under violent tetanus, after the more common remedies had been fully tried without effect. The spasms were completely removed and the patient recovered.
This powerful medicine has been also employed with some palliative effect in hydrophobia and certain other spasmodic diseases. Its internal use however requires great caution, since patients have in various instances been destroyed by improper quantities administered by the hands of the unskilful or unwary. Notwithstanding the common use and extensive consumption of Tobacco in its various forms, it must unquestionably be ranked among narcotic poisons of the most active class. The great prostration of strength, excessive giddiness, fainting, and violent affections of the alimentary canal, which often attend its internal use, make it proper that so potent a drug should he resorted to by medical men, only in restricted doses and on occasions of magnitude.
Nicotiana tabacum, Lin. sp. pl.
Aiton, Kew. i. 241.
Woodville, Med. Bot. t. 77.
Blackwell, t. 146.
Pursh, i. 141.
Nuttall, i. 132.
Medical and other References.
Murray, Apparatus, i. 681.
Wafer, Travels, 102.
Harriott, Voyage to Virginia.
Everard, de herba panacea, &c. 1583.
Chyrosostom Magnenus, Exercitationes 14, de Tabaco.
King James I. Works, London, 1616
Short, Discourses on Tea, Tobacco, &c.
Bientema, Tabacologia in 1690.
Hahn, Tabacologia, Jenoe.
Gerard, Historie of Plants, 360.
Vauquelin, Annales de Chimie, 1809.
Edinburgh Med, Comment, xl. 327.
Desgranges, Journal de Medicine, 1791.
Cullen, Mat. Med.
Fowler, Med. Reports on Tobacco, 8vo, Land.
Tatham, on the Culture and Commerce of Tobacco, Lond. 1800.
Med. and Phys. Journal, Vol. 24, 25, et passim.
Duncan, Repr. in N. Engl. Journal for 1814.
Ferriar, Med. Hist, i. 75, and ii. 152.
Pott. ii. 72, 85, &c.
Watterston, Memoir on the Tobacco plant, Washington, 1817.