060. Nicotiana tabacum. Virginian tobacco.

Botanical name: 

060. Nicotiana tabacum. 060. Nicotiana tabacum. C. Synonyma. Nicotiana. Pharm. Lond. & Edinb.
Nicotiana major latifolia. Bauh. Pin. p. 169.
Nicotiana major sive Tabacum majus. J. Bauh. Hist. iii. p. 629.
Tabacco latifolium. Park. Parad. p. 363. Raii Hist. p. 713.
Hyoscyamus Peruvianus. Gerard. Emac. p. 357.
Petum latifolium. Clusius. Exot. p. 309.
Herba sancta. Lobel. Advers. p. 251.
Nicotiana (Tabacum) foliis lanceolatis, ovatis, decurrentibus. Miller. Dict.
α Nicotiana major latifolia. C. B. l. c.
Broad-leaved Virginian Tobacco.
β Nicotiana foliis lanceolatis acutis sessilibus, calycibus acutis, tubo floris longissimo. Miller. Dict.
Narrow-leaved Virginian Tobacco. [The figure here presented seems to accord very well with this variety.]

Class Pentandria. Ord. Monogynia. Lin. Gen. Plant. 248.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cor. infundibul. limbo plicato. Stamina inclinata. Caps. 2-valvis, 2-locularis.
Spec. Char. N. foliis lanceolato-ovatis sessilibus decurrentibus, floribus acutis.

The root is annual, large, long, and fibrous: the stalk is erect, strong, round, hairy, branched towards the top, and rises five or fix feet in height: the leaves are numerous, large, oblong, pointed, entire, veined, viscous, of a pale green colour, without footstalks, and follow the stem downwards: the bracteae are long, linear, and pointed: the flowers terminate the stem and branches in loose clusters or panicles: the corolla is monopetalous, funnel-shaped, with a long hairy tube, which gradually swells towards the limb, where it divides into five folding acute segments of a reddish colour: the calyx is hairy, about half the length of the corolla, and is cut into five narrow segments: the five filaments are bent inwards, tapering, and crowned with oblong antherae: the germen is oval, and supports a long slender style, terminated by a round cleft stigma: the capsule is oval, and divided into two cells, which contain many small roundish seeds.— It is a native of America, and flowers in July and August.

Tobacco was first imported into Europe about the middle of the sixteenth century by Hernandez de Toledo, who sent it to Spain and Portugal; at that time the Ambassador of Francis II. resided at the court of Lisbon, and in the year 1560, he carried the Tobacco into France, when it was presented to Catharine de Medicis as a plant from the new world, possessing extraordinary virtues. The Ambassador's name was Nicot, and hence the appellation Nicotiana. It appears from Lobel, that this plant was cultivated in Britain previous to the year 1570; [Vide l. c.] and the introduction of the custom of smoking it in England is ascribed to Sir Walter Raleigh. The cultivation of Tobacco [Long, in his History of Jamaica, describes the method of its cultivation to be as follows:—"When a regular plantation of Tobacco is intended, several beds are prepared, well turned up with the hoe. The seed, on account of its smallness, is mixed, with ashes, and sown upon them a little before the rainy season. The beds are then raked, or trampled with the feet, to make the seed take the sooner. The plants appear in two or three weeks. So soon as they have acquired four leaves, the strongest are drawn up carefully and planted in the Tobacco field by a line, at the distance of about three feet from each plant: this is done either with a stick or the finger. If no rain falls, it should be watered two or three times, to make it strike root, every morning and evening the plants must be surveyed, in order to destroy a worm which sometimes invades the bud. When they are grown about four or five inches high they are to be cleaned from weeds, and moulded up; and as soon as they have eight or nine leaves, and are ready to put forth a stalk, the top is nipped off, in order to make the leaves longer and thicker. After this, the buds which sprout at the joints of the leaves are all plucked, and not a day suffered to pass without examining the leaves, to destroy a large caterpillar which is sometimes very destructive to them. When they are fit for cutting, which is known by the brittleness of the leaves, they are cut with a knife close to the ground; and after being left to lie there some little time, are carried to the drying-shed or house, where the plants are hung up, by pairs, upon lines or ropes stretched across, leaving a space between, that they may not touch one another. In this state they remain to sweat and dry. When they become perfectly dry, the leaves are stripped from the stalks, and made into small bundles, tied with another leaf. These bundles are laid in heaps, and covered with blankets. Care is taken not to overheat them; for which reason the heaps are laid open to the air from time to time, and spread abroad. This operation is repeated till no more heat is perceived in the heaps, and the Tobacco is then stowed in casks for exportation."—Vol. 3. p. 719.] is now common in various parts of the globe, and though prohibited by the laws of this country, still the manufacture of it forms no inconsiderable branch of commerce.

The different forts of Tobacco and Snuffs prepared from it which are now in use, are to be attributed to the difference of the climate and soil in which it grows, and the peculiar mode of managing and manufacturing the plant, rather than to any essential difference in its qualities; we shall therefore proceed to the consideration of the effects of Tobacco upon the body, which from its general employment deserves particular attention; and no apology will be thought necessary for transcribing the whole of what has been lately advanced upon this subject by Dr. Cullen.—"Tobacco is a well-known drug, of a narcotic quality, which it discovers in all persons, even in small quantity, when first applied to them. I have known a small quantity of it, snuffed up the nose, produce giddiness, stupor, and vomiting; and when applied in different ways, in larger quantity, there are many instances of its more violent effects, even of its proving a mortal poison. In all these instances it operates in the manner of other narcotics: But along with its narcotic qualities it possesses also a strongly stimulant power, perhaps with respect to the whole system, but especially with respect to the stomach and interlines; so as readily, even in no great doses, to prove emetic and purgative.

By this combination of qualities, all the effects of tobacco may be explained; but I shall begin with considering its effects as they appear in the use of it as an article of living.

"As such it has been employed by snuffing, smoking, and chewing; practices which, as having been for two hundred years past common to all Europe, need not be described here. Like other narcotics, the use of it may be introduced by degrees; so that its peculiar effects, even from large quantities employed, may not, or may hardly at all appear: but this does not at all contradict the account I have given of its quality with respect to persons unaccustomed to it, and even of its tendency to show its power in those much accustomed to it: for even in these, the power of habit has its limits; so that in persons going but a little beyond the dose to which they have been accustomed, very violent effects are sometimes produced.

"On this subject it is to be remarked, that the power of habit is often unequal; so that in persons accustomed to the use of tobacco, a lesser quantity than what they had been accustomed to, will often have stronger effects than had before commonly appeared. I knew a lady who had been for more than twenty years accustomed to take snuff, and that at every time of day; but she came at length to observe, that snuffing a good deal before dinner took away her appetite: and she came at length to find, that a single pinch, taken any time before dinner, took away almost entirely her appetite for that meal. When, however, she abstained entirely from snuff before dinner, her appetite continued as usual; and after dinner, for the rest of the day, she took snuff pretty freely without any inconvenience.

"This is an instance of the inequality of the power of habit in exerting its effects: but in what cases this may take place, we cannot determine, and must now go on in marking its usual and ordinary powers. When snuff, that is, tobacco in powder, is first applied to the nose, it proves a stimulus, and excites sneezing; but by repetition that effect entirely ceases.

"When snuff is first employed, if it be not both in small quantity and be not thrown out immediately by sneezing, it occasions some giddiness and confusion of head; but by repetition these effects cease to be produced, and no other effect of it appears in the accustomed, when not taken beyond the accustomed quantity. But even in the accustomed, when it is taken beyond the usual quantity, it produces somewhat of the same giddiness and confusion of head that it did when first employed; and in several cases, these effects in the accustomed, depending on a larger dose, are not only more considerable, as they act on the sensorium, but as they appear also in other parts of the system, particularly in the stomach, occasioning a loss of appetite, and other symptoms of a weakened tone in that organ.

"With respect to this, it is to be observed, that persons who take a great deal of snuff, though they seem, from the power of habit, to escape its narcotic effects; yet as they are often liable to go to excess in the quantity taken, so they are still in danger from these effects operating in an insensible manner; and I have observed several instances of their being affected in the same manner as persons are from the long continued use of other narcotics, such as wine and opium; that is, by a loss of memory, by a fatuity, and other symptoms of the weakened or senile state of the nervous system, induced before the usual period.

"Among other effects of excess in snuffing, I have found all the symptoms of dyspepsia produced by it, and particularly pains of the stomach, occurring every day. The dependance of these upon the use of snuff became very evident from hence, that upon an accidental interruption of snuffing for some days, these pains did not occur; but upon a return to snuffing, the pains also recurred; and this alternation of pains of the stomach and of snuffing having occurred again, the snuff was entirely laid aside, and the pains did not occur for many months after, nor, so far as I know, for the rest of life.

"A special effect of snuffing is its exciting a considerable discharge of mucus from the nose; and there have been several instances of headachs, toothachs, and ophthalmias relieved by this means: and this is to be particularly remarked, that when this discharge of mucus is considerable, the ceasing or suppression of it by abstaining from snuff, is ready to occasion the very disorders of headach, toothach, and ophthalmia, which it had formerly relieved.

"Another effect; of snuffing to be taken notice of is, that as a part of the snuff is often carried back into the fauces, so a part of this is often carried down into the stomach, and then more certainly produces the dyspeptic symptoms mentioned. These are the considerations that relate to snuffing; and some of them will readily apply to the other modes of using this drug.

"Smoking, when first practised, shows very strongly the narcotic, vomiting, and even purging powers of tobacco, and it is very often useful as an anodyne; but by repetition these effects disappear, or only show themselves when the quantity smoked is beyond what habit had before admitted of; and even in persons much accustomed to it, it may be carried so far as to prove a mortal poison. From much smoking all the same effects may arise which we said might arise from excess in snuffing.

"With respect to the evacuation of mucus which is produced by snuffing, there are analogous effects produced by smoking, which commonly stimulates the mucous follicles of the mouth and fauces, and particularly the excretories of the salivary glands. By the evacuation from both sources, with the concurrence of the narcotic power, the toothach is often greatly relieved by it; but we have not found the smoking relieve headachs and ophthalmias so much as snuffing often does. Sometimes smoking dries the mouth and fauces, and occasions a demand for drink; but, as commonly the stimulus it applies to the mucous follicles and salivary glands draws forth their liquids, it occasions on the other hand a frequent spitting.

"So far as this is of the proper saliva, it occasions a waste of that liquid so necessary in the business of digestion; and both by this waste and by the narcotic power at the same time applied, the tone of the stomach is often weakened, and every kind of dyspeptic symptoms are produced. Though in smoking a great part of the smoke is again blown out of the mouth, still a part of it must necessarily pass into the lungs, and its narcotic power applied there often relieves spasmodic asthma; and by its stimulant power it there also sometimes promotes expectoration, and proves useful in the catarrhal or pituitous difficulty of breathing.

"Smoking has been frequently mentioned as a means of guarding men against contagion. In the case of the plague, the testimony of Diemerbroek is very strong; but Rivinus and others give us many facts which contradict this: and Chenot gives a remarkable instance of its inutility. We cannot indeed suppose that tobacco contains an antidote of any contagion, or that in general it has any antiseptic power; and therefore we cannot allow that it has any special use in this case: but it is very probable that this and other narcotics, by diminishing sensibility, may render men less liable to contagion; and by rendering the mind less active and anxious, it may also render men less liable to fear, which has so often the power of exciting the activity of the contagion. The antiloimic powers of tobacco are therefore on the same footing with those of wine, brandy, and opium.

"The third mode of using tobacco is that of chewing it, when it shows its narcotic qualities as strongly as in any other way of applying it; though the nauseous taste of it commonly prevents its being carried far in the first practice. When the practice, however, is continued, as it is very difficult to avoid some part of it dissolved in the saliva from going down into the stomach, so this, with the nausea excited by the taste, makes vomiting more readily occasioned by this than the other modes of applying it. They are the strong, and even disagreeable impressions repeated, that give the most durable and tenacious habits; and therefore the chewing of tobacco is apt to become one of these: and it is therefore in this way that it is ready to be carried to the greatest excels, and to show all the effects of the frequent and large use of narcotics. As it commonly produces a considerable evacuation from the mouth and fauces, so it is the most powerful in relieving the rheumatic affection of toothach. This practice is also the occasion of the greatest waste of saliva; and the effects of this in weakening digestion, and perhaps from thence especially, its noted effect of producing emaciation may appear.

"These are the effects of the different modes of employing tobacco, when it comes to be of habitual use and an article of living. These effects depend especially upon its narcotic power, and certain circumstances accidentally attending its application to the nose and mouth: but as we have observed before, that beside its narcotic, it possesses also a stimulant power, particularly with respect to the alimentary canal: by this it is frequently employed as a medicine for exciting either vomiting or purging, which it does as it happens to be more immediately applied to the stomach or to the intestines.

"An infusion of from half a dram to a dram of the dried leaves, or of these as they are commonly prepared for chewing, for an hour or two, in four ounces of boiling water, affords an emetic which has been employed by some practioners, but more commonly by the vulgar only. As it has no peculiar qualities as an emetic, and its operation is commonly attended with severe sickness, it has not been, nor is it likely ever to come into common practice with physicians.

"It is more commonly employed as a purgative in clysters; and, as generally very effectual, it is employed in all cases of more obstinate costiveness; and its powers have been celebrated by many authors. I have known it to be in frequent use with some practitioners; and it is indeed a very effectual medicine, but attended with this inconvenience, that when the dose happens to be in any excess, it occasions severe sickness at stomach; and I have known it frequently occasion vomiting.

"It is well known, that in cases of obstinate costiveness, in ileus and incarcerated hernia, the smoke of burning tobacco has been thrown into the anus with great advantage. The smoke operates here by the same qualities that are in the infusions of it above mentioned; but as the smoke reaches much further into the intestines than injections can commonly do, it is thereby applied to a larger surface, and may therefore be a more powerful medicine than the infusions. In several instances, however, I have been disappointed of its effects, and have been obliged to have recourse to other means.

"The infusion of tobacco, when it is carried into the blood-vessels, has sometimes shown its stimulant powers exerted in the kidneys; and very lately we have had it recommended to us as a powerful diuretic of great service in dropsy. Upon the faith of these recommendations we have now employed this remedy in various cases of dropsy, but with very little success. From the small doses that are proper to begin with, we have hardly observed any diuretic effects; and though from larger doses they have in some measure appeared, we have seldom found them considerable: and when, to obtain these in a greater degree, we have gone on increasing the doses, we have been constantly restrained by the severe sickness at stomach, and even vomiting, which they occasioned: so that we have not yet learned the administration of this remedy so as to render it a certain or convenient remedy in any cases of dropsy.

"The same circumstances have occurred to several other practitioners of this city and neighbourhood; and of late the trials of it have been very generally omitted, owing perhaps to our practitioners being directed at the same time to the use of the digitalis, with which they have had some more success.

"From some experiments we are certain that tobacco contains a quantity of volatile parts that may be dissipated by long boiling in water; and that by such a practice its emetic, purgative, and narcotic qualities may be greatly diminished; and we are of opinion that the preparation in extract, as prescribed in the Wirtenberg dispensatory, is upon a good foundation, and may be employed in pectoral cases with more advantage and safety than the simple infusion or decoction made by a short boiling only.

"When we were restrained in employing the infusion of tobacco as a diuretic, as mentioned, we expected to succeed better with the decoction; and I have found, that by long boiling this might be given in much larger doses than the infusion: but we still found it retaining so much of the emetic quality, that we could not employ it as a diuretic without being interrupted in its use by the same emetic quality that had interrupted the use of the infusion.

"Besides the internal uses of tobacco mentioned, I must now remark, that it has likewise been commended for its virtues as externally employed. I have known the infusion employed with advantage as a lotion for some obstinate ulcers: but the many instances of its being absorbed, and proving thereby a violent poison, dissuade from such a practice; especially as there are other medicines, of as much efficacy, that may be employed with much more safety. Bergius recommends it to be employed as a fomentation in the paraphymosis; but we have had no opportunity of employing it." [The preceding quotation has completely anticipated what we have to offer upon the subject of Tobacco. Respecting its poisonous, or narcotic, effects, we shall subjoin the following references:—Ephem. Nat. Cur. Dec. 2. Ann. 10. Obs. 131. p. 222. We are told, that by the immoderate use of snuff, somnolency, and at length fatal apoplexy, was induced. Hellwig Obs. Phys. Med. p. 45. gives two instances of the same kind, occasioned by smoking 17 or 18 pipes of Tobacco. For the effects of Tobacco, by absorption from its external use, see Eph. cit. Ann. 4. p. 46. et Ann. 2. Obs. 108. p. 262. Alston's M. M. vol. ii. p. 190. The oil of Tobacco, applied to a wound, is said by Redi to be as fatal as the poison of a viper. See Experim. Nat. p. 8. 50. 315. Albinus however did not find that this was the case with the different animals on which he tried the experiment. Diss. de Tobac. p. 11. This oil, given to pigeons, produced fatal effects, and was constantly attended with vomiting. Abbé Fontana. Vide Phil. Trans. vol. lxx. Tobacco, taken by dogs, also produces vomiting. Gesner. Epist. lib. ii. p. 79. The smoke of Tobacco has been successfully used in the way of injection, by means of a proper instrument, for obstructions and inveterate constipations of the belly, ever since the time of Sydenham; and Haen, in his Rat. Med. gives several instances of its good effects: it is also recommended in cases of asyphxia, or, what has been termed, suspended animation.]

Medical Botany, 1790-1794, was written by William Woodville, M. D., and illustrated by James Sowerby.