Tobacco

(Nicotiana tabacum) The name 'tobacco' comes from the Spanish tabaco, which in turn is derived directly from the Arawak term for the cigar. More accurately, it comes from an implement used by the Carib Indians, called a tabaco. They strewed dry tobacco leaves on the embers of a fire, and inhaled the smoke through a hollow forked reed, the two ends of which were put in the nostrils. This reed was the tabaco. By a misunderstanding, the name became transferred to the herb, and so gave tobacco (Hutchinson & Melville).

Like many another narcotic plant, it is used in a religious way, as well as secular. Most shamans use it, both to establish rapport with their spirit-helpers, and to drive away disease from a patient's body. Tobacco was a part of almost every American Indian public religious ceremony (Driver). At meetings of ambassadors, councils of nations, etc., the calumet, or pipe of peace, was always circulated (Safford). Not all tobacco used for religious purposes was smoked, or chewed or snuffed. A considerably amount was burned as incense, thrown into the air or on the ground, or buried (Driver). It was an important part of Plains culture, medicine bundles nearly always containing a pipe and tobacco. The pipe was smoked as a part of the ritual whenever the bundle was unwrapped and put to its religious use. It is a sacred plant, esteemed by the Iroquois as one of the blessings bestowed upon them by the Creator, and would be burned in practically all rites, individual or social.

It is a sacred plant in Peru, too, and in fact is known as the sacred herb, venerated for its invigorating effect. It is called the holy herb in Brazil because it induces visions in which spirits are seen (Dorman). The ancient Mexicans regarded it in the same light, and they used it as incense in religious rites. In Europe, many French fishermen believed in its magical properties. Spitting the juice into the sea was believed to attract fish. Others believed the smoke lured fish towards the boat, and they often lit their pipes expressly for this purpose (Anson).

In 16th and 17th century Europe, potions for perennial youth were made from it, and it was believed that the leaves had aphrodisiac properties (Bringers), while the Creek Indians linked it with sex to account for its power of giving peace.

An old name for tobacco was Sot-weed (Halliwell), presumably deriving from its narcotic purposes, and Parkinson called it Indian Henbane; it is of course a poison, used in India to kill fish (Heizer), and long esteemed by gardeners as an insecticide. It did, though, have its medicinal uses. In 1560 Nicot, after whom the genus is named, was French ambassador to

Portugal, and claimed that tobacco healed boils and running sores. Even quite recently, in Iowa, a tea was made from tobacco juice and drunk to cure ringworm (Stout), and carbuncles have been dealt with by using a tobacco leaf as a poultice (Thomas & Thomas), while in Scotland, a chewed leaf has been used to cure a whitlow (Rorie. 1914). Ointments and syrups were made from it by infusing the leaves in water, milk or urine. Wounds and tumours were treated with the fresh leaves (cuts were until very recently treated in Ireland and Scotland by binding on a tobacco leaf to stop the bleeding and to heal it (Egan), or a dampened leaf could be put on a corn for a few days (Maloney)). Plasters for rheumatism could be made by damping the leaves, or even using cut-up pipe tobacco (Hutchinson & Melville). The seeds, taken with molasses, was an Indiana remedy for worms (Brewster).

The tobacco-smoke enema-syringe was a favourite instrument, apparently adopted in Europe from the Central American Indians. Used at first to combat a wide variety of diseases, it was, during the 18th century, even used to resuscitate the apparently drowned, and was still known up to about 1850 (Brongers). Putting tobacco in the ears, or on a tooth, was quite a common earache or toothache remedy (Newman & Wilson). ("Jane Josselin treated herself for toothache with tobacco" (Beier)). It was used as a plague protector, too, either by smelling, or by taking it fasting in the morning, "provided, that presently after the taking thereof, you drinke a deepe draught of six shilling Beere, and walke after it" (F P Wilson).

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