Tobacco-Plant, the Common, or Nicotiana Tabacum, L. is a native of America, where considerable quantities are annually raised for exportation; and also in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Malta.
There are eight species of this narcotic plant, but the principal varieties are known under the names of Oronokoe, and Sweet-scented Tobacco : both attain the height of from six to nine feet; being distinguished only by their deep green leaves; the former of which are longer and narrower than those of the latter. If their culture were not restricted by the legislature (half a pole of ground only being allowed for such purpose, in physic-gardens ; but, if that space be exceeded, the cultivator is liable to a penalty of 101. for every rod), they might be propagated from seed, which ought to be sown towards the middle of April, in beds of warm, rich, light soil. In the course of a month, or six weeks, they must be transplanted into similar situations, at the distance of about two feet from each other. Here they should be carefully weeded, and occasionally watered, during dry weather. When the plants are about two feet high, they shoot forth branches ; and, as these draw the nutriment from the leaves, it becomes necessary to top, or nip off the extremity of the stalks, in order to prevent them from attaining to a greater height ; and also to remove the young sprouts, which continually shoot forth between the leaves and the stem. - No farther attention will be required, till the leaves begin to ripen; a change which is known, by their becoming rough and mottled with yellow-spots, and by the stalk being covered with a species of down. The tobacco plants are now cut off closely to the roots, and exposed on the dry ground to the rays of the sun, till the leaves become wilted, or so pliant as to bend in any direction without breaking. - They are then laid in heaps under shelter, for three or four days, in order to sweat, or ferment; being turned every day; next, the tobacco leaves are suspended on strings, at a small distance from each other, for the space of a month ; at the end of which they may be taken down, laid in heaps, and sweated a second time for a week, being then pressed with heavy logs of wood. The last operation is that of picking the leaves ; when they are packed in hogsheads for exportation.
By the 29th Geo. III. c. 68, and the 31st Geo. III. c. 47, no tobacco is importable, excepting the produce of the British plantations in America, the United States, Spain, Portugal, or Ireland, in British ships, or in vessels legally navigated, and carrying at least 120 tons: nor must it be brought in casks, containing less than 450lbs. weight; 5lbs. of loose tobacco, however, being allowed for each of the crew: in contrary cases, both the ship and cargo are forfeited. - This drug is subject to the duty of is. 6 1/2d. per lb. on importing it from the plantations of Spain and Portugal; but, if it be brought from Ireland, the United States of America, or from the British colonies in that country, it pays only 6 1/2d. per lb. It is farther charged with an excise duty of 3s. per lb.
on importation from Spain and Portugal; but, if obtained from Ireland, or America, it pays only the additional sum of is. 1d. per lb. 5 so that in the former cases, the whole duty is 4s. 6 1/2d.; and, in the latter, is. 7 1/2d. per lb.
Uses : - Various properties have been attributed to this stupefying drug, since it was first introduced into Europe, about the middle of the 16th century. Its smoke, when properly blown against noxious insects, effectually destroys them ; but the chief consumption of this plant, is in the manufactures of Snuff and Tobacco, or the cut leaves for Smoking. It is likewise (though we think, without foundation), believed to prevent the return of hunger ; and is therefore chewed in considerable quantities by mariners, as well as the labouring classes of people ; a disgusting practice, which cannot be too severely censured. For, though in some cases, this method of using tobacco, may afford relief in the rheumatic tooth-ach, yet, as the constant mastication of it induces an uncommon discharge of saliva, its narcotic qualities operate more powerfully, and thus eventually impair the digestive organs.
As a medicine, the use of tobacco requires great precaution; and it should never be resorted to without professional advice : it is chiefly employed in clysters, and as an ingredient in ointments, for destroying cutaneous insects, cleansing inveterate ulcers, etc. Lately, indeed, Dr. Fowler has successfully prescribed it, in the various forms of tincture, infusion, and pills, as a diuretic, in cases of dropsy and dysury : - if one ounce of the infusion of tobacco be mixed with a pint of water-gruel, and injected as a clyster (being occasionally repeated). Dr. F. states, that it will afford great relief in obstinate constipations of the bowels. - The smoke has, for ages, been administered in the form of injection, as a sovereign remedy for the drybellyach, prevalent in the West Indies.
Beside the varieties of this herb already described, there is another, termed English Tobacco, or Nicotiana minor v. rustica, L.: it is originally a native of America ; but, having been raised in some British gardens for curiosity, its leaves are frequently substituted for the genuine drug. They possess similar narcotic properties with the Hen-bane ; and may be distinguished from foreign tobacco, by the pedicles which abound on them, and also by their smallness and oval shape.
It is remarkable, that the daily smoking of tobacco, is a practice which has only within the last century become general throughout Europe, especially in Holland and Germany ; where it constitutes one of the greatest luxuries with which the industrious, poor peasants, as well as the more indolent and Wealthy classes, regale themselves and their friends. In Britain, however, the lower and middle ranks, only, appear to be attached to such fumigations ; which, though occasionally useful in damp and mephitic situations, are always hurtful to persons of dry and rigid fibres, weak digestion, or delicate habits ; but particularly to the young, plethoric, asthmatic, and those whose ancestors have been consumptive ; or who are themselves threatened with pulmonary diseases. In proof of this assertion, we shall only remark, that a few drops of the oil distilled from the leaves of this, powerful plant, taken internally, have operated as fatal poison : and, a considerable portion of such oil being disengaged within the tuba of tobacco-pipes, during combustion, the noxious effects of inhaling and absorbing it by the mouth, may be easily inferred. - See also Smoking.
Lastly, the ashes of tobacco may be applied to many economical purposes : they not only extirpate those small and noxious vermin, earth-slugs, but at the same time fertilize the soil, when strewed on it early in the spring. - Farther, by scatttering them occasionally over the food of horses and geese, the health of these animals is said to be greatly benefited: they also afford a good tooth-powder; a strong ley; pot-ash; and an useful ingredient in the manufacture of glass. - We understand that considerable quantities of tobacco-ashes might be easily procured from the King's warehouses established for this merchandize, in London, and other sea-ports ; where large parcels of spoiled leaves arc frequently committed to the flames.