Tobacco has been known to native Americans for at least 7,000 years. Europe learned about it in 1492 thanks to Christopher Columbus. Soon the seeds went to the Old Continent, and in the second half of the 16th century systematic cultivation began.

Medics of the time claimed that tobacco was good for health. Latin name of the plant: Nicotiana tabacum L. comes from the name of a French physician and diplomat Jean Nicot (1530–1600). Nicot considered the newly imported herb wonderful panacea. In 1560 he recommended Queen Catherine de’ Medici to use tobacco as a cure for migraine. Sniffing tobacco turned out to be so effective that the ruler included ‘Nicot’s herb’ amongst the royal herbs. The Spanish physician and botanist Nicolás Monardes in his works from the second half of the 16th century enumerated over 20 health problems in which tobacco was supposed to help: dizziness, convulsions, cold, asthma, skin lesions, apoplexy, constipation, hernia, tuberculosis, syphilis. The analgesic, diaphoretic and diuretic effects of tobacco were also valued. It was thought to help to induce agitation and hypnotic state. It was seen as an antidote to poisons, and smoked during the plague epidemic was to protect against infection.

Tobacco was applied in many ways. In the 16th-century work Antidotarium geminum generale et speciale, the Swiss physician Johannes Jacob Wecker mentioned: pills, powder, dried leaves, decoction, flower oil, fresh juice or boiled with sugar.

Decoction and tobacco smoke were also given to patients in the form of … enema. The procedure consisted in injecting smoke into the patient’s anus. This was done using a special machine, or inverted pipe. Tobacco enema was used, amongst others while resuscitating victims of drowning. The oldest way of using tobacco was chewing. In Europe, for example, sailors chewed it – they did not pose a fire hazard, they could easily use wet leaves, and portions were not scattered by wind.

Until the 18th century, the most popular and economical (requiring the smallest doses) was tobacco sniffing. Mastering the associated rituals became the expression of the best manners, and expensive and beautiful snuff containers were a symbol of social status. Various types of snuff were produced, enriched with fragrances and strengthening substances, such as: ginger, pepper, mustard, lead, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, cocaine, hashish, opium.

At the end of the 16th century, production of homogeneous ceramic pipes began in England, and in the 17th century in the rest of Europe. The cheaper the tobacco, the larger the pipe bowls were produced. The best pipes came from the Netherlands. In the second half of the 17th century, three-piece pipes from Turkey reached Central Europe. In the 19th century, porcelain pipes with a condensation container became popular; wooden instruments also appeared.

Tobacco warnings were once isolated but appeared. For example, in 1604, King James I of England, in Counterblast against tabacco, wrote about smoking as ‘a habit harmful to the eyes, nose, brain and lungs.’ Some rulers and popes forbade smoking, under threat of various punishments, from bodily ones to excommunication.


Edited by Maciej Ignasiak


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