History of Nicotiana in Europe
In Europe, the Nicotiana was first described by the first chroniclers of the Indies. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdez, in his work General History of the Indies (Seville, 1535), writes: «Among other reprehensible customs the Indians have one that is especially harmful and that consists of absorbing a certain kind of smoke through which they call “t*baco” to produce a state of stupor.
For Europeans, the Nicotiaana Tabacum was discovered by two Spanish sailors who, carrying out orders from Columbus, were exploring the interior of the island of Cuba, a month after the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa María made landfall. The beaches of San Salvador were the scene of the discovery; When the two sailors reached the shore, the natives welcomed them with fruits, wooden javelins, and certain “dry leaves that gave off a peculiar fragrance.”
Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de la Torre, companions of Christopher Columbus, were the first Westerners to know of its existence. Rodrigo, upon his return to Spain, was imprisoned by the Inquisition accused of witchcraft, since only the devil could give a man the power to blow smoke through the mouth.
Columbus was surprised by its use in religious and social ceremonies, since for the Indians this plant had magical powers and pleased the gods. It was considered a panacea: it was used to combat asthma, fevers and convulsions, intestinal and nervous disorders and even animal bites.
By order of Philip II, Hernández de Boncalo, chronicler and historian of the Indies, was the one who brought the first seeds that arrived in Europe in 1559. These seeds were planted in lands located around Toledo, in an area called los cigarrales, because they used to be invaded by cicada pests. There, the cultivation of Nicotiana Tabacum began in Europe and, for this reason, some historians maintain that the name cigar comes from this circumstance.
After a few years, around 1560 the plant was already known in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain (1530 – 1600AD), aware of its multiple medicinal properties, sent it to his queen, Catherine de Medici, as snuff powder, to relieve her migraines (Charlton, 2004; Pascual and Vicéns, 2004), and hence tobacco was called “queen’s herb”, “nicotiana” or “ambassador’s herb”.
Catherine de’ Medici suffered from severe headaches and listened to the ambassador when he recommended that she take the plant in the form of snuff. The pain disappeared and Nicotiana began to be used as a medicine in France and the rest of Europe. When Linnaeus published his Species Plantorum, he chose the scientific name Nicotiana tabacum in homage to Nicot.
The etymology of the word tobacco is controversial. One version proposes that “t*baco” comes from the place where the plant was discovered, either Tobago, an Antillean island, or the Mexican town of Tabasco. The most coherent version is that it comes from the Arabic “tabbaq”, a name that has been applied in Europe since at least the 15th century to various medicinal plants.
In 1584, Walter Raleigh founded the colony of Virginia in North America, copied the custom of pipe smoking from the indigenous people, and began cultivating the famous pipe smoking in that territory, which was introduced to England in the time of Elizabeth I. A few years later, it had become the main economic resource of the English colonies. The great maritime voyages of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries around the world helped bring the plant to the coasts of Asia, Africa and Oceania.
In Japan, Russia, China and Turkey, its use was initially combated with drastic measures, to the point that Sultan Murad IV had numerous smokers executed and, in 1638, the Chinese authorities threatened to behead traffickers. Over time, the Turks joined the global tobacco market and became smokers, just like the Chinese.