Economic Botany: A Textbook of Useful Plants and Plant Products

By Albert F. Hill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
FUMITORIES AND MASTICATORIES

In all ages and in all countries human beings have smoked or chewed various substances for pleasure, for some physiological effect, in connection with their religious ceremonies, or in an attempt to seek "some Right from reality," as Norman Taylor puts it. Some of these substances, such as spruce gum and chewing gum, are perfectly harmless, and are chewed merely because of their pleasant taste. The only benefit to be derived is possibly a psychological one brought about by the mechanical act involved.

The majority of the materials that are chewed or smoked, however, have a distinct stimulating or even narcotic effect, due to the presence of various alkaloids. Tobacco, betel, and cola are the least harmful of these drugs. At best they act only as mild stimulants and produce no effects on the consciousness of the user. Possibly the combustion products of tobacco, formed during smoking, are more harmful and may cause deleterious effects. It is a different matter, however, when we consider the great rivals of tobacco -- coca, opium, and cannabis. These true narcotics contain alkaloids that are detrimental even in small amounts. When used in quantity, they may lead the addict to the lowest depths of depravity and degradation and cause stupor, coma, convulsions, and even death. The drug habit, brought on by the continued use of these narcotic plant products and their derivatives, is such a serious problem socially, as well as physiologically, that it is indeed fortunate that the sources of such drugs are relatively few in number.


TOBACCO

Tobacco is an important commodity the world over. It is used in one form or another by both civilized and uncivilized peoples. The tobacco plant is a native of tropical America. The original wild ancestor is not known for tobacco is very old and has been under cultivation for centuries. The use of tobacco originated with the Indians in connection with their religious rites. The plant had spread over North America before the coming of the white man. Columbus was the first to note the use of tobacco by the Indians. The plant was introduced into Europe in 1556 and at first was grown only for its ornamental and medicinal value. Jean Nicot, for whom the plant was named Nicotiana, was chiefly responsible for its exploitation in France. From there it rapidly spread over the rest

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