Soon after the introduction of tobacco from America to Europe, during the 16th century, it became famous as the miraculous plant from the new continent, that healed all afflictions. The recreational use of the plant spread during the 17th century, conquering the entire world, but the medicinal use of tobacco continues until today. The toxic properties of tobacco were identified early on, but many other plants sued for healing were also toxic in certain concentrations.
|Vintage botanical depiction of Nicotiana - the tobacco plant|
In time, tobacco has been recommended against a wide array of symptoms, among which the most common were the ulcers and various lesions of the skin, wounds, and rheumatic pains. Tobacco infusions were recommended for their emetic properties and tobacco snuffing caused one to sneeze, a reaction deemed healthy for purifying the body. Entire treatises have been written on the medicinal properties of the plant and how to prepare it and there are, for example, several works entitled "Tabacologia".
Nicotine was isolated from tobacco leaves during the 19th century and the medical world became increasingly skeptical towards the plant’s properties as panaceum as it contained a very toxic alkaloid. In carefully dosed concentrations, the independent use of nicotine continues even today in various medical experiments.
The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes a 19th-century jar made of glazed pottery with the printed label inscribed EXTR NICOTIA FOL (Extractum Nicotianae Folium, tobacco leaf extract). The item was included in the collection in 1963 and was once used in the Unicorn pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca.
|Apothecary jar for tobacco leaf extract|
Listen to the exhibit presentation free online on the museum's izi.Travel profile - tobacco.
Read about it in Romanian on the museum's blog HERE.
For a detailed presentation on the introduction of smoking and early uses of tobacco in Transylvania and Central-Eastern Europe, see my book on academia.edu, free online and to download for those with an account on the website: Ana-Maria Gruia, The Gift of Vice. Pipes and the Introduction of Smoking in Early Modern Transylvania, 2013.