Latin: Nicotiana tabacum
Parts Used: Leaf
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, warming
Properties: Stimulant, anxiolytic, diuretic, expectorant, emetic when taken in large doses, antispasmodic
Actions: This is one of the three most used stimulants in the world- along with coffee and tea. Sadly tobacco has a really bad rap because it has been commodified and packaged with huge amounts of preservatives and added nicotine in a way that has hooked hundreds of millions of people. Cigarettes are one of the leading killers of the modern age but tobacco itself is a wonderful herb if used with respect and care.
As we all know, tobacco contains nicotine, a potent alkaloid that is both stimulating and relaxing. That quality of stimulation can make it addictive similar to other alkaloids like caffeine, morphine and cocaine. The effect is short lasting (10-20 minutes) and the desire for another “hit” is palpable in regular users.
Outside of its “discovery” in the New Worlds and its eventual commodification as a vice, tobacco has long been a sacred plant to many Indigenous groups that recognized its potent effect and its ability to bring clarity, stimulation, spiritual connection and for purification. When I worked with indigenous Quichua in Ecuador, the ayahuascero healers commonly used tobacco smoke to cleanse and purify those who were taking part in ritual. Tobacco in that culture and many others is considered a great Teacher, a master plant deserving great respect.
Until recent times, tobacco was often smoked occasionally and generally for ritual, healing and sacred purposes. But as Europeans integrated tobacco, they increasingly smoked it, chewed it and snorted it (snuff) as a stimulant for recreational purposes. Physicians also used it for a variety of reasons: for enemas, to treat fever and gout, to kill internal worms and as an external wound healing agent for boils, sores, abrasions and to help with neuralgia.
While addictive cigarette smoking is a pretty terrible health risk, quite a few people with a history of trauma and a history of mental illness use cigarettes as a way of medicating their anxiety and depression. While its not the best option, it is fairly understandable. Ultimately the best option would be to work with this plant how it was used before colonization- as a sacred medicine to be used sparingly.
Dosage: Generally to smoke- best infrequent with good intention and with additive chemical free tobacco.
Contraindications: Addictive and likely eventually lethal if used frequently. Avoid when pregnant, nursing, if there is hypertension, pulmonary issues.