Medicinal plants

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) - plant, poison and medicine

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) - plant, poison and medicine

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Smoking is undisputedly one of the most common causes of death. Nicotiana tabacum also made her breakthrough in medicine in Europe. Active substances in tobacco can be used, among other things, against inflammatory symptoms and against autoimmune diseases.

Profile of tobacco

  • Scientific name: Nicotiana tabacum
  • Common names: Smoked herb, cabbage, junk
  • Parts of plants used: Leaves, rarely flowers or roots
  • application areas:
    • Urinary drive
    • Sedative
    • Toothache
    • Insect bites
    • Skin parasites such as mites or fleas
    • Stimulating gastric juice and bile


The tobacco plant contains nicotine (0.08 percent), nornicotine and other pyridine alkaloids, betaine, asparagine, allantoin, coffee tannic acid, enzymes and nitrates. In addition, there are ammonium salts, cellulose, proteins, natural resin, vegetable wax, malic acid, citric acid and oxalic acid. Minerals include nitrate, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron and chlorine.

Nicotine - convulsions, respiratory paralysis, cardiac arrest

Nicotine is a pyridine alkaloid from the leaves of the tobacco plant, liquid and colorless at room temperature. In low doses, it excites the ganglia by depolarizing the postsynaptic membranes. In higher doses, however, it blocks the ganglia.

In small doses, nicotine increases blood pressure, increases the release of gastric juice and increases the tone in the gastrointestinal tract. High doses, on the other hand, lead to a drop in blood pressure that lasts for a long time and intestinal atony.

Nicotine affects the central nervous system. In medium doses it causes tremor and stimulates breathing, while toxic doses lead to respiratory paralysis and cramps. Nicotine is highly toxic, the lethal dose is one mg / kg body weight, which corresponds approximately to the amount consumed when eating six cigarettes.

Nicotine poisoning manifests itself as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, tremor in the hands, weakness in the legs, cramps up to loss of consciousness, respiratory paralysis and cardiac arrest. That quickly means death.

In Nicotiana tabacum, 97 percent of the nicotine is formed in the roots and from there to other parts of the plant such as leaves, stems or flowers. Dried, untreated leaves of Nicotiana tabacum usually contain between 0.5 and eight percent nicotine, but more than ten percent have also been detected.

Nicotine - nerve poison and nerve protection

Despite its toxicity, nicotine may be used in nerve disease medication. A research team led by Ursula Winzer-Serhan at the University of Texas in a mouse experiment came to the conclusion that nicotine reduced appetite (the mice ate less and lost weight) and the second acted nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. This property could possibly be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

This in no way means smoking because it is "good for the nerves". It is medically recognized that nicotine may have a protective function for the nerves in adults, but in embryos, children and adolescents it acts as a neurotoxin and damages brain functions, depending on the dose.

Tobacco in naturopathy

In folk medicine and naturopathy, tobacco leaves served as a remedy for worm infestation, applied against mosquito, bee, wasp and scorpion bites; burned as a means to keep mosquitoes away and kill lice and mites on the skin.

Eating tobacco leaves was used to abort unwanted embryos and helped against constipation. Of a common use in folk medicine as an abortion as well as for constipation strongly discouraged as with every consumption of leaves and roots (except in standardized finished products), since even a small amount is fatal and the nicotine content in the leaves also fluctuates between less than one and ten percent.

The abortive effect is non-specific, it is a general toxic effect. In conventional medicine as in naturopathy, there are efficient means against constipation that are completely safe, so there is no reason to play with life. This also applies to abortions.

Tobacco for rheumatism?

In Indian medicine, tobacco leaves are a remedy for toothache, tooth decay, earache, inflamed mouth and nose, as well as for ulcers, boils and other skin infections. In China and African countries (see here) whole tobacco leaves, applied externally, or leaf extracts are a remedy for skin swelling, skin inflammation, rheumatic complaints and rheumatic pain. Active ingredients are phenols and flavonoids, not nicotine.

Tobacco smoke in Indian medicine

The tobacco plant was probably the first to be cultivated by the Maya. The southernmost distribution of the genus is in Guatemala, wild tobacco occurs in North America, especially in the Great Basin, all the way to southern Canada.

Tobacco smoke from the pipe was considered sacred to the indigenous cultures of North America, and smoking rituals were spiritual events. They served to get in touch with the spirit world, to initiate peace negotiations with hostile tribes ("smoking a peace pipe"), to expel "harmful spirits" and "profane" to repel insects and parasites.

Tobacco in homeopathy

In homeopathy, tobacco is considered a remedy for heart problems, a drop in blood pressure and diarrhea associated with vomiting. There are no detectable biochemical active substances in the homeopathic doses, and so there is no toxic effect.

Tobacco in complementary medicine

In complementary medicine, i.e. in measures that complement main treatments, tobacco can only be used to a very limited extent. Tobacco has a calming and diuretic effect. It is therefore conceivable to use extracts in food products as "functional food" or as special preparations to accompany smoking cessation.

Tobacco leaves against tumors?

Sir Walter Raleigh brought the tobacco plant to England in 1586, but its use was prohibited. The church even put Nicotiana tabacum under its spell. But the conquerors of the New World, Portuguese and Spaniards, introduced him to the Iberian Peninsula. The tobacco plant first spread as an ornament in the gardens of the nobility.

The French ambassador to Portugal tried tobacco pads on the body. He allegedly healed a man with a tumor, although it is not clear whether it was a carcinoma or a skin ulcer. In any case, this success prompted the ambassador to continue experimenting and brought the tobacco to the French royal court.

There the ruling classes soon found that the dried leaves were also excellent for smoking, and the smoking culture started. The name of the ambassador was Nicot and it was from him that the nicotine got its name.

Lung cancer, infertility and heart disease

Today smoking is the most common addiction and cigarettes are one of the most common luxury foods. Smoking as the "number one widespread disease" with the well-known consequences such as lung, larynx, colon or mouth cancer, infertility, heart diseases, respiratory diseases, chronic bronchitis, brain damage to embryos, etc., can hardly be guessed that the tobacco plant in Europe is first established as a drug.

Cigarettes as phytomedicine?

Like henbane and ayahuasca, the tobacco plant is and is one of the “sacred plants” with which shamans travel into the world of spirits. Tobacco as a poison and tobacco as a medicine are not mutually exclusive. A great many medicinal medicinal substances and medicinal plants can have a toxic effect.

For example, henbane is not recognized as phytomedicine because of its lethally toxic effects, while the alkaloids it contains are highly effective medicines in pure and strictly dosed form. Even with substances obtained from the tobacco plant, it is better to stick to finished products than to start self-tests. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Robles Noemi, Josefa Sabriá: Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology. Effects of ethanol and nicotine on human CNS development., Pages 333-339, 2011, sciencedirect
  • Christian Agyare et al .: Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic Activities of African Medicinal Plants .; in: Medicinal Plant Research in Africa: Pharmacology and Chemistry, Pages 725-752, 2013, researchgate
  • Mons, Dr. Ute; Dr. Katrin Schaller: Cold tobacco smoke. Facts about smoking, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, 2016, dkfz
  • Robert Koch Institute Center for cancer registry data: lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma), cancer data

Video: Tobacco Nicotiana Tabacum in mid August (December 2022).