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For most people it will be no surprise to hear that the Nicotiana tabacum plant forms the basis for tobacco. In its natural habitat, South-America, the plant was cultivated for medical and recreative use, as far back as thousands of years B.C. Mankind has been cultivating the tobacco plant thousands of years for the psychoactive effects of nicotine, which is the active compound of tobacco. Nowadays the Nicotiana tabacum is widespread on the European continent and present in daily life everywhere.
In the year 1504 the explorer Rodrigo de Jerez brought tobacco home to Spain from America. The use of tobacco had a impressive and quick increase. Around 1511 the use of tobacco was very common in Spain and in 1531 the first tobacco fields for private use could be found everywhere. From Spain the tobacco found its way to Europe fast.
Not everybody immediately became fan of the tobacco plant. In 1628 Shah Sefi poured hot lead in the throats of two salesmen for selling tobacco. Tsar Alexis of Russia (1634) wasn't a fan either. The first time you where caught using tobacco, you were beaten up and send to Siberia. The second time the punishment was a death penalty Even back then tobacco caused conflicts amongst people.
In the beginning tobacco was much used for medical purposes. Headaches, paranoia, dysentery, tooth pain, crankiness - tobacco was presented as a cure for almost everything. But before long this medicinal use became less popular. Reports showed that there were links between the use of tobacco and cancer and lung diseases. This awareness did not stop the popularity of tobacco, although medically the plant was no longer used.
It wasn't until 1753 that the tobacco plant received the name that we know today. French ambassador Jean Nicot introduced the plant in England – and therefore the plant was named after him.
At first, tobacco was sniffed, pruned or smoked in a pipe (only for the rich). Around 1800 the cigar came to Europe and this kind of smoking became very popular. The first modern cigarette was machine-made in 1883 in the United States. The cigarette became known in Europe due to the American soldiers that handed them out during the liberation in WW II.
Cultivating your own Nicotiana tabacum is not that hard. Sow the seeds early in the season (around March is best). The seeds germinate easily and the plants grow well in different circumstances. Let the seeds germinate in a small pot in some soil covered with a bag. Keep thoroughly moist for the first weeks. After a few days the seeds will germinate and after some weeks the seedlings will grow their first leaves. At this moment you can replace your young plants to a bigger pot (without the covering bag). Make sure your plants will still have some protection the first weeks. After that place them on a sunny and warm spot. Remember that the Nicotiana tabacum does best in a rich and moist soil.
The whole plant is covered in small, sticky hairs. Blossom is white or soft pink and flourishes from July till September. Indoors your plant normally doesn't become higher than 1 meter. But when placed outside during summer, lengths up to 3 meters can occur.