The cultivated tobacco plant, scientifically known as Nicotiana tabacum is a plant that is legal and grows freely around various fields and households in my country - Nigeria. There is a local belief that snakes do not like the odour that usually emanates from the plant - whether fresh or dry - and will generally move as far away as possible. Hence, it is usually planted around houses to drive away snakes.
When I was younger, just before getting to the puberty stage, I and my peers got to know that the leaves of this plant are utilized in the manufacturing of cigarettes. Since we use to envy smokers so bad but could not smoke because we were young and the habit is generally frowned at in society, during dry seasons when dry leaves become copious on the plant, we would harvest the dry leaves, pulverize them in between our palms, fold the semi-powdered leaves inside a paper taking the shape of a cigarette, and then light it up like a cigarette while smoking away like badasses.
Call that youthful exuberance but even the adults in the society have a way they indulge themselves using the seeds of the plant, up till today. In those days, some old men and women would send us to harvest the dry fruits of the plant. The fruits contain numerous tiny seeds, usually dark brown when dry. They will extract the seeds and grind them into powder. At regular intervals, these old men/women would take a little portion of the powder in between their fingers, insert it into their noses, and snuff in the substance. Could have easily passed as their cocaine, the only thing is that the snuff is brown this time.
Nicotiana tabacum plant grows as a herb between 1 to 2 m tall at maturity. It is native to the Caribbean, gives off obovate leaves, and produces whitish flowers in which the petals form a tube. It belongs to the angiosperm family known as Solanaceae and is popularly known for its use in the manufacture of tobacco, otherwise known as cigarettes. The leaves of the plant are processed in a variety of ways to produce different forms of cigarettes.
The tissues of tobacco plants are rich in phytochemical metabolites, particularly nicotine. About 2 to 8 percent of a typical tobacco plant is nicotine distributed variably in the various tissues with the highest concentration found in the leaves. Other phytochemicals that have been isolated from the plant include glycosides, amino acids, nicotianine, choline, etc., together with volatile compounds that give the plant its characteristic flavour. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, When burned, the emanating smoke contains over four thousand chemicals.
Tobacco smoking has a host of benefits, although these benefits are overshadowed by the health effects smoking causes to individuals. Beyond smoking, however, tobacco leaves and other tissues have a history of medicinal and non-medicinal uses long before cigarettes, snuffs, and smoking evolved.
In 2019, Anumudu et al. investigated the antimicrobial activities of extracts derived from the leaves and seeds of tobacco. They found out that while the snuff-derived extract had inhibitory effects on the growth of a fungus species, the leave-derived extract had more of antibacterial effects.
Earlier in 2017, Ameya et al. assessed the in-vitro antibacterial activities of different extracts of the tobacco plant and found out that the antibacterial efficacy varied depending on the solvent used for extraction. All these results point to the fact that the tobacco plant has antimicrobial activities.
There are several anecdotes as to the potentials of tobacco leaves in driving away snakes. However, these claims cannot be confirmed by any scientific evidence. The tobacco plant is just one of the numerous plants anecdotally reported to have the capacity to drive away snakes.
Apart from driving away snakes and other pests, tobacco leaves have also been reported to be useful in relieving allergies, clearing nasal passages, insect repellent, and mashed leaves as first aid in case of bruises or cuts.
Thank you all for reading.
US Environmental Protection Agency. Respiratory Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders: The Report of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Monograph 4. NIH Publication No. 93-3605. US Department of Health and Human Services, 1993.
Charlton A. (2004). Medicinal uses of tobacco in history. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97(6), 292–296. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.97.6.292
Ameya, G., Manilal, A., & Merdekios, B. (2017). In vitro Antibacterial Activity and Phytochemical Analysis of Nicotiana tabacum L. Extracted in Different Organic Solvents. The open microbiology journal, 11, 352–359. https://doi.org/10.2174/1874285801711010352