Tobacco is one of the oldest crops cultivated by humankind.
It is believed that Native Americans grew tobacco 3,000 years before the discovery of the Americas. The origin of most kinds of tobacco are several modern South American countries: Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Ancient civilizations attributed magical and healing properties to tobacco.
The name of the plant, “tobacco”, comes either from the name of the island of Tobago or from the word “tobagos”, which the Indians called the large twisted leaves used for ritual smoking. Europeans became familiar with the custom of smoking around 1492. The first distributors of tobacco were merchants, sailors, and monks.
Tobacco was originally transported to Spain and Portugal and was grown in gardens as an ornamental plant. It gradually spread throughout Europe. The popularity of tobacco in Europe was promoted by the French envoy to the Portuguese court – the diplomat Jean Nicot de Villemain (1530-1600). He first learned about tobacco while in Portugal, became interested in it, and conducted experiments with this the plant.
Back in France, Jean Nicot de Villemain recommended tobacco to Queen Mother Catherine de’ Medici as a migraine remedy. At that time, tobacco was widely used as a medicine. Meanwhile, the habit of sniffing tobacco powder, and later of smoking it, was being developed. The active substance of tobacco was called nicotine in honor of the French diplomat, and the genus Nicotiana was coined in plant taxonomy