TOBACCO AND BETEL
- Tobacco - Nicotiana- South America
- Chewing gum
- Areca catechu
- Piper betle
- Acacia catechu
- Tobacco curing processes
- curing processes
CHAPTER 12 IN THE TEXT, 300-304 and material from lecture
The world's most important fumitories (things people smoke) are tobacco and marijuana (we already
talked about that plant under hallucinogens). The most important masticatories (things people chew)
are tobacco, betel (including Areca catechuseeds, Piper betleleaves, and
Acacia catechubark), coca (we already discussed this under hallucinogens) and qat.
One of the New World psychoactive plants has had dramatic impact on the world. Nicotiana
tabacum(Solanaceae) and Nicotiana rusticahave become important in every country of the
At least 1000 years before Columbus, tobacco was smoked, eaten, chewed, and snuffed by native peoples
throughout the New World. The plant was used medicinally as well. Dried leaves were used for
money and they were considered sacred by many Indians. Columbus brought cigars back to Queen
Tobacco was originally cultivated in Europe as a medicinal plant. The wild ancestors of tobacco are
no longer known. Tobacco is a tetraploid. It contains 1-3% nicotine. Good cigars are made from
whole leaves of tobacco. The American Indians used tobacco as a snuff, smoked it in pipes, cigars,
and chewed it.
Smoking (anything -- for example, marijuana) was not known in the Old World until about the 1600's.
Tobacco cultivation started in Virginia in 1612. As the crop was a good source of revenue,
cultivation has continued in the Southeastern up to the present.
Tobacco cultivation is complicated. The seeds (which are tiny) are started in areas that have been
sterilized and grown to small seedlings which are then planted in fields after about 2 months.
The addition of nitrogen is important in determining the type product obtained. The plants must
be hand tended to remove insects, leaves, and inflorescences.
In many areas, single leaves are harvested, although in other areas, the entire upper part of the
plant is cut. The leaf material is then cured. During curing, the moisture content is lowered from
80 to 20 percent. Starches are converted to sugars. Some proteins are broken down. Slow drying
permits aerobic fermentation to take place in the leaves.
The curing can be allowing the tobacco to stand in barns (air curing), by circulation of air (flue
curing) or by smoke (fire curing). Other tobacco, especially Turkish or other Oriental tobaccos,
is sun dried. After curing the tobacco is allowed to age for 6 months to two years. Further
changes occur in the leaves. For cigarettes and cigar fillings, the tobacco is moistened
(humectants, such as glycerine) are added and the veins and petioles removed.
Many flavorings are added to tobacco products. Among these are honey, sugar, oil of hops, licorice,
coumarin, rum, menthol, etc.
Cigarettes were not used widely until the time of the Crimean War (1854-1856). The English soldiers
saw the Turks using them and took them home. Since the 1800's, cigarettes have been the main way
that tobacco is used. Production of cigarettes is also
linked with flue curing of tobacco. This makes a milder type of tobacco that more people can
Nicotine is the main alkaloid in tobacco. It is a stimulant of the central nervous system.
Nicotine can produce dizziness, nausea, and hallucinations in excess, and is physiologically
addicting. This alkaloid also is a poison; tobacco wastes are used
to manufacture insecticides. The main active ingredient is nicotine.
Betel [which often includes Areca catechu(Arecaceae) seeds, Piper
betle (Piperaceae) leaves, and Acacia,catechu(Fabaceae or Leguminosae) bark
along with dozens of other flavorings and sweeteners] is used daily by perhaps 1 billion people.
It is most common in Southeast Asia, but also in Africa and other places where Asian people
have migrated. Lime is often added to hydrolyze and activate the alkaloids in the Areca
catechuseeds. Cloves, tamarind, "spinkles", mint, an
d other substances are added. Called "pan" by Indians. Copious salivation is produced. With
frequent use, the teeth eventually turn brown or red.
Qat or kat
The leaves of this plant, Catha edulis, Celastraceae, have been used for thousands of
years in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia) and were introduced into the Arabian peninsula. This is a
permitted by Islam. Khat is one of the major cash crops of Ethiopia and is flown fresh daily to
Yemen, and several other countries. Abuse of the plant is particularly bad in Yemen. Saudi Arabia
has made khat illegal.
If you have the Random House dictionary, this plant is a great Scrabble word, because you can use
the alternate spelling "qat" and use a "q" without a "u".
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Revised April 2005
© David S. Seigler, Integrative Biology 363, Plants and Their Uses,
Department of Plant Biology, 265 Morrill Hall, 505 S. Goodwin Ave., University of Illinois, Urbana,
Illinois 61801, USA. 217-333-7577. firstname.lastname@example.org.