Sandy’s Garden ... Niciotiana Tabacum

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One date this week will be almost universally recognised, for 14 February is, all together now, St. Valentine’s Day.

But it is less well remembered that this day also marks the tenth anniversary of the coming into force of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotions Act 2002, which describes itself as, “An Act to control the advertising and promotion of tobacco products; and for connected purposes”. This Act states, at its outset, that it is, “Enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same.” It also makes clear that, in this Act, “‘Tobacco advertisement’ means an advertisement (a) whose purpose is to promote a tobacco product, or (b) whose effect is to do so; and ‘tobacco product’ means a product consisting wholly or partly of tobacco and intended to be smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed.”

Sir Walter Raleigh has been widely credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to Britain after a voyage to North America: but both of these plants were already known in continental Europe and in the British Isles before Raleigh’s voyage and it would be more accurate to credit … or should that be blame? … Raleigh for having made the smoking of tobacco a feature of the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. The botanical name for the tobacco plant … Nicotiana tabacum … means ‘the plant named in honour of Jean Nicot,’ the French ambassador to Portugal, who sent tobacco as a medicine to the court of Catherine de Medici in 1559. And tabacum identifies this particular member of the Nicotiana family as that ‘which the French call tabac.’ Tobacco, as is widely known, is a very valuable cash crop of the United States, Cuba, Turkey, Russia, India and China, among others, the dried leaves being used in cigars, cigarettes, snuff, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco. The species found by Nicot and made fashionable by Raleigh grew wild in North America in their time but has been collected and cultivated for so many generations that it is no longer found in the wild.

As the Act of 2002 identifies, tobacco can be smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed for its supposed ability to induce relaxation. But it is also powerfully addictive; and the contemporary use of flue-cured tobacco to produce milder, easily-inhalable smoke is one of the principal reasons smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases association with smoke inhalation. Raleigh’s generation, and many subsequent generations, smoked tobacco in pipes; and the arrival of European colonists on the eastern seaboard of the United States was responsible for the start of tobacco farming and of the export of the product to Europe. Indeed, such was the popularity and profitability of tobacco farming that it was the principal mainstay of the economy of the southern states until the introduction of cotton.

It is not illegal to try to grow tobacco in a Scottish garden, although it will be quite a challenge. Nicotiana plants need well-drained … but still moist … soil and plenty of sunshine, although they do need to be shaded from fierce heat. Rather than try to grow Nicotiana tabacum, the local gardener would be well advised to try another member of the family, Nicotiana sylvestris, which has been awarded the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The leaves of Nicotiana sylvestris are very similar to those of Nicotiana tabacum … large and hairy … but this plant is grown for its stately flower stems, topped with large sprays of very long, slim, drooping, white flowers during the summer and early autumn months. But please remember, if you do succeed in growing a member of the family of tobacco plants, you must NOT give or sell leaves to anyone!

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society