I am reading about the history of tobacco consumption and will blog on this general topic soon. It is a fascinating story. Wherever tobacco has presented itself as a consumption possibility it has been enthusiastically used. It seems first to have been recognised in South America 15,000 years ago and has been consumed there for 5,000-7,000 years. It spread throughout the American continent and was even consumed on offshore islands where two of Christopher Columbus’s sailors first smoked it in 1492.
In a bit more than 100 years tobacco then spread around the world. People love their tobacco.
Last year while reading Mr Stuart’s Track by John Bailey I found that Australian aboriginals also used a tobacco-like plant. In a conversation Mr. Geoff Drucker mentioned to me that the aboriginals call this tobacco Pituri – it is a chewing tobacco. Geoff was kind enough to send me some information on Pituri and some links that provide further information. Another link I found is here.
Pituri is still consumed today as chewing tobacco and is, on that account, probably safer than smoked tobaccos. Aboriginal consumption of smoked tobacco is a very serious health problem for aboriginal people. It might be that switching to traditional sources of nicotine might improve aboriginal health.
I am working on aboriginal smoking issues so this is very interesting information.
These are the notes Geoff kindly sent:
‘Leaves, flowers and flowering stalks are highly valued by the Aborigines as chewing tobacco with nicotine and nor-nicotine content being up to 25% of the dry weight of plant material. Pituri is the term used by the Aborigines for the ball of chewing tobacco. Pituri is prepared by drying and powdering the leaves of the nicotine plant and mixing with ash from a variety of different specially selected species. It is rolled up into quids (balls) that are 6cm long and 1.5cm in diameter and then chewed. The mixing of the alkaloid ash with the plant material renders the alkaloids more available when chewed and ingested. When it is not chewed it is put behind the ear like bubblegum. The chewed tobacco is used as a token of friendship, of which it has taken on the significance of a social event.
Pituri is mixed with ash as the nicotine is liberated from the acids through the action of the alkaloids present in the ash. The ash promotes the rapid absorption of the nicotine into the bloodstream through the thin tissues of the lips and mouth and probably through the skin behind the ear (Latz, 1995). There are certain species that are used to manufacture the ash within the pituri....
The initial effect of pituri is as a stimulant, later however the user begins to fall a bit heavy and finally sleepy. In small quantities the pituri can assuage hunger and enable long journeys to be undertaken without fatigue and with little food. It can also be used to excite the participants before fighting....
The quids are sometimes mixed with threads of native flax (Psoralea spp.) to make the pituri stick together. If preferred plants are unavailable then small amounts of I.petrae are added to less popular Nicotiana leaves to give the quid extra strength. Aborigines also used the smoking of the burning leaves of D.hopwoodii as an anaesthetic, where the usage of the plant in the circumcision of boys during their initiation ceremonies was frequently practiced.
Today: Most Aboriginal people who chew tobacco use either native tobacco (also called 'bush tobacco') or loose smoking tobacco. People mix the dry, crushed material with ash and form it into 'quids' using saliva. They place the quids between the teeth and cheek. Nicotine is absorbed through the lining of the mouth (mucous membrane). The drug effect is similar to smoking tobacco. Chewing is restricted to around Central Australia and is practised mostly by women.
There is currently no evidence that chewing tobacco in the way it is done in Central Australia has any long-term, harmful effects on people's health’.
Source: Entheogens & Salvia Teaching Plant Forum: ‘Duboisia Hopwoodii’ and Katie Littlejohn, 1998.