Indigenous Plant Exports

John Frampton's translation (1577) of Nicolas Monardes book on medicines, page featuring Tobacco

Indigenous Plant Exports

The book Dos libros (1569), by the Spanish physician Nicolas Monardes, contains the first published illustration of tobacco. In 1571, he was the first European to write about the medicinal use of tobacco in North America, and he listed several diseases, including cancer, reputed to be cured and prevented by tobacco.

Tobacco was not the only commodity sent to the British empire. As early as 1577, a book by Monardes was translated into English titled, The Joyfull Newes from the Newe Found World, and it described the medicinal uses of Sassafras, which also soon became a commercial success as both a medicine and cooking spice. Sassafras oil was used as a topical treatment to cure a variety of ailments including skin diseases, rheumatism, and ague. Sassafras extract is probably best known as an ingredient in Root Beer.

Example of Cigar Store Statue

Tobacco and the Cigar Store

Later, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, “Cigar Store Indians,” made from carved wood or molded metal, were popular symbols of the tobacco trade. In the days before universal literacy, they relied on the association between Native Americans and tobacco as an effective advertising technique.

These artifacts have frequently drawn criticism for their demeaning and stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous peoples. “Cigar Store Indians” helped to popularize and reinforce stereotypes about “authentic” Native Americans with their use of bronze-coloring, feathered headdresses, fringed tops or skirts, and moccasins. Many examples portrayed the archetypes of the “Noble Savage” with a stoic expression, or the “warrior” with a weapon ready for use.


Pages from the 1820 United States Pharmacopeia written in Latin on the left (p.234) and the English translation on the right (p. 235).  Indian Tobocco was recognized as a medicine.

Indigenous Plant Exports