born Nimes circa 1530, died Paris 1600. French diplomat. Ambassador to Lisbon. Nicot is remembered today because of his connection to tobacco. His name was given to the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum) and to a stimulating (and addictive) substance now known as nicotine.
Jean Nicot was born about 1530. His father was a notary in Nîmes. Jean gained employment in the service of the Keeper of the Great Seal of France. In that capacity he attracted the attention of the King, who made him his private secretary. He was then appointed ambassador to Portugal. Among Nicot's friends in Lisbon was the scholar and botanist Damião de Goes. When Damião de Goes had Nicot over for dinner, he showed him a tobacco plant growing in his garden and told him of its marvellous healing properties. The application of the tobacco plant to a cancerous tumor allegedly worked wonders. Nicot tried treating an acquaintance's face wound for 10 days with the plant with excellent results. Nicot became convinced of the healing powers of tobacco.
Nicot obtained cuttings which he planted in the garden of the French Embassy. In 1560 Nicot wrote of tobacco's medicinal properties. He described tobacco as a panacea and sent tobacco plants to the French court. Nicot sent snuff to Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France, in 1560 to treat her migraine headaches. Nicot had applied it to his nose and forehead and found it relieved his headaches. Catherine de Medici followed suite and was impressed. She decreed that tobacco was henceforth to be called Herba Regina, the "queen's herb."
Nicot gave his name to the botanical name for tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and to nicotine, an addictive chemical found in tobacco. It is an alkaloid poison commonly used in medicine and as an insecticide.