What is a Cubeb? The Author of Tarzan Knew – Do You?

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CubebsCubebs? I’m one of those rare guys who likes to watch musicals. One of my favorites is “The Music Man” starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and that features Buddy Hackett and Pert Kelton.

“Professor” Harold Hill (Preston) attempts to con the town of River City, Iowa into buying musical instruments. Upon arrival of the instruments, he offers to institute the 1st River City boy’s band. They are an unexcitable people, however, so he warns the people their children are threatened by the arrival of a pool table. Such a vice, he advises, will lead into such bad practices as smoking cubeb cigarettes.

“Ya Got Trouble”

Since it is a musical, the music man sings of the danger in this song…

What is a Cubeb Cigarette?

A cubeb is a cigarette made, not from tobacco, but from the pepper plant Piper cubeba, the name meaning tailed pepper.1 Popular during the late 1800s on into the 1900s, cubebs were claimed to possess medicinal properties, useful for the treatment of asthma and a number of other ailments.

One prominent individual associated with the pepper-based cigarettes was the author of the vine-swinging character Tarzan was Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Cubebs Chemistry

Prominent compounds associated with smoking cubebs are alpha and beta cubebene. Notice the similarity of these two substances. They are the most plentiful of the terpenes contained in cubeb smoke. They have been described as imparting a warm, woody, camphoraceous odor.

alpha and beta cubebene

An Iconic Doll

Boudoir doll smoking cubebs.
Smoking a cubeb in the boudoir…

Somewhat of an industry sprung up from the cubeb hype. Notice the close-up face of this Cubeb Boudoir Doll. Although there were claims of health benefits, a major goal of the cubeb industry was to introduce smoking to the ladies.

1 Notice the “tail” on each cubeb berry in the introductory image

Note: You might also enjoy Sulforaphane in Shepherd’s Purse: Anti-inflammatory, Anti-bacterial


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