Lobelia is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Campanulaceae. It includes many species, some of which are known for their medicinal properties. One species, Lobelia inflata, commonly known as Indian tobacco or puke weed, has historically been used in traditional medicine by Native American tribes for various purposes, including respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis.

Lobelia Plants

Lobelia is a fragile flower described as light bluish to violet in color with a touch of yellow, with pale green or yellowish leaves. It can grow to a height of about three feet and is a very popular garden plant. It is categorized as an annual or biennial plant meaning that it reseeds every year or two. The stem is smooth towards the top and hairy and rough towards its bottom. The flowers are asymmetrical and bisexual.

Lobelia is found growing naturally in the Southeastern part of Canada, from Nova Scotia to Southeast Ontario and British Columbia. It is also present in the Eastern half of the United States (excluding the state of Florida).

Active Ingredients in Lobelia

The main parts of the Lobelia plant that are used medicinally are the flowering parts and the seeds. The seeds are the most potent because they contain lobeline, a piperidine alkaloid, which have been studied for their potential bronchodilator effects, helping to relax the airways and improve breathing.

Named after Matthias de Lobel, a 17th century botanist, Lobelia is known as Indian Tobacco because it contains lobeline. Lobeline is believed to have a chemical make up similar to nicotine and was therefore used as an alternative to tobacco. In the 19th century, Lobelia was also used as a medicinal herb to induce vomiting, thus removing harmful poisons from the body.

Historical Use of Lobelia

The name Indian Tobacco was assigned because the Aboriginal people smoked dried leaves of the plant. Historically, the Aboriginal people were very creative and efficient in using the Lobelia plant for medicinal purposes.

The Iroquois used the root to treat leg sores, venereal diseases and ulcers. The Cherokees used a poultice of the root for body aches. They also used the plant for boils, sores, bites and stings.

Considered a plant to cure asthma, phthisic (lung disease), croup and a sore throat, it was also used to discourage the presence of gnats. The Crows made use of it in religious ceremonies. It was also useful for tobacco withdrawal as a herbal remedy to quit smoking.

Medical Uses of Lobelia

Lobelia, particularly Lobelia inflata, has been used traditionally for various medicinal purposes, though its safety and efficacy remain a topic of debate. Today, Lobelia is used to treat asthma, allergies, whooping cough, congestion and bronchitis.

Some of its purported medical uses include:

Respiratory conditions: Lobelia has been historically used to alleviate respiratory issues such as asthma, allergies, congestion, whooping cough, bronchitis, and coughs. It is believed to act as a bronchodilator, helping to open up the airways and improve breathing.

Smoking cessation aid: Due to its potential bronchodilator effects, lobelia has been suggested as a natural remedy to help individuals quit smoking by reducing nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness in this regard.

Muscle relaxation: Lobelia has been used topically as a poultice or liniment to relieve muscle tension, cramps, and spasms. Some traditional herbalists also recommend it for conditions like arthritis and rheumatism.

Sedative properties: In some herbal traditions, lobelia has been used as a mild sedative or nervine to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.

Lobelia Dosage

Lobelia is considered to be a toxic herb because of its lobeline content. It is important to begin with lower dosages and increase the dosage over a period of time. It is also imperative that you never surpass a dosage of 20 mg per day. If you consume a dosage higher than 500 mg, it could be fatal. 

How to Take Lobelia

Lobelia can be taken in a few different forms. It can be given as a vinegar tincture or a regular tincture, as a fluid extract, or as a dried herb for teas or in capsules. It is preferred that the dried herb be mixed in eight ounces of water with other herbs, but this is not necessarily the best way of consuming it due to its pungent taste.

Latin Name

Lobelia inflata

Common Names

Lobelia, pukeweek, Indian Tobacco, gagroot, asthma weed, vomitwort, rapuntium inflatum, bladderpod

Properties of Lobelia

Expectorant, emetic, anti-asthmatic, stimulant antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, nervine.

Lobelia is Indicated for:

Bronchitis, whooping cough, congestion, asthma, tobacco withdrawal, allergies, colds, soothing inflamed conditions, pain reliever in elevated amounts, sedative.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Lobelia Herb Notes / Side Effects

It’s important to note that while lobelia has a long history of traditional use, scientific evidence supporting its efficacy and safety is limited.

This herb is toxic at low doses and in some countries the sale of Lobelia is limited. In the past, Lobeline was used in anti-smoking products as a deterrent for those with a smoking addiction. However, the sale of smoking products that contained lobeline was prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993 because it was not helpful to those who were addicted to smoking.

Lobelia also contains various alkaloids other than lobeline which include lobelacrin, a bitter glycoside, lobelianin, a pungent oil and resin, acid, fats and gum. It also has 14 pyridine alkaloids. Therefore it is always best to consult your health care physician for proper dosage and use.

Lobelia contains alkaloids that can be toxic in large doses, leading to adverse effects side affects including; nausea, vomiting, convulsions, hypothermia, dizziness, dry mouth, respiratory depression or paralysis, coma and even death. Weakness, difficulty breathing, heartburn, collapsing or a weak pulse are signs of poisoning.

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, tobacco sensitivity, seizure disorder, paralysis, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, or are recovering from shock, you should not take this herb. It is also not recommended for women that are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Due to these risks, lobelia should be used cautiously and under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

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