Lobelia inflata

Herbs gallery - Lobelia

Common names

  • Asthma Weed
  • Bladderpod
  • Emetic Herb
  • Gagroot
  • Indian Tobacco
  • Lobelia
  • Pukeweed
  • Vomitroot

The herb known as the lobelia - botanical name, Lobelia inflata - can reach from one to two feet in height and is commonly called Indian tobacco. The herb grows as an annual or as a biennial. It is characterized by being covered by hair, bearing distinct angled and branched stem with yellowish or light green colored leaves. When in season, the plant will bear pale violet blue colored spiky flowers and oval shaped fruit with small brown seeds within.

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The native peoples in the American continent were the first to use the lobelia, it was traditionally smoked - hence its common name, Indian tobacco - mainly to bring relief from the symptoms of asthma and various disorders of the lung. In the 19th century the lobelia was brought to a prominent position on the herbal list by the American herbalist Samuel Thomson, who believed that the herb was a cure all. Samuel Thomson had a firm faith in the prowess of the lobelia as he continued to praise the use of the herb following being charged with poisoning one of his patients a remedy made from it. The use of the Indian tobacco as an herbal remedy was advocated by Thomson and his followers not only as a remedy for respiratory disorders but also a principal remedy to treat convulsions, they believed it aided childbirth, and used it as an emetic herb on their patients.

On chemical analysis, an alkaloid, named lobeline, and other substances believed to relax muscles have been isolated from extracts of the lobelia. Most of these chemical compounds found in the herb can account for its traditional uses in the traditional herbal medicine of Native Americans.

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The lobelia has gained popularity as a herbal remedy in recent years, mainly being used as an euphoriant herb among members of the counterculture in cities - these new age experimenters smoke it or brewed it into a herbal tea. It is advisable to avoid using this plant for whatever purpose, an overdose of the herb can induce paralysis resulting in coma, and even result in the death of the person.

Parts used

Flower, seed, root.


The generic name lobelia was given to the plant by Carl von Linne, the Swedish botanist and taxonomist popularly known as Linnaeus - considered the father of modern botany and classification. Linnaeus named this plant family in honor of Matthias de Lobel, who was a Flemish botanist and private physician to King James I. The lobelia was used extensively by Native American peoples in their ceremonies in the same way as they used tobacco - the belief was that the smoking of the herb could ward off storms, it was also placed on graves, and employed in the rain dances. Native Americans also used the lobelia to prepare love potions and employed the herb as an antidote to such love charms. The lobelia also had practical uses; it was often burnt to smoke away gnats from a place.

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The lobelia was used in treating dozens of ailments by native American peoples, these disorders ranged from all kinds of fevers to different venereal diseases, as well as stiff necks and earaches. The herb was popularized in the western world by the American herbalist Samuel Thomson; he courted controversy by his medicinal use of lobelia as an emetic. Thomson would often prescribe the herb to induce vomiting in a controversial herbal healing regimen centered on lobelia devised by him. The lobelia possesses relatively high amounts of the essential nutrients such as manganese, as well as the vitamin A, and the vitamin C. These days, herbalist use the lobelia as a blood cleansing remedy as well as a respiratory stimulant for the treatment of bronchial and spasmodic asthma as well as to deal with chronic cases of bronchitis in patients. The main constituent in lobelia is the alkaloid called lobeline; this compound stimulates deeper breathing and increases rates of respiration in the body of a person. The lobelia acts as a relaxant on tense muscles when it is applied externally; it is useful in the treatment of chronic sprains and certain types of problems affecting the spinal region.

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Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), was the principal person responsible for making the lobelia herb a mainstay of his controversial therapeutic system, in doing so, he popularized this traditional Native American medicine herb and internationalized it use. The main use of the lobelia was as an emetic in the system devised by Thomson.
Lobelia is a valuable remedy for the treatment of asthma patients as it is a strong anti-spasmodic and respiratory stimulant. The herb is particularly beneficial in the treatment of bronchial asthma, as well as in dealing with chronic bronchitis in affected patients. The herbal remedy stimulates breathing and relaxes the muscles working the smaller bronchial tubes; this effectively opens up the airways and promotes the coughing up of accumulated phlegm. In the herbal lore and in Anglo-American herbal tradition, the lobelia has almost always been used in a combination with the cayenne herb - the hot stimulant effect of this herb helps in inducing blood flow into areas of the body that have been relaxed as a result of the action of lobelia.
As a topical remedy, the lobelia is at its most effective when the infusion or diluted tincture is applied on the skin. The herbal remedy helps to relax flagging muscles, especially smooth muscles in the body; this property of the herb makes it useful for the treatment of various sprains, as well as back problems especially when muscle tension is a key causative factor in the disorder. The lobelia remedy has also been used as a chest and sinus rub when combined with cayenne, this herbal remedy is very effective in dealing with such problems.
The treatment of tobacco addiction, as the lobeline in lobelia is chemically similar to nicotine in tobacco, the lobelia is often used by herbalists to help their patients give up smoking permanently.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

The lobelia is an indigenous North American plant species. In the eastern United States, the lobelia is frequently found growing along the roadsides; the plant is also seen in Canada, and in the Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula aside from the US.
The habitats preferred by the herb include fallow lands as well as dry grasslands; it is often seen growing on clearings, in poor pastureland, and inhabiting the edges of forests and growing as a weed around ditches or mashes.

The lobelia plant can successfully grow at sites with good exposure to sunlight as well as at site with light shade, such as the under storey of woodlands. The optimal growth of lobelia is seen on heavy clay soils. The plant prefers a slight acidity in the soil and grows best on such soil types. The lobelia can grow as a biennial but usually grows as an annual. The lobelia is cultivated commercially as a medicinal plant in some places.

The lobelia is normally propagated using the stocked seeds. The seeds are normally sown in the spring or autumn at the permanent sites on prepared seed beds. It normally takes two weeks for the seeds to germinate at a site.


The strong anti-spasmodic action of the whole leaf has been verified. The anti-spasmodic action is not a result of any single chemical component in the leaf but is a quality of all the chemicals combined in the leaf. The chemical nature and effects of the piperidine alkaloids, especially the alkaloid lobeline, are similar to the alkaloid nicotine in tobacco leaves.
In human tests, the respiratory center in the brain has been shown to be stimulated by the action of lobeline, the chemical compound induces stronger and deeper breathing, and this effect may help clarify why the lobelia was traditionally used for treating respiratory complaints of all kinds.


Lobelia contains alkaloids (14 of them ), gums, resins, lipids, essential oil, lobelic acid.

Usual dosage

Infusion: the lobelia herbal infusion can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one fourths or half a teaspoonful dried lobelia leaves kept in a pot, the herb must be permitted to steep into the water for ten to fifteen minutes before straining and cooling. A single cup of this infusion can be drunk thrice daily for various disorders.
Tincture: the lobelia herbal tincture can be taken at doses of half or one ml thrice daily for various complaints.


Even when it is used in small doses, the lobelia will have an immediate effect on the body, as it is an extremely powerful and concentrated plant. A great increase in salivation for example, can be induced by chewing one half of a small leaf, while this may not always occur, chewing such a small bit will almost always lead to incidence of throat spasms and palpitations in the person. The best advice is to rigorously follow the known dosages and traditional recipes with care. An herbal decoction or an anti-spasmodic remedy can be prepared by mixing several of the lobelia aerial parts with one gram of the leaf in one cup - about two hundred fifty ml - or a capsule for every four cups of boiling water - one liter.
The optimal way to use the lobelia herb is to combine it with other well known gender, complementary herbs. To make a remedy for the lungs, the herb can be combined with mullein and coltsfoot. The herb can also be prepared into a medication for use against excessive nervousness by combining it with the skullcap and valerian herbs.

Ideally, a mother tincture prepared in some vinegar - twenty five per cent plant, hundred percent vinegar - must be used in the interest of safety, greater effectiveness and speed, choose a mother tincture. This can be taken at a dose of one to five drops, thrice every day to treat various problems. The remedy made from the lobelia is also a very effective agent against localized friction, for example, those that affect the sternum in the event of an anxiety attack. The herb has also been used as an ingredient in topical salves employed in the treatment of allergic dermatoses including eczema.
Lobelia leaves can also be smoked or even burned and smoke inhaled to treat some cases of severe asthma.

Collection and harvesting

The ideal time for harvesting is between August and September, when the entire plant, that is above the ground, can be gathered. It is also usual to collect the seed pods at this time as well.


Te remedy made from the lobelia herb is effective for asthma treatment, when combined with the cayenne, or with the grindelia, the pill-bearing spurge, the sundew and the ephedra herbs.

SOS tincture

  • 4 t (20 g) fresh lobelia capsules
  • 1 t (5 g) ripe cayenne pepper
  • 4/5 cup (200 ml) apple cider vinegar

Crush all the plants using a mortar or a food processor. Cover with vinegar in a glass jar. Macerate for 1 month away from light and stir regularly. Carefully strain.
This is a remedy to be used in case of emergency during an angina or asthma attack, anxiety attack or hysteria: use a very small dose of 3 to 5 drops diluted in a little water. It will take between 5 and 10 minutes to take effect. Do not exceed 3, well-spaced doses over the course of the same day.


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