Lobelia is an indigenous North American annual or biennial plant found in pastures, meadows, and cultivated fields of the eastern U.S. The erect angular stem, growing from 6 inches to 3 feet high, is hairy and contains a milky sap. The thin, light green leaves are alternate, hairy, ovate, and bluntly serrate. Lobelia flowers
The blue flowers grow in spike-like racemes and are 1/4″ long, 2 lipped, lower lip bearded and situated in axils of alternate leaves, the bottoms of which greatly inflate in fruiting stage.
The fruit is a two-celled capsule filled with small, brown seeds.
Family: Campanulaceae (Bluebell family)
Other Names: Indian Tobacco, Asthma Weed, Pukeweed, Wild Tobacco
Flowers: June – October
Parts Used: Leaves and stems
Habitat: Fields, open woods, and roadsides. Range: Across southern Canada; south to Georgia; west to Arkansas and eastern Kansas.
Lobelia is said to be the discovery of Samuel Thompson, the father of the patent medicine, who tried it first on a friend while mowing a field. “He first fully satisfied himself that it had emetic properties (induces vomiting),” one record of the event says, “by coaxing his partner, who was mowing with him in the field, to chew the green plant, which he did, and became deadly sick and relaxed, and upon drinking some water he vomited and rapidly recovered from its effects, and felt better afterwards than he did before.”
The record tells of two tales, one of Indian Tobacco’s first use by a white man, and the other of the hazards of blind herbal experimentation. There is no clear-cut agreement among herbalists and doctors as to the propriety of using Indian Tobacco; some contend the herb is potentially poisonous, others dispute that claim. But it is a fact that Thompson himself was sued in the death of a patient to whom he had prescribed Indian Tobacco . . . and found not guilty for lack of evidence that the plant caused the death.
Lobelia was officially entered into the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1936, and in the National Formulary from 1936 to 1960.
Constituents: Alkaloids (lobeline, isolobinine, lobelanidine, lobinaline, a bitter glycoside (lobelacrin), a pungent volatile oil (labelianin), resin, gum, fats, chelidonic acid.
Properties: Emetic (induces vomiting), Stimulant, Antispasmodic, Expectorant, Diaphoretic, Relaxant, Nauseant, Sedative, Diuretic, Nervine.
Main Uses: Lobelia, once a famous North American Indian remedy, was adopted by the Physiomedical school of herbalists as its major relaxant remedy. They used it to treat pain caused by spasm, which it does by relaxing the tissues rather than producing a narcotic effect like opium. It is most useful in asthma and bronchitis because it is also expectorant.
One of the plant’s main alkaloids, lobeline, stimulates the respiratory system, while isolobinine is a respiratory relaxant. Lobeline is reported to have many of the pharmacological properties of nicotine, first stimulating the central nervous system and then subsequently strongly depressing it. The North American Indians smoked it instead of tobacco, but today it is sometimes used to help tobacco withdrawal symptoms. Lobelia plasters and liniments are used to treat sprains, muscle spasms and bruises because of the plant’s relaxing and stimulating effect.
The American Indians used to chew the plant to make a poultice for bee stings. My husband is very allergic to bee stings. The last time he was stung, he used a Q-Tip and dabbed the bee sting with tincture of lobelia and he did not get a dangerous reaction. It is also good for insect bites, poison ivy irritation, and ringworm.
Caution CAUTION: Use this plant with caution. It has very strong medicinal properties. An overdose may have negative results.
Preparation And Dosages:
1 oz of the herb to 1 pint of boiling water makes an ordinary infusion, to be administered in tablespoonful doses every hour or half-hour. Or mix with other herbs to make a poultice for sprains, muscle spasms, bruises, insect bites, poison ivy irritation, and ringworm.
Tincture: Harvest when flowering. Fresh plant – (1:4), 70% alcohol, 5 to 20 drops up to 4 times a day.