Common Names: Lobelia, Asthma weed, Indian tobacco, wild tobacco, bladder pod, vomit wort, pukeweed, gagroot.
Medicinal Properties: Lobelia’s significant active alkaloid content gives it its well known emetic properties—a quality which several of its common names reflect. Its basic physiological effect is to first stimulate and then depress the autonomic nervous system in a way that resembles a mildly acting nicotine. When it enters the digestive system, lobelia acts to both inhibit and stimulate the gastrointestinal functions and will suppress appetite. It may also stimulate the adrenal glands and heighten cardiovascular activity.
Lobelia’s constituent lobeline has been shown to relax the bronchial muscles, thereby expanding the bronchioles. It is therefore a valuable herbal treatment for asthma and bronchitis. Tincture of lobelia is sometimes applied topically for the relief of concussive pain, earache, toothache, insect bites, sprains or sore muscles. Because of its nicotine-like properties, lobelia is sometimes used to relieve tobacco-withdrawal symptoms. Lobelia is a very potent herb and is often combined with other herbs to moderate its intense effect upon the body.
Because of the herb’s strength and possible toxicity, it is on the FDA’s restricted list. Large doses of the herb may produce intense nausea, sweating and vomiting. Extremely large doses may also induce a profound state of relaxation where a person does not want to move a single muscle. This later effect is extremely rare, however. There is no historical evidence to support the assertion that lobelia causes convulsions, respiratory failure or death. The herb has been safely and confidently employed by thousands of people on both newborn infants and the elderly for several hundred years.
Historical Uses: It isn’t necessary to take this valuable herb in large quantities to derive benefits from it. Smaller doses produce a general relaxing effect without the symptoms of nausea and digestive upset. In fact, some herbalists considered it a universal remedy for almost all diseases, a type of “cure-all.”
Lobelia’s most powerful action is that it relaxes all the muscles of the body, helping to relieve spasms, cramps, etc. Because of its ability to dilate the bronchioles and open respiratory passages it has been used to treat disorders of the lungs and throat such as bronchitis, whooping cough, laryngitis and asthma. Its early use also extended to include treatments for epilepsy and tetanus. Midwives have even administered lobelia as a muscle relaxant to counteract pelvic rigidity during childbirth. Lobelia also relieves the cramping of a spastic bowel. The tincture or extract can be applied topically for relieve of muscle cramps, stiffness and pain.
Here is a list of conditions lobelia has been used to treat: abscess, allergies, asthma, bites/stings, blood poisoning, bronchial asthma, bronchial spasms, bronchitis, bruises, canker sores, chicken pox, colds, colic, congestion, contagious diseases, convulsions, cough, cramps, croup, earache, epilepsy, food poisoning, swollen glands, headache, hepatitis, hiccups, hydrophobia, hyperactivity, insomnia, lead poisoning, lockjaw, mumps, paralysis, pneumonia, poison ivy/oak, seizures, spasms, sprains, swollen lymph glands, tetanus, toothache, ulcerations, whooping cough.
Lobelia is generally not taken on a daily basis, but is reserved for acute ailments where there are obstructions in the body. In capsule form, one or occasionally two capsules is a sufficient dosage for most such problems. The dosage may be repeated every one or two hours until relief is obtained. As an alternative, use the tincture or extract and take 1/4 teaspoon with water every 1/2 or so until relief is obtained. If nausea or vomiting occur, peppermint tea can be used to settle the stomach.
A Handbook of Native American Herbs by Alma R. Hutchens (Boston: Shambhala, 1992).
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes (Boulder, Colorado: Artemis Press, 1989).
The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia by Kathi Keville (New York: Mallard Press, 1991).
“Lobelia” by Dr. John R. Christopher, M.H. in Herbalist (Vol. 1 No. 2, 1976).
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore (Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press 1979).
Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen (Warsaw, Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1994).
Weiner’s Herbal by Michael A. Weiner, M.S., M.A., Ph.D., and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1990).
The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph.D. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Wild Rose College of Natural Healing Ltd., 1991).