Lobelia inflata-Lobelia

Family: Campanulaceae

Other names: Pukeweed, Indian tobacco, Bladderpod, Wild Tobacco, Emetic Herb, Emetic Weed, Asthma Weed, Rag Root, Vomit Wort,Dortmannia inflata,Lobelia michauxii, Rapuntium inflatum, Rapuntium michauxii

Habitat: Eastern USA, cultivated elsewhere.

Some reports say that the plant is poisonous, whilst another says that toxicity has not been established. It contains the hazardsmallalkaloid lobeline which has a similar effect upon the nervous system as nicotine. See also the notes below on medicinal uses. Do not use during pregnancy and lactation. Excessive use discouraged. Avoid if high blood pressure, tendency to fits and heart disease.

Lobelia was a traditional North American Indian medicinal herb used for a wide range of conditions. Nowadays it is used mainly as a powerful antispasmodic herb in the treatment of respiratory and muscle disorders. Acting also as a respiratory stimulant, Lobelia is a valuable remedy for conditions such as bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis. The dried flowering herb and the seed are antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and nervine. The plant is taken internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough and pleurisy. This remedy should be used with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Excess doses cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and respiratory failure. See also the notes above on toxicity. The plant contains the alkaline ‘lobeline’ which has proved to be of value in helping people to give up smoking tobacco. It is contained in many proprietary anti-smoking mixtures where it mimics the effects of nicotine. The alkaloids present in the leaves are used to stimulate the removal of phlegm from the respiratory tract. When chewed, the leaves induce vomiting, headache and nausea – in larger doses it has caused death. The alkaloids first act as a stimulant and then as a depressive to the autonomic nervous system and in high doses paralyses muscular action in the same way as curare. Externally, the plant is used in treating pleurisy, rheumatism, tennis elbow, whiplash injuries, boils and ulcers

By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Description of Lobelia:

Lobelia inflata; Lobelia is a ANNUAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in). It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs)The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Cultivation of Lobelia:

Succeeds in full sun or light shade. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a slightly acid soil. Plants are usually annual, but are sometimes biennial. This species is occasionally cultivated commercially as a medicinal plant

Propagation of Lobelia:

Seed – sow spring or autumn in situ. The seed usually germinates within 2 weeks.

Collection: The entire plant above ground should be collected at the end of the flowering time, between August and September. The seed pods should be collected as well. The whole plant is harvested when the lower fruits are ripe and it is used fresh or dried.

Culinary uses of Lobelia:

None known

Lobelia,Lobelia_InflataMedicinal uses of Lobelia:

Actions: Anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, emetic, nervine.

Part used: Aerial parts.

Indications: Lobelia is one of the most useful systemic relaxants available to us. It has a general depressant action on the central and autonomic nervous system and on neuro-muscular action. It may be used in many conditions in combination with other herbs to further their effectiveness if relaxation is needed. Its primary specific use is in bronchitic asthma and bronchitis. An analysis of the action of the alkaloids present reveal apparently paradoxical effects. Lobeline is a powerful respiratory stimulant, whilst isolobelanine is an emetic and respiratory relaxant, which will stimulate catarrhal secretion and expectoration whilst relaxing the muscles of the respiratory system. The overall action is a truly holistic combination of stimulation and relaxation!

Priest & Priest tell us that it is a “general systemic relaxant with diffusive stimulation – best where arterial action is strong. Equalizes circulation and relieves vascular tension. Vaso-motor stimulant -increases the activity of vegetative processes. Influences glandular system and respiratory tubuli. Contra-indicated in nervous prostration, shock and paralysis. Of brief continuance in asthenic conditions.” They give the following specific indications: Dislocationstrauma and herniasSpasmodic and membranous couppertussisbronchial asthmabronchitis and pleurisy.Hepatitisjaundicenausea and hepatic congestionHigh blood pressure,intestinal obstruction and neurasthenia.

Ellingwood considered it specific for “irritable, spasmodic and oppressed breathing, and in respiratory from exalted nerve force and nerve irritation. It is contra-indicated in general relaxation and in dyspnoea from enlarged or fatty heart, or from hydropericardium, or enfeebled heart, with valvular incompetence. It is specific in threatened spasm with exalted nerve action – a high degree of nerve tension with great restlessness and excitability, flushed face and contracted pupils. It is a prompt emetic in full doses.” The high regard that the eclectics held Lobelia in is reflected by his recommendation for the following pathologies: spasmodic asthmawhooping coughspasmodic croupmembranous croupinfantile convulsionspuerperal eclampsiaepilepsytetanushysterical paroxysmshysterical convulsions,rigid os uteridiptheriatonsillitispneumonia.

For a more detailed discussion of this important plant please refer to pg. 235- pg. 242 of Ellingwood’s American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, and pg. 1199 – 1205 of King’s American Dispensatory.

Preparation and dosage: 

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonful of the dried leaves and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 1/2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Combinations: It will combine well with Cayenne, Grindelia, Pill-bearing Spurge, Sundew and Ephedra in the treatment of asthma.

Other uses of Lobelia:
my lobelia fairy
Esoteric uses of Lobelia:

Used for attracting love and preventing storms.

The Chemistry:


  • Piperidine alkaloids, mainly lobeline, with lobelanidine, lobelanine, and minor amounts of norlobelanine(=isolobelanine), lelobanidine, lovinine, isolobinine, lobinanidine and others
  • Chelidonic acid