Lobelia inflata

This native of the eastern United States has dozens of uses.

Licorice is more than just an ingredient in licorice sticks!

Lobelia is a herb named after the botanist Matthias de Lobel, a native of Lille, who died in London in 1616. Several species are cultivated in English gardens for the beauty of their flowers, in every shade of scarlet, purple, and blue.

The odor is unpleasant, and the taste, after chewing, is much like that of tobacco, burning and acrid, causing a flow of saliva.

LobeliaLobelia is also known as “Indian tobacco”. It is now a popular tool for helping to deter smokers who want to quit, when taken in very small doses. This is due to an active ingredient in the lobelia plant, lobeline, which is similar to nicotine in its effect on the body. Like nicotine, it stimulates nerves in the central nervous system.

Lobelia as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

Lobelia has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cough. Native Americans historically have smoked lobelia as a treatment for asthma.

Folk practitioners believed lobelia was effective for bronchitis, asthma, diphtheria, epilepsy, tetanus, treatment of boils, and other ailments (Weiner and Weiner 1994). It works as a strong antispasmodic. The plant does have a stimulating effect on the respiratory system (Fleming 2000). Lobelia also serves as an emetic (Tyler 1985). Lobelia works as a muscle relaxant and midwives have used it to help the birthing mother to relax (Weiner and Weiner 1994).

In the 19th century, American physicians prescribed lobelia to induce vomiting in order remove toxins from the body. Because of this, it earned the name “puke weed.” (Gross, isn’t it…)

The following are recommended adult doses:

  • Dried herb (infusion or decoction): 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon herb in 8 ounces of water, preferably mixed with other herbs. Steep 30 to 40 minutes and take 2 ounces (60 mL), 4 times daily. (This method is not preferred because of lobelia’s acrid taste.)
  • Lobelia extract supplement (1:1 in 50 % alcohol): 0.2 to 0.6 mL (4 to 18 drops), 3 times daily
  • Tincture of lobelia: 0.6 to 2.0 mL (18 to 60 drops) daily
  • Vinegar tincture of lobelia (1:5 in dilute acetic acid): 1 to 4 mL (20 to 120 drops), 3 times daily

Culinary Uses of Lobelia

Should not be ingested.


The FDA has labeled this herb as unsafe in all but very small doses. Moderate to large doses can cause serious adverse effects ranging from dry mouth and nausea to convulsions and even coma. Today, lobelia is in banned in the United States as a treatment because of the toxicity in high doses.

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