Monday, July 29, 2013


Lobelia-Lobelia Inflata

Also known as:  indian tobacco, puke weed, wild tobacco, asthma weed, gag root, vomitwort, eyebright, bladderpod, etc.

Parts used:  aerial parts (stems, leaves, flowers and seeds with the latter being much stronger than the others)

Meridians/Organs affected:  respiratory, liver, circulatory, nervous and digestive

Properties:  antispasmodic, relaxant (in large doses), emetic, stimulant (in small doses), antivenomous, emmenogogue, nervine, expectorant, astringent, diuretic, counter-irritant, diaphoretic, cathartic, bitter

This herb is one in which there is much controversy.  It is a member of the Bellflower family.  There are roughly between 360-400 species of lobelia also known as indian tobacco.  This is where it is vital to know the Latin terminology.  It is an annual with downy, oval-toothed leaves about 2-3 inches long and often followed with small stomach-looking like seed pods.  It grows in open fields, woods and near water.  It is native to North America (mostly the eastern and middle parts of the continental united states).  It is at its most potent between July and September between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.  In this case the most widely accepted and used form of lobelia is lobelia inflata.

Lobelia had long been used by the Native Americans as a tobacco substitute before being adopted by herbalists in the late 1700's.  The first to really experiment with the herb was Samuel Thomson.  He came across the herb at a rather young age (4 years old) and tried a seed pod.  It cause him to have such a reaction that he never forgot it.  He didn't realize the healing propensity of the plant at that time but would often get other boys to chew it as a joke and watch them vomit afterwards.  One day while he was mowing in the field with a number of other men, he cut a sprig of lobelia and offered it to the man next to him.  The man began to perspire profusely and could not even make it to the well to drink before collapsing and vomiting violently.  He was helped to a nearby home where he rested for 2 hours and then consumed a hearty meal and went back out to work and completed a half days work, exclaiming he never felt better in his life.  Thomson used it many times after that and considered it to be his number one herb.  In 1809 he was prosecuted for prescribing a fatal dose of lobelia of which he was never convicted.  The allopathic physicians of the time had lost so much business to Thomson and after he was brought to trial and not convicted they decided to pass a law that in order to practice medicine one must have a license.  Since that time lobelia has been a source of much controversy.  Dr. Christopher considered it to be one of the greatest herbs given to man.  He also used it a great deal in his own practice.  In fact, most herbalists since Thomson's time have used lobelia to great effect with no harm done while allopathic medicine to this day considers it to be a poison.

Lobelia is what is known as a 'thinking' herb or rather a 'selective' herb.  When it enters the system it knows where to go and what needs to be done.  For instance, if a pregnant woman is having problems with her unborn baby and it has died or is weak, lobelia will cause the fetus to abort.  However, if the fetus is healthy and the mother is very sick, lobelia will cause the mother to be strengthened and nourished so she can deliver the baby properly without ever harming the baby.  Despite the controversy surrounding this herb, the native americans have used it for eons for a number of things aside from a tobacco substitute.  (As a side note, lobelia has been used for stop smoking workshops as it has some nicotine like properties without the addictive effects).  Dr. Christopher said lobelia tincture was very helpful for blood poisoning, earaches, convulsing babies and over-used muscles.  He gave an example of a man who was brought to him with chronic asthma.  He had not been able to sleep in his own bed for over twenty years as he couldn't lie down.  He slept sitting up in a chair.  He also had not been able to hold down a job due to his condition.  Dr. Christopher started by giving him some peppermint tea after which he began administering lobelia in teaspoon increments every 10 minutes.  The gentleman began to throw up phlegm to the point he filled an entire cup with it.  After that point his sons took him home.  Two days later he told his sons he felt well enough to lie down and went to his own bed and slept through the night.  He also went out and got a job as a gardener.  What an amazing recovery after 20 years condemned to sitting up and not being able to work!

Lobelia has been used across the board for any number of ailments including asthma, epilepsy, angina pectoris, colds, fevers, smallpox, scarlet fever, muscle spasms, pain, laryngitis, bronchitis, sore throat, colic, bruises, sprains, boils, tumors, cancers, insect bites, fainting, lockjaw, meningitis, poison ivy, ringworm, whooping cough, etc.  The best method of use is as a tincture made with vinegar.  Dried lobelia should also not be stored in anything paper-like as the volatile oils are lost on the paper.

Lobelia is named after a Flemish botanist, Matthias de L'Obel and was listed as a drug in the National Formulary until 1960.  (Clearly they knew how powerful an herb it was but didn't want people using it).  It also appears that all forms of lobelia (including the ornamental types) are medicinal in nature sharing some of the medicinal components of Lobelia inflata.  However, lobelia inflata is still to this day the preferred variety for medicinal purposes.  Lobelia is also best tinctured as a fresh herb as it is believed that it loses a lot of its medicinal potentcy when dried.  A stimulating herb should also always precede lobelia when being used internally as it helps lobelia to work its best.  (Generally cayenne or peppermint are most often used in that capacity with lobelia).  The first signs of overdose are profuse sweating, vomiting, hypotension, tachycardia, hypothermia, paralysis, stupor, convulsions and respiratory depression.  (This is believed to happen when between 2-4 grams of the herb are taken).  Given as lobelia is an emetic one should stop taking it at the first signs of nausea.  It is not an herb for self medicating if you are not used to using it. 

Ornamental Lobelia

This herb deserves a spot in a first aid kit, but know how to use it.  In this case, less is always more.  As with my usual posts please find some links to items involving lobelia below.  Be wise and be informed.

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