Herbal Supplements
Lobelia Inflata As a Herbal Remedy

Biological Description

Lobelia inflata has a long history of usage. It has been used by the Penebscot Indians, it is successfully used today. The plant is famous as Indian Tobacco, or Pukeweed.

Lobelia inflata is an annual or biennial (replanted every year or two) herbaceous plant that belongs to the Bellflower (Campanulaceae) family. It grows to a height of 15–100 cm. Its erect stem covered with tiny hairs is angular, branching at the top, usually green with a tinge of violet. Lobelia pale green or yellowish leaves are usually about 8 cm long, and are ovate and toothed; they have a sharp taste and a slightly irritating odor. Its pale blue-purple flowers (pale violet-blue outside and pale yellow inside) usually appear in mid summer (July) and continue to bloom into fall (October).


Lobelia inflata is native to eastern North America, from southeastern Canada south through the eastern United States to Alabama and west to Kansas. But it is cultivated commercially as a medicinal plant in other different countries.

The plant prefers full sun or light shade, but can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade as well. Lobelia grows well in fields, roadsides, and open woods. It likes heavy clay slightly acid soils. But also prefers light (sandy) or medium (loamy) and neutral or basic (alkaline) soils.

The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant is self-fertile. Propagation is usually accomplished by cuttings or seed. Seeds are usually sown in containers in April or October; it takes them about 2 weeks to germinate.

Parts Used

For medical purposes the above-ground portions of the Lobelia are used. That is mainly leaves and seeds. The “above-part” of the plant is collected at the end of the flowering time, between August and September.


Lobelia is available on the market in different forms, such as in tinctures, capsules, liquid extracts, in form of herbal tea and as a dried herb.


Active components of the plant are piperidine alkaloids (mainly lobeline, also withlobelanidine and  lobelanine) and small amounts of norlobelanine, lovinine, lobinanidine and lelobanidine. Lobelia inflata has a long use as an entheogenic substance. Lobeline (that is present mainly in seeds) is the main ingredient which gives the plant its pyschoactive property. The products containing this component are very popular. Its taste is similar to real tobacco (acrid and burning) and it promotes the heavier flow of saliva. When smoked it yields a feeling that is confused with euphoric “high-like” feeling, when it actually produces a relaxant - like effect.

It is famous for its anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic and anti- asthmatic properties. Lobelia is also a nervine and expectorant. And is one of the most useful systemic relaxants available to us nowadays.

Health Benefits

Lobelia is recommended for number of conditions and ailments (usually in combination with other herbs):

  • For asthma (mainly bronchitic asthma) – is used externally in the form of ointments
  • For such respiratory problems as bronchitis, spasmodic asthma, whooping cough, spasmodic croup, membranous croup and even tonsillitis and pneumonia.

Lobeline is a powerful respiratory stimulant, whilst isolobelanine is an emetic and respiratory relaxant, which will stimulate catarrhal secretion and expectoration whilst thus relaxing the muscles of the respiratory system (the combination of stimulation and relaxation is really paradoxical)

  • In case of nausea and vomiting, trauma and hernias, spasmodic and membranous coup, pertussis and pleurisy, hepatitis, jaundice and hepatic congestion, high blood pressure, intestinal obstruction and neurasthenia – all these health benefits are available due to its above mentioned effect – “general systemic relaxant with diffusive stimulation” – used in diluted doses alone or in combination with other herbs
  • For muscle relaxation, as it has a general depressant action on the central and autonomic nervous system and on neuro-muscular action
  • It is effective in case of high degree of nerve tension with great restlessness and excitability, flushed face and contracted pupils
  • Lobelia is used for smoking cessation

Lobelia is also used as a natural bug repellent (when the plant is burned) to keep away insects such as mosquitoes.

The plant is usually combined with Grindelia, Cayenne, Pill-bearing Spurge, Ephedra, Sundew (for example, in case of respiratory problems) and other herbs. You professional herbalist will make the most suitable and safe combination for your condition. Lobelia has not been well studied in animals or people, but under supervision of qualified health care provider herbal treatment is safe.

Therapy is generally started with lower dosages and increase gradually.

For children: Adult dose should be adjusted to the child's weight (approximately 1/3 of the adult dosage for every 20 - 25 kg)

For adult:

Dried herb – take ¼ - ½ tsp herb in 250 mL of water (usually missed with other herbs) and steep 30 – 40 minuted. Take 60 mL4 times a day. This is used for infusion or decoction

Tincture - 0.6 - 2.0 mL (18 - 60 drops) daily

Vinegar tincture - (1:5 in dilute acetic acid): 1 - 4 mL (20 - 120 drops), 3 times daily

Liquid extract - (1:1 in 50 % alcohol): 0.2 - 0.6 mL (4 - 18 drops), 3 times daily

Do not take Lobelia if you have the following problems (or states):

  • high blood pressure,
  • heart disease,
  • tobacco sensitivity,
  • paralysis,
  • seizure disorder,
  • and shortness of breath,
  • those who are recovering from shock
  • pregnant and breast-feeding women

As Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb, do not exceed the doses (you should not exceed a total daily dosage of 20 mg lobelia; doses higher than 500 mg are highly toxic and could be fatal) and always ask your doctor or herbalist about appropriate dosage for you. It may also trigger side effects (such as profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; in high doses tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma, and even death) and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. So, herb should be taken with care, under the supervision of your health care provider.

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