Lobelia (officially lobelia inflata), alias Indian tobacco, was a common herb prescribed by early North American doctors. Its main use was in healing respiratory ailments, such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and coughs. The plant stem, which has only a few branches, is smooth above while the lower part is rough and hairy. The lower leaves, which are about two inches in length, have stalks, while the upper, smaller ones do not. The pale green or yellowish leaves have a sharp taste and a slightly irritating odor. The sparse flowers are pale violet-blue outside and pale yellow inside.
Lobelia consists of various alkaloids, a bitter glycoside (lobelacrin), a pungent volatile oil (lobelianin), resin, gum, chelidonic acid and fats. The alkaloid lobeline is its main ingredient and namesake. Others include lobelidine, lobelanine, nor-lobelaine, lobelanidine, nor-lobelanidine, and isolobenine, as well as fourteen pyridine alkaloids.
Lobeline works much like nicotine in its effect on the central nervous system but without the addictive properties. In fact, it is a main ingredient of many quit smoking treatments. Lobeline acts as a relaxant overall and is used to treat spastic colon and muscle problems. It also dilates the bronchioles, thereby increasing respiration and helping the lungs.
Lobelia’s main use is in treating respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia. It stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, which causes the airways to relax. Lobelia is a strong relaxant and clears obstructions. It relaxes the stomach (a common problem in asthmatic children) as it dilates the bronchial passages. In fact, many people have used it to stop asthma attacks in place of inhalants.
Other practical ways to use lobelia’s qualities include these. Rub lobelia tincture or extract on the shoulders of a restless child; this is an excellent way to help him go to sleep. Rub the extract on the gums of a teething baby. Take it internally to expel mucus, remove congestion from the stomach, and to encourage the flow of oxygenized blood. A poultice can be applied for ringworm, bruises, and insect bites. Catnip and lobelia enemas are good for treating mumps in males. As a sedative it is said to rank somewhere between veratrum and aconite.
Use lobelia to treat laryngitis in children and for barking coughs. Ellingwood recommended lobelia for the following pathologies: “spasmodic asthma, spasmodic croup, membranous croup, infantile convulsions, whooping cough, puerperal eclampsia, epilepsy, tetanus, hysterical paraxysms, diphtheria, hysterical convulsions, tonsillitis, pneumonia,” among others.
Lobelia is available for internal use as a dried herb, in a liquid extract form, and as tinctures. Externally, it is available in ointments, lotions, suppositories, and plasters. You can make a tea by mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the dried herb with eight ounces of water. Then let it steep for 30 to 40 minutes. Take two ounces of this four times a day but, be warned, many think it tastes awful! Take.6 to 2 ml of the tincture each day. This is based on a 150 pound adult. Adjust dosage for children proportionately.
Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb. Special care is advised when using it. Signs of lobelia poisoning may include weakness, heartburn, weak pulse, difficulty breathing, and collapse. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, and seizure disorder should not take lobelia. Lobelia is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Lobelia can be an aggressive emetic, even in relatively small doses if the system is highly toxic. The resulting nausea and vomiting, though unpleasant, will be beneficial to the patient.