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Lobelia cardinalis is an herbaceous perennial wildflower in the campanulaceae or bellflower family. Commonly known as the cardinal flower due to the bright red hue of its striking blooms, lobelia cardinalis is native to the eastern United States. It grows in marshy areas and is an excellent flower to plant in any wet spot in the yard that remains constantly moist. This hardy plant can thrive in shade or partial sun.
At maturity, lobelia cardinalis can reach a height between 2 and 5 feet (0.6 and 1.5 meters). A series of flowers bloom along a spike 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) long. Each flower is composed of five petals that form a tube with an opening at the end. This narrow passage inside each flower is difficult for the usual pollinating insects to negotiate, but the bright color attracts the hummingbirds needed for pollination. The flowering spikes grow at the end of erect, purple stems, and shiny green leaves shaped like lances grow at the base of the plant.
Lobelia cardinalis is generally easy to propagate with seeds, cuttings, or root division. Since this is a bog plant that requires constant moisture, mulching is recommended unless it is planted in a permanently swampy area. Lobelia cardinalis should be spaced 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 centimeters) apart to allow each plant room to display its spectacular blossoms.
Some consider it one of the best natural treatments for bronchial spasms since smoking the leaves and flowers at the first sign of bronchial spasms relaxes the muscles and eases the spasms. A tea made of boiled leaves is also used to treat colds and other bronchial disorders. Lobelia cardinalis was used medicinally by some Native American tribes to treat a number of afflictions. The Cherokee, Iroquois, and Delaware tribes traditionally used lobelia cardinalis to treat a variety of afflictions, and some people still use this herb medicinally today.
An extract made from the crushed leaves, roots, stems, and flowers has been used to ease cramps. Lobelia cardinalis has also been used as a cathartic to purge the body of food that has upset the system. Native Americans boiled the root and added it to an herbal concoction to heal cold sores. They also added it to other herbal mixtures to increase their potency, and the Delaware tribe used it to ease the symptoms of typhoid. Every part of the plant is considered potentially toxic, however, and it should never be ingested without the guidance of a certified herbalist, naturopath, or other health provider trained in the medicinal use of herbs.