What is Lobelia?

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  • Written By: C. Ausbrooks
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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Lobelia is a flowering plant found growing around the world in warm temperate to tropical climates. There are approximately 400 different known species of the plant, with a few extending into cooler regions. Other names for the herb include wild tobacco, Indian tobacco, poke weed, pukeweed, asthma weed, gag weed, vomitwort, emetic weed, cardinal flower, red lobelia, and blue lobelia.

Many species of lobelia are cultivated as ornamental garden plants. The plant is also prominently used in natural and herbal medicine. Native Americans used the herb to treat respiratory and muscle complaints. It has also been used traditionally as a purgative. Its modern uses include treatment of asthma and food poisoning, and as a stop smoking aid. Lobelia is a relaxant and nerve depressant, which can ease tension and anxiety.

The plant was popularized as a medicinal herb in North America by Samuel Thomson in the early 19th century. Thomson founded an alternative form of medicine known as Thomasonianism, which introduced many herbs previously unknown in America, including lobelia and goldenseal. Today, the herb is generally available as a vinegar tincture, with a typical dosage of 20-60 drops per day, depending on the condition being treated.


It is a beneficial plant for the entire body, and contains many essential nutrients. Selenium, sulfur, alkaloids, iron oxide, and potassium are all present in lobelia. Its cough suppressing and relaxant properties make it useful in the treatment of asthma and for removing thick, ropey phlegm.

Modern research indicates that lobelia contains natural alkaloids known as lobelides, which have shown positive effects in treating drug-resistant cancer cells. Some species are believed to cure syphilis, although scientific research has not been conducted to prove or disprove this claim. One particular species, L. chinensis, is considered one of the fifty fundamental herbs of traditional Chinese medicine.

There are many home remedies utilizing lobelia, and the most common is cough syrup. A homemade cough syrup can be created by combining tea made from lobelia and other cough suppressing herbs, such as mullein and wild cherry bark, with honey. Lobelia is almost never used alone as a treatment for any condition, due to its strength, and must be combined with other herbs.

Lobelia is very similar to nicotine and should not be used internally by children, pregnant women, or sufferers of heart disease. It should not be taken by anyone in large amounts or for long periods of time. Taking more than 50mg per day can lead to suppressed breathing, decreased blood pressure, or even coma. The herb should only be administered by a medical professional, qualified in herbal or natural medicine.


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