What is Lobelia?
Lobelia, which is also known by its scientific name Lobelia Inflata, is a biennial or annual herb found predominantly in the southeast of Canada as well as the eastern part of the US.
It is mainly used to treat respiratory problems like asthma, congestion and whooping cough but has also been used to help people suffering from nicotine withdrawal to quit smoking more easily.
Some of the many other names by which lobelia is called give you a few clues about the way it has been used. It is variously referred to as asthma weed, wild tobacco and the charmingly named vomit wort, gagroot and pukeweed.
Samuel Thomson, the esteemed 18th century herbalist regarded lobelia as one of his favorite herbs. When he first came across it and chewed it, he immediately gaged and vomited and then distributed it to friends as a vomiting aid.
It was not until one of his colleagues told him that he felt much better after taking the herb and throwing up that Thomson started to think of lobelia as a medicinal herb.
How Lobelia Works
Lobelia derves its medical benefits mostly because of the presence of an alkaloid called lobeline. Lobeline has several medicinal properties including anti-spasmodic, expectorant and bronchodilator actions.
Because of these properties, lobelia is primarily used to treat respiratory conditions like asthma and various types of congestion. It is especially good at breaking down and clearing mucus from the system and opening the airways to encourage healthier, easier breathing.
Despite being a natural emetic which famously induces vomiting, you should not need to take lobelia in the kind of doses that would have that effect in order to gain from its beneficial effects.
Lobelia Benefits and Medical Uses
Asthma and Respiration
Lobelia can help to relax the muscles in the lungs and also acts as a bronchodilator making it an excellent natural treatment for conditions like asthma, bronchitis and even whooping cough.
Lobelia also has expectorant properties meaning that it can help break down the build-up of mucus that causes congestion. Lobelia is said to work by stimulating the release of ephedrine by the adrenal glands which in turn frees up the airways making breathing more comfortable.
Lobelia is found as an ingredient in many cold remedies that you can buy over the counter as well as pharmaceutical treatments for coughs caused by laryngitis and bronchitis.
For asthma, some experts recommend using the tincture to help ease an asthma attack by taking between 10 and 20 drops every few minutes until the attack has abated.
For young children, lobelia extract can be safely rubbed into their backs or chest to provide respiratory relief and help treat coughing.
Smoking and Nicotine Withdrawal
The vast majority of smokers will be aware of just how difficult it is to quit the habit. However much you want to give up the smokes, it is so much easier said than done. Nearly everybody who tries to quit will need some help whether that be nicotine replacement therapy or electric cigarettes.
Many people would prefer to go cold turkey than replace one habit with another and lobelia is a natural option that has proved successful.
Lobelia works because it has a chemical structure which is similar to that of nicotine and can be used in a variety of ways. Smokers can take lobelia extracts several times a day to reduce their cravings or take a few drops of liquid extract whenever they feel the urge to light up. Lobelia may also help smokers quit by making them feel nauseous if they actually light ip and smoke.
As an additional bonus, the respiratory improvements that lobelia offers can help smokers overcome some of the effects of smoking and help their lungs to recover faster.
While the herb is best-known for its ability to heal respiratory complaints, it can also be topically applied to treat pain.
I am mostly relying on anecdotal evidence but I have seen numerous testimonials which suggest lobelia can be warmed and used to ease earache or combined with capsicum or peppermint essential oil to ease cramps and muscle pain.
When combined with peppermint oil or another healing muscle rub, it can help ease pain from arthritis, and sore muscles while it can also be used on bug bites or stings.
As a Natural Emetic
It does not sound especially nice but there may be occasion when you want to induce vomiting. This could be desirable if you have been poisoned by food or another form of toxin and want to expel the toxins as quickly as possible. In order to induce vomiting, you would need to take lobelia at a far higher dose than normal.
How to use Lobelia
Lobelia is available in a variety of forms including pills, capsules, acid tinctures and fluid extracts.
Tinctures are considered to be the most effective and safest method of administering lobelia and are especially useful in treating asthma, croup and other respiratory conditions.
A tincture made from the seeds is more potent than tinctures made from leaves.
Lobelia tinctures can also be applied topically to the back and chest to ease congestion and combined with essential oil to produce a massage rub for muscular pain.
Lobelia is not usually taken as a daily supplement but is more typically used as and when necessary for congestion and other respiratory ailments. The only people who might use it regularly are asthmatics and people trying to quit smoking.
Please note that these are only guidelines and it is important that you talk to an expert before deciding which dose is correct for you.
For respiratory conditions the dose I have seen recommended most is one capsule every few hours until your condition has improved. Tinctures are considered more effective for asthma and the recommended dose for adults is between 10 and 20 drops every few minutes until the attack has passed.
You can also buy the dried extract and make a tea from the herb by following a few simple instructions.
Lobelia Herb Tea
Because heat will destroy many of the beneficial therapeutic properties of the plant, it is better to make a tea as an infusion than a decoction. Lobelia tea is not a very popular method of intake because it has a very acrid taste, however if you can stomach it there is plenty to be gained.
- Pour one cup of boiled water over 1/2 teaspoon or so of dried lobelia leaves.
- Allow the infusion to steep for at least 15 minutes then strain.
- Add a teaspoon of honey or stevia to taste.
- Drink a cup 3 times a day whenever you have a respiratory problem.
Lobelia Side effects
It is important to point out that there are concerns about the potential toxic effect of lobelia. Lobelia is a very potent herb that can induce vomiting in very large doses. Do not exceed the dose recommended by a knowledgeable provider as potential side effect that have been listed include:
- Mental confusion
Pregnant women should avoid taking lobelia as there is not sufficient evidence to assure that it is safe for the unborn child.
People with heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension and shortness of breath should also avoid taking lobelia.