Herbs & Plants

Lobelia inflata

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Botanical Name : Lobelia inflata
Family: Campanulaceae
Subfamily: Lobelioideae
Genus:     Lobelia
Species: L. inflata
Kingdom: Plantae
Order:     Asterales

Synonyms: Rapuntium inflatum. Indian-Tobacco. Pukeweed. Asthma Weed. Gagroot. Vomitwort. Bladderpod. Eyebright.

Common Names : Indian tobacco, Puke weed

Habitat:Lobelia inflata  occurs on dry places in the northern United States, Canada and Kamchatka. Grown in English gardens

Lobelia inflata is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant growing to 15–100 centimetres (5.9–39.4 in) tall, with stems covered in tiny hairs. Its leaves are usually about 8 centimetres (3.1 in) long, and are ovate and toothed. It has violet flowers that are tinted yellow on the inside, and usually appear in mid-summer and continue to bloom into fall. The odour is irritating, the taste, after chewing, very like that of tobacco, burning and acrid, causing a flow of saliva. The powder has a greenish colour, but that of the seeds is brown, and stains paper with grease.


Lobelia inflata has a long use as an entheogenic and emetic substance. The plant was widely used by the Penobscots and was widely used in the New England even before the time of Samuel Thomson, who was credited as discovering it. Indian Tobacco, also known as “pukeweed”, is still used today. It can be used fresh, or dry.
Succeeds in full sun or light shade. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a slightly acid soil. Plants are usually annual, but are sometimes biennial. This species is occasionally cultivated commercially as a medicinal plant.

Propagation : Propagation is usually accomplished by cuttings or seed. Seeds are sown in containers in mid spring or mid fall. The seeds take about 2 weeks to germinate.

Medicinal Uses:

Parts Used: The dried flowering herb, and seeds.

Constituents: The activity of Lobelia inflata is dependent upon a liquid alkaloid first isolated by Proctor in 1838 and named Lobeline. Pereira found a peculiar acid which he named Lobelic acid. Also, gum, resin, chlorophyl, fixed oil, lignin, salts of lime and potassium, with ferric oxide. Lobelacrine, formerly considered to be the acrid principle, is probably lobelate of lobeline. The seeds contain a much higher percentage of lobeline than the rest of the plant.


Lobelia was a traditional Native American remedy and its use was later championed by the American herbalist Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), who made the herb the mainstay of his therapeutic system.  He mainly used it to induce vomiting.  It was promoted by Jethro Kloss and later by Dr. John Christopher.   A powerful antispasmodic and respiratory stimulant, lobelia is valuable for asthma, especially bronchial asthma, and chronic bronchitis.  It relaxes the muscles of the smaller bronchial tubes, thus opening the airways, stimulating breathing, and promoting the coughing up of phlegm.  In the Western tradition, lobelia has always been combined with cayenne, its hot stimulant action helping to push blood into areas that lobelia has relaxed.  Lobelia is often most effective when the infusion or diluted tincture is applied externally.  It relaxes muscles, particularly smooth muscle, which makes it useful for sprains, and back problems where muscle tension is a key factor.  Combined with cayenne, lobelia has been used as a chest and sinus rub.  Due to its chemical similarity to nicotine, lobelia is employed by herbalists to help patients give up smoking.  Lobeline sulphate has been part of commercial over-the-counter antismoking lozenges.  It seems to replace physical addiction to nicotine without its addictive effects.    The Native Americans smoked it like tobacco for respiratory problems and it gained the name Indian tobacco.  Both drinking the tea and smoking lobelia, usually with other herbs to modify its intense reaction, have been employed to treat asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Plasters and liniments for sprains, muscle spasms, and insect bites and poultices for breast cancer sometimes contain lobelia.

Expectorant, diaphoretic, anti-asthmatic. It should not be employed as an emetic. (Herbalists, who use lobelia far more than the ordinary practitioners, nearly always prescribe it in doses large enough to prove emetic, and regard it as of greater value thus used. – EDITOR.) Some authorities attach great value to it as an expectorant in bronchitis, others as a valuable counterirritant when combined with other ingredients in ointment form. It is sometimes given in convulsive and inflammatory disorders such as epilepsy, tetanus, diphtheria and tonsilitis. There is also difference of opinion with regard to its narcotic properties. Where relaxation of the system is required, as, for instance, to subdue spasm, Lobelia is invaluable. Relaxation can be counteracted by the stimulating and tonic infusion of capsicum. It may be used as an enema.

Externally, an infusion has been found useful in ophthalmia, and the tincture can be used as a local application for sprains, bruises, or skin diseases, alone, or in powder combined with an equal part of slippery elm bark and weak lye-water in a poultice. The oil of Lobelia is valuable in tetanus. One drop of oil triturated with one scruple of sugar, and divided into from 6 to 12 doses, is useful as an expectorant, nauseant, sedative, and diaphoretic, when given every one or two hours.

Other Uses:
It is also said that plant material is burned as a natural bug repellent to keep away insects such as mosquitoes. The plant has been burnt in order to smoke out gnats.

It contains lobeline.

Known Hazards :  Some reports say that the plant is poisonous, whilst another says that toxicity has not been established. It contains the alkaloid lobeline which has a similar effect upon the nervous system as nicotine. See also the notes below on medicinal uses. Do not use during pregnancy and lactation. Excessive use discouraged. Avoid if high blood pressure, tendency to fits and heart disease.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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