Lobelia Plant History


Lobelia is also known as cardinal flower. There are two types: one with beautiful red flowers, and the other blue to purple. Both varieties are enjoyed by hummingbirds. Lobelia originally was a wild flower that grew in meadows, woodlands, marshes and near streams, but it grew in popularity and was included in home gardens.


Lobelia, depending on the type, can grow from 1 to 6 feet tall. The leaves are oval, about 5 inches long, and are smooth with a pointed tip. The edges of the leaves are toothed and can be mildly hairy. Flowers have five petals situated in lobes. They bloom on spikes that can top 7 feet above the leaves.


Lobelia is native the United States and Canada. Native Americans used the plant for medicine. Early settlers found it so beautiful they transplanted it to their gardens and set it back to England and France in the 1600's.


There are several legends connected to lobelia. One is that the red variety got its name because it was the same color as the red robes worn by Catholic cardinals. Several legends have to do with love. It was said that if an elderly woman touched the plant she would find love. The Native Americans used the flowers as a love charm.

Uses as Medicine

Lobelia was used by the Cherokee people to cure many illnesses. They placed a poultice made from the leaves on the head for headaches. A tincture was made to aid in digestion or to rid the body of worms and other parasites. American settlers used it for colds and fever, and the ground leaves were sniffed up the nose to stop nosebleeds.

Other Uses

It has been found that Lobelia inflata was often used by the Native Americans as a substance to smoke. That is why another name is Indian or wild tobacco. The effects on the nervous system by smoking the plant are similar to those of nicotine and it has been used to treat smoking addictions. The effect is a calming sensation. It should be noted that lobelia should not be smoked unless under a practitioner's care as it can cause illness and death if taken improperly

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About this Author

Deborah Harding has been writing for nine years. Beginning with cooking and gardening magazines, Harding then produced a gardening and cooking newsletter and website called Prymethyme Herbs in 1998. Published books include "Kidstuff" and "Green Guide to Herb Gardening." She has a Bachelor of Music from Youngstown State University and sings professionally.