Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is an annual herb that produces lovely blue flowers. Now mostly cultivated for decorative use in flower beds, lobelia was formerly used by Native Americans for respiratory ailments. One common name of lobelia is Indian tobacco. Though toxic in large or even moderate doses, smaller doses of lobelia can provide various medical benefits. Lobelia is available as a dried herb in capsules or teas and as liquid tinctures or extracts.
Lobelia contains lobeline, a stimulant related to nicotine. Lobeline serves as a bronchodilator, which can ease symptoms of asthma and bronchitis and relieve coughs.
Lobelia can relieve nasal or lung congestion and make breathing easier.
Lobelia is used homeopathically to treat muscle spasm and cramping. Homeopathic medicine uses very minute quantities of a substance in a liquid tincture or pill form. Lobelia has been used to treat spastic colon and muscle spasm associated with conditions and diseases such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
Because lobeline shares characteristics with nicotine, lobelia is often included in herbal antismoking aids. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993 found that smoking products that contained lobeline did not help people quit or decrease the amount they smoked, and prohibited their sale.
While lobelia in higher doses can induce vomiting, it is used homeopathically to prevent nausea and vomiting.