Consider some of the many nicknames the flowering herb Lobelia inflata has inspired over the years. Indian tobacco, gagroot, vomit wort and asthma weed lead the colorful list, hinting at the many ailments the plant has treated for perhaps thousands of years. Although the Mayo Clinic refuses to endorse the use of lobelia extract or tincture for any medical purpose, including its common inclusion in holistic smoking cessation programs, both traditional medicine and promising clinical studies suggest intriguing benefits.
Treatment of Lung Ailments
Two of lobelia's roles, antispasmodic and expectorant, seem almost contradictory. After all, one relaxes the body, while the other stimulates it. But this dual action makes lobelia extract an ideal all-in-one treatment for various respiratory ailments, including asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, coughs and colds. As an antispasmodic, lobelia extract helps the lungs relax, inhibiting the cough reflex. At the same time, the liquid acts as an expectorant, encourages the productive release of mucus. Small wonder that Native Americans smoked the plant to treat their lung ailments; the term "Indian tobacco" refers not to its use as a recreational drug, but as a healing herb.
Smoking Cessation Aid
Lobelia extract contains alkaloids that fool the body into thinking it is ingesting nicotine. According to herbalist Paul R. Saunders, "[L]obelia contains the active ingredient lobeline, which is almost identical to nicotine and has similar effects on the nervous system. However, because the dose is a fraction of that in tobacco, it satisfies the craving with none of the toxic side effects that cigarettes have on the body." This quality, along with its capacity to treat respiratory illnesses associated with smoking, makes lobelia uniquely suited as an herbal antismoking tool.
Just as lobelia's antispasmodic properties work internally to help aid lung function, they can be used topically to relax tight and aching muscles. About 10 drops of the extract can be combined with a tablespoon of carrier oil and rubbed directly onto the aching muscle. Some healers also suggest using it for soreness associated with jaw pain along the temporomandibular joints, commonly referred to as TMJ. Apply five drops of the extract should directly onto the sore points.
Possible Tool in "Meth" Rehab
The same compound, lobeline, that helps with nicotine addiction may also inhibit the production of the brain chemical dopamine. According to Alternative Medicine Encyclopedia, this blocking action helps ease addiction to methamphetamine, which hooks users by releasing the pleasure-enhancing dopamine. While no serious clinical research has been conducted into lobelia's use as a holistic approach to meth addiction, initial reports look promising. In fact, lab rats decreased their desire for methamphetamine when treated with lobelia extract. These modern studies may explain the use of lobelia as a folk treatment for alcoholism.
Used cautiously, lobelia extract can combat food poisoning by inducing vomiting. In fact, U.S. doctors routinely prescribed the herb in the 1800s as an all-purpose internal cleanser. Ironically, the same qualities that lead some herbalists to consider lobelia extract a useful "emetic" (something which helps purge the body of toxins), the Mayo Clinic considers toxic in itself. Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, seizures and low blood pressure can result from taking too much of an emetic extract, such as lobelia. These distinctions should be explored with a fully-qualified holistic healer, especially with the current interest in all manner of cleansing herbs and vitamins.