Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is a flowering plant popularly used in rock gardens. But its value goes beyond the aesthetic. The above-ground portions of the plant, specifically the leaves and seeds, have a long history of medicinal use. Modern practitioners of mainstream medicine and homeopathy continue prescribing it for a variety of ailments today, preparing it in liquid extracts, in tinctures and dried for use in capsules and in teas.
To Aid in Quitting Tobacco
One of lobelia's alternate names is "Indian tobacco." This is because the active ingredient, lobeline, acts similar to nicotine in that it stimulates the central nervous system. It was at one time a popular nicotine substitute in anti-smoking products; however, the FDA prohibited selling such lobeline-containing products in 1993 on the basis that it did not effectively help people quit or reduce smoking. However, you will still hear lobelia called "smoker's tea" and lobelia tinctures recommended to sooth cigarette cravings.
As a Purging Emetic
Another alternate name, "puke weed," comes from a 19th-century tendency to prescribe lobelia to induce vomiting to remove toxins from the system. Today, experts recommend against using lobelia as an emetic, as it requires a high enough dose of lobelia to be potentially dangerous.
Native Americans have historically smoked lobelia to treat asthma. This use has survived to modern times, as some herbalists continue using the herb as part of comprehensive asthma treatment plans.
As an Expectorant
Practitioners today consider lobelia effective in helping to clear mucus from the throat, lungs, bronchial tubes and other parts of the respiratory tract. It is used as an expectorant, especially in connection with bronchitis.
Other Medicinal/Homeopathic Uses
Lobelia's other uses include anti-nausea treatment and as an enema. Its muscle-relaxant properties make it useful in conjunction with convulsive disorders such as epilepsy and tetanus. It may also be prescribed in inflammatory disorders such as tonsillitis and ophthalmia, the latter treated externally with a lobelia infusion. The tincture may be applied locally to sprains, bruises and skin diseases. Oil of lobelia may be used to treat tetanus.
Remember that lobelia's safety and effectiveness have not been conclusively shown through clinical studies. Additionally, lobelia is a potentially toxic herb. Homeopathic use generally involves safely small doses, but in moderate to large doses lobelia can cause serious adverse effects such as dry mouth, nausea, convulsions, and even coma. Exercise caution and seek the guidance of a qualified health care provider.